Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter steering steady course

Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter
Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter

Paul Heatley is back to give Crusaders a much needed boost for tomorrow’s North Belfast derby against Cliftonville at Solitude.

The little striker missed out on his team’s shock midweek defeat at Portadown - he was off getting married - when Crues boss Stephen Baxter raged at the state of the Shamrock Park pitch.

It was Crusaders’ first league set-back since the beginning of December when Ronnie McFall’s team left Seaview with all three points.

With Linfield cutting the deficit on Crusaders to six points at the top of the Danske Premiership, it’s crucial for Baxter’s men get back on track.

However, the manager doesn’t intend to press any panic buttons.

He said: “We’ve lost one game of football, but we are not going to lose any sleep over it.

“We have been on an incredible run from the first week in December.

“At that time, the teams around us were well ahead, but they have fallen away (from the top).

“When you sit down an analyse things, we have made a 13 point swing on Linfield and a 20 point swing on both Cliftonville and Portadown.

“Yes, we are disappointed to lose in midweek by a fine margin, but we’ll be up for our next challenge. We certainly missed Heatley, but he now returns to the squad.”

Baxter insists Cliftonville will have a point to prove following their demise at Glenavon when they suffered a 5-0 thumping.

“It’s always a difficult game and I’m sure they’ll be wanting to get that result out of their system,” he added.

“But we also must respond after the result at Portadown.

“It was a terrible game, the worst I’ve seen this season. The ball was in the air for 85 of the 90 minutes.

“In saying that, it was the worst pitch I’ve seen in 25 years involved with Irish League football.

“It was absolutely brutal. It’s not sour grapes, it was the same for both teams. But I can honestly say, that it is not good enough for Irish League football.

“I suppose that’s the reason the ball was in the air most of the night. It’s a shame that type of surface is used at this senior level.

“Portadown took the only chance that fell to them, one of the few for both teams on the night.

“We must now dust ourselves down and go again.”

Crues skipper Colin Coates will again be missing as he sits out the second of a two game ban.

Cliftonville manager Tommy Breslin, still shell-shocked from the tanking at Mourneview Park, will also be asking his players to step up to the plate.

It was the Reds’ heaviest defeat since March 2011 when they were beaten 5-0 by Crusaders at Seaview.

Current Northern Ireland international Stuart Dallas grabbed a brace on that occasion.

“It just wasn’t good enough,” rapped Breslin.

“We were second best all over the park, we were totally outplayed.

“I know we have a young squad, with many of them playing in this environment for the first time, but they must now show what they have in their locker if they are to have a future in the game.

“I’ll be looking for a response and to see what character this team really has.”