Belfast Telegraph

Crusaders boss Baxter bags gong and sets sights on Cup glory

By Graham Luney

After Crusaders’ astonishing 10-game winning run in the Carling Premiership, it was no surprise that manager Stephen Baxter scooped his second consecutive Carling Manager of the Month award.

Personal prizes are always cherished, particularly by managers who are going through the full range of emotions at the business end of the campaign.

However, it’s team awards that are occupying Baxter’s mind and with his men still in the title race and potentially 90 minutes away from another Irish Cup final, this is no time to for any patting on the back.

While European football has been secured, Crusaders are in a healthy position to pounce on any slip-ups from the Blues in the league while Portadown, at Mourneview Park on Saturday, stand between the Hatchetmen and another showpiece occasion at Windsor Park.

“When a team gains 30 points from 10 games, it’s an exceptional run and the credit goes to the players because they are the ones that make it happen,” said Baxter.

“I just give them a little push. They have worked tremendously hard with the wins against Coleraine and Portadown standing out. The pressure was on against Cliftonville as well but to come out 5-0 winners was a very special moment.”

Crusaders players now have that rare feeling of having to respond to a defeat after the 1-0 loss to Linfield, but the players shouldn’t need much lifting for an Irish Cup semi-final against the Ports.

“It’s a great game to get everyone going again,” added Baxter. “The players have been there a few years ago so they know what it’s like and what it means.

“They have got that hunger in their belly and there’s great competition for places in the team which is a good thing so we must remain focused. Portadown are a top team, well managed and Ronnie McFall has been there and done it all. Now he has added quality to this squad.

“We know it will be a tough contest and we must remember that Portadown have been on a tremendous run since Christmas.

“They have quality players in there who really impressed me on Saturday in the Co-operative Insurance Cup final.

“But if our young lads perform as they can, they should have nothing to fear.”

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