Points more important than anniversary milestone for Stephen Baxter

Crusaders won the all-Ireland Setanta Sports Cup back in 2012
Crusaders won the all-Ireland Setanta Sports Cup back in 2012

Stephen Baxter celebrates 10 years in charge of Crusaders on Sunday, but he prefers focus on the job in hand – and that’s three points from the potentially dangerous clash with Glenavon at Mourneview Park.

The Shore Road boys have sent the trend in this fascinating Danske Bank Premiership race, going into the final nine matches with a three point lead at the top of the table.

Their attractive brand of football, especially on their own synthetic surface, has certainly sent the pulses racing of both home and visiting fans.

“We’ve got a few natural players – the likes of Richard Clarke, Gavin Whyte and Paul Heatley,” said Baxter.

“All these guys are on the top of their game. They are all wanting the ball and are exciting when they have it. That’s we are encouraging them to do.

“We are playing with confidence at the moment and it’s good to watch. Everyone is playing with smiles on their faces and that’s what I like to see. But no one will be getting above themselves. We’re still a wee team from the Shore Road.

“We’ve yet to beat Glenavon in the league this season. We got a draw down there earlier and we were hammered at home. They are a really good side. I’m just surprised they are not in the mix for the title.”

Baxter admits he had many memorable moments over the past 10 year, including Setanta and Irish Cups wins, but he prefers to look ahead rather than back.

“I never think about what’s behind,” he adds. “What’s done in the past doesn’t worry me. I’m only interested in what we have to do next week and the week after that. We have just got to stay focused.

“The next nine games are going to be very tight. It’s (the title race) coming towards a conclusion and everyone and every team is up for it.

“There are not too many games we’ll be sitting back and thinking (of the opposition) ‘this will be a doddle’. Everyone will be fighting like crazy and that’s what it will be like over the next few weeks.”

Baxter stresses that the club is now ‘a million years away’ from when he first joined back on February 22, 2005.

“I told the chairman, Jim Semple, I’d walk over broken glass for him. That’s how I felt about it,” added Baxter. “The club was in trouble, but you really don’t get time to reflect, because you are so caught up in the day to day running of the club.

“You are dealing with phone calls on a daily basis, players, the Press – you name it. You never stand still in this job. We’ve a lot of things going on behind the scenes in terms of development. We plucked Gavin Whyte from obscurity and there are plenty like him coming through the system.

“He is now starring at this level. The club has never been in a better footing. When I arrived, 10 years ago, I think we were in £750,000 in debt. Today we are debt-free, but we are still trying to progress and develop things even further at this club.

“So many people deserved so much credit. I’ve been to one board meeting in 10 years and I called it. The foundation blocks are there. We’ll keep working hard in trying to develop the team. We’ll enjoy it while we can.”

Meanwhile, Glenavon player-manager Gary Hamilton has revealed he could have made his last appearance for the club because of injury.

The 34-year-old has been suffering from hip and groin problems and says he might have to undergo surgery.

“I have been advised not to play again,” he said.”The specialist said it was the worst scan he had seen in his 30 years. I need surgery on a series of injuries and, at my age, to do that to keep playing is not worth it.”