Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter ‘relishing’ acid test with title rivals Linfield at Seaview

Crusaders winger Paul Heatley tussles with Linfield's Niall Quinn last season
Crusaders winger Paul Heatley tussles with Linfield's Niall Quinn last season

Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter admits there is no need for pomp or fanfare going into Saturday’s top-of-the-table showdown with Linfield.

The champions trail the Blues by five points as the early jostling for position continues at the head of the table.

Both sides accept the importance of Saturday’s clash – even if the Premiership season is still in its infancy.

“You don’t really need to build this game up,” Baxter said.

“It’ll be a full house and a great atmosphere for two teams doing well. These are the games you relish.

“It’s a big game of football for many reasons. Even at this early stage of the season we don’t want to be falling eight points behind Linfield. We don’t want to be suddenly a three game turnaround off the pace.

“Like any other fixture, it’s only worth three points and the result won’t determine the destination of the title, but we know there’s still a lot at stake. We don’t want to fall further behind. We want to stay on Linfield’s coat tails.”

Crusaders finished 10 points ahead of Linfield en route to lifting the Gibson Cup last season.

Warren Feeney’s Blues have been touted as the champions’ main rivals again this term, and the Windsor Park men’s start to the campaign has backed up the confidence.

They can boast a 100 per cent record in the league following six wins from six.

They also have the best attacking and best defensive record in the Premiership.

“They recruited well in the summer and they are stronger as a result,” Baxter said of their cross-city rivals.

“They have brought in some very good players to complement the likes of Jamie Mulgrew, Stephen Lowry, Aaron Burns, Sean Ward and Andy Waterworth.

“They already had the backbone of a very good side there and they have added to it, so it’s no surprise that they’re right up there again.

“I think Linfield and ourselves are very evenly matched at the moment, so it will be like two tribes going to war.

“I anticipate a very tough game, but our recent form has been good and we have been scoring a few goals, particularly at home, so we’re looking forward to it.

“We’ve done well in the head to head games with Linfield over the course of the past two or three seasons, so hopefully that can continue.”

SATURDAY’S GAMES (all 3pm): Ballinamallard v Carrick, Ballymena Utd v Cliftonville, Crusaders v Linfield, Glenavon v Coleraine, Glentoran v Portadown, Warrenpoint Town v Dungannon.