Relaxed Crusaders are not feeling the pressure insists boss Baxter

Jordan Owens challenges Ballymena goalkeeper Tim Allen
Jordan Owens challenges Ballymena goalkeeper Tim Allen

Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter has warned his side’s title rivals that his players are taking a relaxed approach as the Danske Bank Premiership title comes ever closer.

The Shore Road men ticked another game off their list with a confident victory at the Warden Street Showgrounds to maintain their six-point advantage at the summit.

Jordan Owens celebrates his goal

Jordan Owens celebrates his goal

The Crues, even without ill winger Gavin Whyte, possessed too much firepower for an under-strength Ballymena outfit.

The visitors were even able to recover from going behind to Allan Jenkins’ deflected shot to run out comfortable winners, thanks to goals from Paul Heatley, Timmy Adamson and Jordan Owens.

It was a performance which showed composure, confidence and poise and boss Baxter admitted: “It’s better being in this position than sitting looking up at 10 teams above you.

“Being at the top of the table brings its own pressures, it’s more enjoyable being at this end than sitting looking at it from the bottom end and we’ve been there and I know what it’s like.

“I haven’t heard any player turn round and say ‘we’re going to win this thing’. It’s just the jubilation of winning games.

“No-one is saying ‘two more games and we’ve done it’ or any of that nonsense.

“It’s a complete focus on the job and the team they’re playing against. They’re only saying ‘what’s the next game?’

“We have all these away games - Ballymena, Coleraine, Linfield, Portadown, Cliftonville - that we have to take care of and there will be different challenges in different places.

“There was an awful lot of pressure on us (at Ballymena) and we had to make sure we were dealing with what was in front of us.

“We talked about the players not being anxious like the way they were a little bit anxious last week, trying to get the game won in the first 15 minutes.

“I told them to play the game, win their personal battles and do all the things they’re meant to do and I felt they did that.

“I thought we were relaxed. Even at 1-0 down, on the bench we weren’t panicking and I wasn’t shouting and getting on like a lunatic as much as I was last week!

“I felt we were controlled. I knew we would get the chances to score because we had plenty of time to do that.

“There are goals in the team and you have to be confident in that and we’re doing pretty well as that at the minute.

“We were very much on top in the first half and aside from the chance that Ballymena scored, I don’t remember too many others in the game,” added Baxter.

United boss Glenn Ferguson, who has seen his side take just four points from nine league games in 2015, admitted: “We couldn’t cope with Crusaders’ physical presence.

They have big men up front who they get the ball to, who do what they’re good at and they have good players who work off them. They defend well, don’t take many chances and don’t concede many goals because of that.

We were missing a lot of key players which certainly had an impact on the game. We had players who came in today to push for a place - some did OK, some didn’t.

It’s no secret we need better players into the squad and we need braver players, who are going to stand up and be counted,” added Ferguson.