Stephen Baxter relishing ‘massive’ Boxing Day derby with Cliftonville

LOVING IT: Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter
LOVING IT: Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter

Stephen Baxter believes this week’s titanic North Belfast derby is a mouth-watering prospect for Irish League fans.

The Boxing Day showdown between Cliftonville and Crusaders sees the top two teams in the Premiership go toe-to-toe.

Tommy Breslin’s Reds boast a significant six-point lead over their neighbours.

They also hold a precious game in hand.

The outcome of Wednesday’s clash could go some way to determining the destination of the Gibson Cup in 2013.

And Crues boss Baxter believes the connotations surrounding the Boxing Day extravaganza have ramped up the importance of the fixture – which has suddenly taken precedence over the annual Big Two showdown between Linfield and Glentoran.

“It is wonderful that people are building this game up as being the big one on Boxing Day,” Baxter said.

“It is a compliment to both teams who have been excellent this year. Both have been playing excellent football and both in the League Cup final next month.

“So it says a lot that people see this as the big, big derby on Boxing Day. It is tremendous for the two sets of fans.

“There is a good relationship between the two teams, management, board and supporters. So bring it on. I can’t wait for it.”

Wednesday’s clash at Solitude should be a sell-out, with Cliftonville opening the old Main Stand to accommodate more fans.

“I am sure it will be a sell-out. That is wonderful,” Baxter added.

“It is an appetising game. Saturday was superb in our game with Linfield, and the atmosphere was electric and it was a great advertisement for Irish League football.”

Despite his side trailing Cliftonville by six points, Baxter insists no titles will be decided on Wednesday.

“It is way too early to say it is a must-win game. When there are six to eight games left you can ask me that questions,” he added.