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Crusaders will still win title

By Scott Young

Published 05/01/2016

New Year blues: Stephen Baxter’s disappointment following defeat by Linfield is clear to see
New Year blues: Stephen Baxter’s disappointment following defeat by Linfield is clear to see

Only time will tell if the Crues do crumble in the title race but I cannot see it. It is only natural for the players and management to look back at the Boxing Day game against Cliftonville when they were 2-0 ahead and really should have seen the game out.

That was three points they should have bagged - and then they go and lose to Linfield.

They are still in a great position but had they won both of those games they would have had one hand on the Gibson Cup.

When the league leaders slip up it gives encouragement to the chasing pack and Linfield and their boss David Healy deserve huge credit for getting the result they needed on New Year's Day.

Linfield showed their mettle and some fans are starting to believe that we have a title race again.

The Blues and Cliftonville will be hoping that a few more doubts creep into the Crusaders players' minds and there's no question that defending a league championship is a much harder assignment than winning it once.

Other than Diarmuid O'Carroll and former Linfield duo Billy Joe Burns and Michael Carvill, I don't think any of the Crues players have managed that yet.

I was never able to defend a championship at Glentoran - it's the hardest thing in the game to achieve because teams really want to shoot you down.

For the neutral, if there are any, it generates more interest in the league and you don't want one side running away with it.

It's always easy for people to criticise but I will stick up for David and he deserves credit for introducing a young lad in Paul Smyth who has made a massive impact on the team.

Their confidence is sky high at the moment and the timing is ideal going into Saturday's big Irish Cup game with Ballymena United and the County Antrim Shield final with the Sky Blues on Tuesday.

The Blues have got their mojo back big time and they deserve the plaudits after not only beating Crusaders but also preventing them from scoring, something which no other side have managed to do in the league this season.

Goalkeeper Ross Glendinning and the Linfield defence also deserve a mention for frustrating the Crues but Stephen Baxter will know his side had chances and he will put this period down as just a setback.

The Irish Cup presents an opportunity for the Crues to take their minds off the title pursuit and Stephen can rest a few of his big names, fully expecting whatever side he puts out to be too strong for Rathfriland Rangers.

Managers with big squads can rotate and refresh for the Cup games this weekend.

As the Crues are six points ahead and have a game in hand, the Blues need to keep the pressure on. However, I still believe the Crues will go on and win the league because they have the best squad. Chris Morrow has joined Glentoran on loan and that underlines their strength in depth.

Questions will be asked of Crusaders but I expect them to be answered.

Stephen has done an incredible job at Seaview and he still has the resources to retain the title - though there will be a few more bumps on the road.

Belfast Telegraph

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