Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter has been dealt a savage blow ahead of the new Danske Bank Premiership season with two key players struck down by injury.
The champions – who begin the defence of their trophy at home to Portadown next Saturday – will be without hard tackling midfielder Declan Caddell and the versatile Michael Carvill.
Caddell limped out of Satuday’s season opener – the Northern Ireland Hospice Charity Shield against Glentoran – with a broken metatarsal, while new signing Carvill, snapped up from Linfield over the summer, missed the action at Solitude having sustained an ankle problem in a midweek friendly fixture.
“Declan was taken to hospital, but he knew it was bad,” claimed Baxter.
“He actually kicked across a player’s studs. He came off right away and had it iced up. He was limping badly. Deccy broke the same foot couple of seasons ago. It could well keep him out for some time.”
Carvill picked up his problem in a midweek friendly against Lurgan Celtic.
Baxter added: “He will be out for three weeks at least.
“He damaged an ankle – it’s a grade two sprain. It’s disappointing for the player and the team.
“All of a sudden we have a few extra injuries around us that we didn’t really want.
“It’s not ideal with the new season only a matter of days away. I didn’t particularly want to see too many injuries like that at this stage, but that’s football.”
On the plus side, Baxter was thrilled with the performance of the exciting Gavin Whyte, who has just recovered from an ankle injury.
“He got hurt before we even started pre-season,” added Baxter.
“We’ve actually fast-tracked him a little bit. He has played in the last three matches because we needed to up his game time. He didn’t feature in European, so we was a little bit behind.
“Gavin is gradually getting up the the speed of the rest of the squad. We saw glimpses that would suggest he is on his way back.”
Baxter is also hoping to welcome back midfielder Barry Molloy over the next few weeks. The former Derry City man has been plagued by injury since his move to Seaview in January.
“We will be looking to get him a game in possibly two weeks time,” said Baxter. “Hopefully, he’ll be fully fit in three to four weeks, which will be a boost to the squad.”
Jordan Stewart’s wonder strike midway through the second half settled the issue, but Baxter was happy with his team’s contribution.
He added: “We played a few friendly games over the past few days and they were not played at the tempo I would have liked.
“But the Shield game was different. It was much better. It turned into a little bit fiesty near the end. It helps give you that competitive edge.
“I was pleased. It’s just what we needed at this stage of our pre-season programme – it wasn’t a dull friendly.
“We hit the woodwork on a few occasions and were a bit unlucky at times.”