IRISH LEAGUE: Crusaders sweat on Owens’ fitness for Cliftonville derby

Press Eye - Belfast -  Northern Ireland - 22nd October 2016 - Photo by William Cherry

Crusaders' Jordan Owens holds his head after his effort goes just wide against Carrick during Saturdays Danske Bank Premiership game at Seaview, Belfast. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye

Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 22nd October 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Crusaders' Jordan Owens holds his head after his effort goes just wide against Carrick during Saturdays Danske Bank Premiership game at Seaview, Belfast. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye

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Crusaders are sweating over the fitness of chief marksman Jordan Owens ahead of tomorrow’s North Belfast derby.

The game could scarcely have more significant for reigning champions Crusaders, who are coming off the back of rare back-to-back defeats.

They added a 1-0 defeat to Linfield to the previous loss to Coleraine. 
And it was the first time the Crues had lost successive Premiership fixtures in all but three years.

Adding a third game to that unwanted run could well see Crusaders drop off top spot.

That’s almost unthinkable - in fact the Crues haven’t lost three Premiership games on the bounce in almost a decade, since December 2008.

To help them avoid it this time around, Baxter is hoping 16 goal Owens could make a return from the calf injury that kept him out of the narrow defeat to the Blues.

“Jordan was touch and go last week and he just wan’t right,” said boss Stephen Baxter.

“He did the right thing and we’re hoping he can come back in and play his part on Saturday.

“He has had it for a few weeks but it just got a little bit worse. He’s still undergoing intensive treatment. We have to give him every opportunity to play but it’s too early to say whether or not he will be available on Saturday.”

Baxter was also keen to remind his players that the loss to Linfield isn’t the be all and end all - after all they are still top of the tree, even if it is now just by a solitary point.

“Training has been good,” he said. “Sometimes you might call it a jolt to the system or a shock to the system but the boys have rallied and they feel good.

“They’ve actually had a chat amongst themselves and we, of course, had a chat after the game on Saturday. We weren’t happy with the performance and a few home truths were told but people playing at this level of the game and big enough and capable of taking that all on board and working it out.

“This is a marathon not a sprint and we will deal with it. We’ve lost a couple of games of football but we’ll go again in another big game on Saturday.
“I’m glad we’re coming back into such a big game. It’s always a feisty match in these type of fixtures. Both teams have big respect for each other and we’ll be putting our best foot forward.”

The Crues are well used to have a healthy bit of padding at the top of the table to cushion any blow. Now one more punch could prove a knockout. So are there any nerves?

Baxter said: “I’ve had a lot of similar questions for a while and it’s hard to gauge but these guys are professional footballers. They get into training, the practice and work hard and they laugh.

“It was an off goal and we lost 1-0. Paul Heatley had a chance with about eight minutes to go, on another day he could have scored for 1-1 and then it’s a different conversation. We just have to deal with.

“It’s not life or death. This is something we all enjoy doing and we will go into Saturday’s game with boldness and confidence.”

The Crues will also welcome Alan Keane back into the panel.