‘We deserve this success’ admits proud Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter after historic night in Europe

Paul Heatley nips in to poke Crusaders in front against FK Ekranas in Lithuania yesterday ' Picture: Presseye
Paul Heatley nips in to poke Crusaders in front against FK Ekranas in Lithuania yesterday ' Picture: Presseye

Proud Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter hailed his history-making players following their heroics in Lithuania on Thursday.

The Shore Road men claimed a 2-1 victory over FK Ekranas to romp to a 5-2 aggregate win in the first qualifying round of the Europa League.

It completed a memorable evening for the Crues, who progressed in Europe for the first time in their history.

In what was their 14th attempt at such a feat, dating back to the late 1960’s, the North Belfast club ended the barren spell in style.

Two Paul Heatley goals – either side of Lukas Kochanauskas’ reply for Ekranas – eased Crusaders to their victory.

Next up is a second qualifying round tie with Swedish outfit IF Brommapojkarna – the first leg of which will be next week.

Baxter last night insisted their next European adventure would have to wait, as the celebrations kicked-off in earnest in Lithuania.

“This is a fantastic night for the club. An historic night,” the Crues boss declared.

“It is also fully deserved when you look over the two legs. The superb result was fully justified because we played some great football over the games.

“We knew we still had a significant hurdle to clear in this second leg, but our counter-attacking gameplan worked to perfection.

“And with an attacking threat like Paul Heatley in your team, you will always have a chance of scoring.”

Heatley broke the deadlock in the 55th minute after being teed up by Jordan Owens.

Kochanauskas ensured there would be no premature celebrations when he equalised on the night five minutes later.

But any threat of a grandstand finish were erased when Heatley doubled his and Crusaders’ tally in the 71st minute with another clinical finish.

“Paul got the two goals, but it would be unfair to single him out for praise – he would agree with that himself,” Baxter added.

“All the players deserve immense credit for the performance they put in over the two legs.

“Today we were playing in temperatures of 26 or 27 degrees. It was tough, but we emerged with the win.

“The pleasing thing is we won the two games. We didn’t lose one or draw one, we won both and scored five goals. It was a resounding victory in the end.

“It is a great bonus for the club, not only financially. We now have another two games in Europe to look forward to, but that can wait for another day.

“The players will enjoy a meal and then the celebrations will no doubt start in style.

“We will have to curtail them a bit as we will have to turn our focus to next week, but they deserve to enjoy tonight first.

“They have earned the right to let their hair down after their performances over the two legs.

“So we will enjoy this moment for the club. It is a special victory and a special night for everyone involved.”