Stephen Baxter seeking Boxing Day response from Crusaders

  • by Alex Mills

Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter is looking for a response from his team in the big North Belfast Boxing Day showdown against Cliftonville at Seaview.

The Shore Road boys suffered their first defeat in 24 starts at the Ballymena Showgrounds on Saturday - a result that dropped them to third place in the Premiership table.

“It was ironic that Ballymena were the last team to beat us way back in August,” sighed Baxter. “We just didn’t click. We were totally flat. To be honest, I can’t be too critical of the lads because they have been phenomenal.

“They got results that took us from near the bottom of the table to the top. It was a first setback for some time. We basically looked tired - we had no zip about us. We are usually full of energy, but there was none of that about us.

“Yes, we had a energy-sapping, extra-time, League Cup win over Ballymena in midweek, but I can’t use that as an excuse.

“It was one of those games that will not live long in the memory, with very little football played.”

Baxter admits the big festive clash with Tommy Breslin’s Reds, who are now undefeated in 11 games, is the perfect platform to get back on track.

“It’s all set up nicely,” he added. “Cliftonville have recovered from a shaky start and are now up snapping on the heels of the Blues.

“We know them very well and the calibre of players they have, especially the two boys up front, Liam Boyce and Joe Gormley.

“But we also have many match winners. I don’t intend to become over anxious about this game, simply because there is an awful long way to go in this title race.

“Trophies are not handed out at this time of the year. Linfield are now in the box seat at the top, but they’ll also be aware there will be many big tests up ahead.

“It has the makings of a great league campaign and, the way things have panned out so far, it could go right to the wire this season.”

Cliftonville boss Tommy Breslin, who has seen his boys record 11 straight wins, welcomes back midfielder Barry Johnston from suspension.

“We are in a nice little run,” he said. “At one point it looked like Linfield and Crusaders were going to run away at the top, but we managed to nudge back in there.

“This will be another big test - all derby games are. There is a sell-out crowd which should create a great atmosphere. We are looking forward to it. May the best team win.”




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