IRISH LEAGUE: Stephen Baxter admits Crusaders stand on the verge of greatness

Crusaders goalkeeper Sean O'Neill thwarts this Glenavon attack
Crusaders goalkeeper Sean O'Neill thwarts this Glenavon attack

Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter admits lifting the Gibson Cup for the second year on the bounce would be the “proudest and biggest moment” in the club’s history.

The Crues now need one win from three games to be crowned champions – although they didn’t have it all their own way against Glenavon.

Jordan Owens’ second half header handed them the three points but with a North Belfast Derby to come Baxter is taking nothing for granted.

“It’s another game chalked off and another three points secured. I thought that this would be an important result if we could get it,” he said.

“The games are narrowing now, we need one win from three but we have to focus and stay in the moment.

“There’s nothing achieved yet – we go to Cliftonville, our rivals, and it will be a tough North Belfast derby. It always is. We take nothing for granted, we get on with the job in hand and look for the result we need.”

The league leaders had goalkeeper Sean O’Neill to thank for not being a goal behind inside the first five minutes. He pulled out a great block to deny Eoin Bradley after Andy Hall had squared the ball to the striker.

Crusaders had their first opportunity at the other end on 18 minutes when Paul Heatley and Declan Caddell caused all sorts of confusion inside the Glenavon box. The ball eventually fell for Owens, but he scooped the ball over the bar.

Glenavon had another good chance before the break when Hall found Bradley down the right flank. Bradley supplied a low pass for Kevin Braniff but his shot was crucially blocked by Billy Joe Burns.

The Crues took the lead on 56 minutes after substitute Mark Patton was booked for a foul on the right side of the box. Whyte provided a fantastic delivery for the unmarked Owens to head past Tuffey.

Owens, looking to kill the game off, fired against the post before Whyte forced Tuffey into a fine save to force a corner.

Braniff was unlucky not to level the scores with a powerful volley which was parried away by O’Neill, and a Braniff cross to the back post to Declan O’Brien went agonisingly across the face of goal.

At the final whistle Baxter hailed his champions-in-waiting: “Gavin Whyte gave us a masterclass in wing play, I thought he was magnificent.

“Jordan Owens has been battering away all season and he gets one good delivery into the box and he finishes it off. He’s the type of player who epitomises everything that is good about this club at the minute.

“They’re a good bunch of lads and hopefully they can get the job done soon.”

Glenavon boss Gary Hamilton added: “I thought we played really well and we didn’t deserve to come away beaten, that’s for sure.

“I’m proud of the way we played. Sometimes football can be cruel.”