Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter is hoping it will be third time lucky for his team in Saturday’s Irish Cup sixth round clash against Bangor at Clandeboye Road.
The Shore Road boys have twice met the Championship One side in knockout tournaments this season – and they lost out on both occasions, in the County Antrim Shield and League Cup.
Both clubs sit proudly at the top of their respective leagues, so something must give.
“I’ve told our lads when you are playing a team that are top of the Championship, they are probably better than or on a par with bottom four clubs in the Premiership,” said Baxter.
“Bangor are carrying momentum because they are winning every week. They are well organised – they have good players and they are winning football matches.
“We’ll prepare as we would for any big game. The Irish Cup is a special tournament for me personally. We have been in three finals in recent years and we won it back in 2012. So I’m really looking forward to the game.”
Crusaders will be without the influential Declan Caddell, who begins a three-game suspension. Defender Josh Robinson is also out due to an ankle injury.
Baxter added: “I’ll be putting out the best side we have available because we have one or two wee injury problems at the moment.
“A few players are playing with small knocks that we will not be over risking. But we’ll be putting out a team we feel capable of winning the match.
“Declan is missing for three weeks, which is a bit of a blow. Josh has sustained an ankle ligament injury. He wasn’t 100 per cent right for last week’s game at Ballinamallard. He tried it, but had to come off early on. He could be out for two or three weeks.”
Baxter is determined to get the two previous results against the Seasiders out of the system once and for all.
“We played the two games against Bangor and we made wholesale changes,” he added.
“You’ve seen it in the FA Cup this season. When you make six or seven alterations to your team, you lose a certain amount of fluency.
“Even though you bring in very good players, you still lose a certain amount of fluency and understanding. Whereas ,a group of players that have been playing together, are on the same wavelength.
“It’s a difficult thing to do at any level in the game. It probably backfired a little bit on us.
“We had the first game practically won . . . we were winning 2-0, but had a man sent off early in the second half (Timmy Adamson) and Bangor changed the course of the game. No excuses, they were right up for it.
“I never disrespect anyone or any competition. Even though we went into those games (with Bangor) with many changes, five or six top players came into the team. Sometimes it just doesn’t go for you.
“The Irish Cup is a tournament is a big, big competition and we would like to do well in it if we can.”