Baxter’s still looking for improvements

Crusaders Jordan Owens celebrates his goal against Ballymena United. Picture by Stephen Hamilton /Press
Crusaders Jordan Owens celebrates his goal against Ballymena United. Picture by Stephen Hamilton /Press

Stephen Baxter believes his Crusaders side are closing in on the first meaningful milestone in their defence of the Danske Bank Premiership title.

By the end of this coming weekend, all the clubs will have played each other once and Baxter believes that only then can observers make a value judgement on the state of the league table.

“Managers really look at things and say ‘let’s see what it’s like after 11 games’ and assess everybody’s strengths and weaknesses.

“There’s a lot of work goes on behind the scenes where teams are watched maybe two or three times and you build up a dossier and then they next time you play a team you see where you fell down before.

“You look at it after 11 games and say where are we in the shake? Are we in the top four? Are we competing? Are we mid-table or where are we and then you set your stall out accordingly.

“I get a good feeling about where we’re at but we’re always looking to improve ourselves.

“We have Declan Caddell, Chris Morrow and Timmy Adamson back in training and we expect to see some of these guys back in the next four weeks

“We have Michael Carvill fully fit, Barry Molloy, Stephen O’Flynn and Diarmuid O’Carroll all busting to play football matches so there are a lot of guys in there itching to play.

“We’ll need that because we have League Cup and County Antrim Shield coming up this month so we must continue to use everybody wisely and we have a couple of suspensions coming up.

“The players have to earn their place and keep playing well - they all know what they need to do and that’s part of the process.

“We won’t get carried away with winning a few games - we must keep our foot to the pedal at all times and respect all the opposition we play.

“I don’t see too many weak teams - none of the points are handed to you but we’ll just keeping playing away and working hard.,” added Baxter.

The Seaview side stretched their unbeaten run since the opening day of the season at the Showgrounds but were pushed all the way by a dogged Ballymena side.

After United’s Allan Jenkins cancelled out Paul Heatley’s early penalty, the Sky Blues missed a spot kick of their own when Matthew Tipton ballooned his effort over and Jordan Owens’ trademark header had the Crues in front at the break.

Gary Thompson equalised in the second half but Crusaders finished strongly with goals from Gavin Whyte – a marvellous individual effort – and Jordan Forsythe.

United boss Glenn Ferguson said: “We will take the positives out of it because I thought for large periods of the game we matched them.

“We’ve had a penalty miss, we’ve hit the post twice and hit the bar as well.

“We proved we can match them in creating chances and taking the game to them but we know that, defensively, they are a handful.

“I don’t think it was a 4-2 game - they maybe shaded it on chances but apart from Dwayne Nelson making a great save from Gavin Whyte with his feet, I don’t think either keeper had a lot to do but it was an open game so both teams were maybe lacking that final pass in the final third.

“Crusaders don’t concede a lot of goals but on another day we could have scored four or five so that’s something we could take out of it,” added Ferguson.