IRISH LEAGUE: Stephen Baxter sure his champions are ready for Coleraine test

Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter paid Coleraine a huge compliment ahead of Saturday’s showdown at Seaview by claiming they are one of the most improved teams in the league.

Having lost only twice in the current Danske Premiership campaign, the Bannsiders make the trip to north Belfast only six points adrift of the table-toppers and current champions.

Baxter’s boys have just emerged from 10 hectic days, which culminated in a Scottish Challenge Cup defeat by Livingston in midweek-- although it was largely an Under-20 side that went into action against the West Lothian side.

With Coleraine looming ahead of a meeting with Glenavon at Mourneview Park on Tuesday night, Baxter was taking no chances, preferring to rest most of his senior squad.

“Coleraine have been excellent this season . . . they have really impressed me,” said Baxter. “Oran Kearney has done at wonderful job up there.

“They have some very good players. They have boys who have emerged under the radar over the last season or two - young lads who are very competent.

“They pass the ball well . . . get into good areas and score a lot of goals.

“I expect a very, very tough game.

"But they are all tough - we’ll be up for the challenge. We look forward to every fixture . . . we are now well into the campaign. We’ll not be lacking in confidence."

Baxter, who again hailed the performance of the new generation at Seaview after their display against Livingston, will reinstate all of his 'big guns'. He added: "The young kids did really well again in midweek, but we ran out of a little bit of steam in the end.

“They (Livingston) brought on their two main strikers in the second half and they changed the game. But I was so delighted with the performance of the young lads once again.

“They have given me a lot to think about. I see lot in them and that augurs well for the future. They didn’t let themselves down, but we'll again rotate things. It's important to keep the senior players fresh."

Meanwhile, Coleraine, who missed out on the chance to jump into second place last week when they were held to a home (2-2) draw by Dungannon Swifts, will look to build on their recent form.

“We had a big motivational factor last week to go second, but we failed to put away the chances when it mattered," said manager Oran Kearney.

"It was frustrating to lose an equaliser late on.

“We will have to show character up there (at Seaview) to get a result on Saturday, there is no question about that. We did that in the first game between the sides earlier this season. We actually went into that game on the back of a 4-0 defeat at Dungannon and then suffered the worst possible start by conceding after 90 seconds against the Crues.

“I probably feared the worst. But we produced a very mature performance and fully deserved to take a point out of it. It’s now about producing similiar this time.”