Stephen Baxter hopes to confirm title success in style

Stephen Baxter and Davy Magowan celebrate last week
Stephen Baxter and Davy Magowan celebrate last week

Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter insists the celebration frolics are over for the time being and is demanding his team finish their Irish Premiership campaign in style.

The Shore Road boys effectively wrapped up their first title in 18 years at Solitude last week – 1-0 win over out-going champions Cliftonville giving them what looks like an unassailable lead at the top of the table.

Pau; Heatley celebrates his goal against Cliftonville

Pau; Heatley celebrates his goal against Cliftonville

They are currently nine points ahead of Linfield with three games left, but the Crues have a massive goal advantage that is too great to haul back.

There were scenes of jubilation at Solitude – and the celebrations went on for some time, with the players given the night off training on Tuesday.

But it’s business as usual on Saturday when Eddie Patterson’s Glentoran make the journey across town to Seaview.

The Crues obviously want to finish with a swagger.

Baxter said: “The players have been fantastic over the league campaign – and the deserve everything that will come their way over the next few weeks.

“They went on a four month winning streak since the beginning of December – and that is the mark of champions.

“Yes, they have celebrated this week. I would expect it’s just the start of what will be a massive celebration for everyone involved with the club.

“But we have work to do in the form of three league games, starting with Glentoran.

“We want to get the points to get us over the line, not relying on goal difference – we want to finish with a certain degree of style.”

Skipper Colin Coates returns to the squad after serving a two-game ban. So apart from Barry Molloy, and the long term injured Chris Morrow and Emmet Friars, Baxter will have a full-strength squad.

“It will be good to have Colin back,” added Baxter, who celebrated 10 years in the job a few weeks back.

“He has played a massive role in our charge to the title – scoring some vital goals along the way.

“We’ve had some fantastic individual performers, but it has been a team effort – they have all contributed collectively. I’m really proud of them.

“This has not been something we achieved in six months, it has been a decade in the making. I’ve been thinking about next season since January. That process continues and we will look to add to the squad.”

Patterson insists Glentoran will be travelling to Seaview to spoil the party.

His boys may have blown their chance of claiming a European qualification place, but they still have an Irish Cup final on the horizon and Patterson stresses there are place up for grabs.

“There is nothing nailed to the mast yet in terms of cup final shirts,” he said. “The next two games are crucial for anyone who wants to stake a claim for a shirt.

“Yes, the European place is gone, so we must now rely on the final for an avenue to Europe. I’ve told the players that if any of them take their foot off the gas over the next few games, they’ll not figure. They all know that places are now up for grabs.”