IRISH LEAGUE: Crusaders’ swagger is back says the boss

Crusaders' Declan Caddell celebrates after heading his side into a 1-0 lead at The Oval

Crusaders' Declan Caddell celebrates after heading his side into a 1-0 lead at The Oval

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Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter believes his boys are playing with a swagger again!

The Shore Road team inched closer to a hat-trick of Danske Premiership title wins with this easy victory over ailing Glentoran at the Oval.

An early quick fire double from Declan Caddell and Gavin Whyte ended any hopes of an upset.

And, when veteran Rangers striker Nacho Novo was dismissed before the break, it became a damage limitation exercise for Gary Haveron’s side.

Crusaders had to wait until 18 minutes from time before putting the game to bed with another quality finish from Paul Heatley.

By by that stage, most of the home fans were already making their way to the exits.

The result means that Baxter’s champions maintain their seven point lead over Linfield at the top, while Glentoran must show a massive improvement if they are to nudge into the top six.

“A seven point lead can be pegged back very quickly,” admitted Baxter.

“All we can do is play the game in front of us.

“Before the weekend I knew our next three games would be very important, against Glentoran, Cliftonville and Glenavon.

“We’ve started that sequence with a win, which is encouraging, so we now have a big north Belfast derby coming up next week.

“We have to remain focused. You can never predict anything in football. This title race is still very much alive, and I have no problem with that.”

“We’ve managed to stay in the top four all season, so we have to be focused and professional in terms of everything we do, on and off the pitch.”

Baxter, however, was thrilled the way this boys went about their business.

He added: “We looked awesome. We were solid, we were professional and we pretty much controlled the game from start to finish.

“It was a difficult surface and trying conditions. But our back four were magnificent. I don’t think our goalkeeper had a lot to do.

“So the pleasing aspect for us is the fact that we are locking the back door and we are looking menacing up front.

“Whyte’s goal was out of this world, wonderful football. We could have scored more, but that is been a bit over critical. We were never under pressure and we were able to convert three chances. It was a good afternoon’s work.”

Baxter also hailed the performance of new boy Alan Keane, signed last week from Dundalk. He went on: “He’s a good player. You can see the quality. He likes to pass the ball and move into space. That’s what we seen in him three or four years ago.

“We need to get Alan up to match fitness. He hasn’t played for three or four weeks. But he stepped in and he really looked like a Rolls Royce type of a footballer.

“The numbers are light, we have one or two injuries, so we are delighted he is with us.”

Glentoran boss Gary Haveron admitted Novo’s dismissal torpedoed any hopes of a revival.

“The sending off was a joke,” declared Haveron. “I’ve watched a video of the incident and Caddell hits Nacho with an elbow, it’s as clear as day.

“It should have been Caddell that was sent off. The referee is only five yards away.

“The play went on for 10 or 15 seconds because the referee didn’t deal with the original elbow incident. The two players then come together.

“We’ll certainly appeal the dismissal and we’ll be submitting the video evidence which clearly shows the elbow incident.

“Yes, Crusaders were two goals up at the time, but in all honesty we are not going to come back against Crusaders with 10 men.”