PREMIERSHIP: Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter remains focused on title goal

Crusaders: Three red cards in Danske Bank Premiership 2017/18
Crusaders: Three red cards in Danske Bank Premiership 2017/18

Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter is refusing to allow past pain to derail the club’s title charge.

The Crues lost last season’s Danske Bank Premiership league race over the closing weeks and lost the points lead last weekend with a draw at home to Glenavon.

Now Crusaders can only point to a goal difference, albeit significantly superior, as the advantage over spirited Coleraine.

However, Baxter’s sole focus stands on future gains as he prepares his league leaders for the visit of defending champions Linfield.

“It is not about setbacks or thinking of anything other than the job at hand,” said Baxter. “Our total focus is on the next game and that if we can win our final three fixtures then we finish the 38-match league season as champions.

“We have had to cope with injuries and suspensions but that is the idea of assembling a squad and we are relishing this part of the season.

“At the start of the campaign you do not focus on the other clubs but think about your own goals and we have worked incredibly hard.

“We have so much for which to be thankful at this point of the season and it is what you put the effort and time into towards that challenge.

“We have qualified now for Europe across eight successive seasons and that leads to a reputation as an ultra-competitive club and added financial benefits.

“These then help you bring quality and experience to your squad to allow you to be ready for these challenges.

“I am a fan of the league split as it means every game over those final stages has something at stake.

“I think the split is a very worthy addition to our game.

“It is a very competitive league and everyone is fighting for players and points.

“We are now at the tail end of the season and will not worry about events outside our control but only focus on each game.”

Darren Murray’s surprise absence last weekend against Glenavon proved a talking point. The January signing was named on the teamsheet by Crusaders but failed to report for duty.

Baxter refused to expand on the situation.

“I’ve no comment to make regarding Darren Murray,” said the Crues boss. “Jordan Owens and Gavin Whyte are both fit to play against Linfield this Saturday.”

Linfield’s visit to a club competing for title glory will only serve to reinforce that awareness the Gibson Cup crown secured in such dramatic fashion last season is edging away with each passing matchday.

The focus for David Healy’s players over the closing stages of the campaign is towards securing third spot and European football - a position the Linfield boss accepts falls short of pre-season goals.

“I certainly don’t think it is where we want to finish but we’ll keep plugging away,” said Healy on the club’s official website. “The players have worked hard to make they are ready to go again and we’ve a big game at Crusaders.

“We’ve two home games then and we’ll certainly be trying to finish as strong as we possibly can.

“It’s not always going to be free-flowing attacking wins by 3-0 or 4-0.

“Sometimes you need to be patient to find a way to break it down and we were (against Ballymena United).

“One thing we will need going to Crusaders, because they are gunning for the title, is a strong Linfield backing.

“But we always get that at Seaview and it is a game we should looked forward to at the weekend.”