Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter wants his side to tough it out

Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter is focused on a massive title race now
Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter is focused on a massive title race now

Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter has urged his players to prove their mental toughness in their remaining six games this season.

The Crues saw their Irish Cup hopes derailed by Glentoran in last weekend’s semi-final defeat at Mourneview Park.

It saw the Seaview club’s mesmerising 15-game unbeaten run come to a disappointing halt.

It also ended any hopes of an historic double this season.

Despite their Irish Cup agony, Baxter knows there is an even bigger carrot dangling in front of his players in the coming weeks.

A first Gibson Cup in 18 years remains in their grasp, with the Crues boasting a six-point lead at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership with just six games left.

And Baxter is under no illusions as he looks to end the club’s wait for another league crown.

“We have six cup finals to come,” Baxter said ahead of Saturday’s trip to Coleraine.

“It will take mental toughness and character. I expect six more games like the Irish Cup semi-final – tight, tense affairs.

“I just hope my players work that little bit harder. We have six cup finals, just like Linfield have.”

Baxter has dismissed claims that the pressure is mounting on his players.

The weight of a titanic title battle has yet to show signs of taking any toll on Crusaders as they approach the business end of the season.

Their manager insists all the pressure remains in the south of Belfast, and with chief rivals Linfield.

“I read recently that all the pressure was on Crusaders. There is no pressure on us, it is all on Linfield – they have got to win,” he said.

“We are top of the table and have a six-point lead. I know where I would rather be with six games remaining.

“My players have been outstanding all season. Last week was a game where a few them didn’t play as well as they can.

“But they have been superb all season in the Premiership.

“There is no inquest after last Saturday’s cup defeat. We just didn’t do enough.

“You saw what it meant to Glentoran, and they knew how big a game it was to beat Crusaders.

“They probably think they can go on and win this now after beating Crusaders. You could see what it meant for them to win.

“We won’t be dwelling too long on this defeat. We will bin it and move onto Coleraine next Saturday, followed by Linfield the following week – two key games for us.

“We have been unlucky in the Irish Cup. We have been to three finals and won one.

“We have also reached three semi-finals, so the last seven years we have been there or thereabouts.

“I am guessing the prize that sits in front of you, to try and win in the league campaign, takes a little bit of the pain out of this.

“We have to refocus and redouble our efforts and push on from this, and I don’t think that is a bad thing.”