Belfast Telegraph

Crusaders want winning habit ahead of final

By Graham Luney

Now that Crusaders have secured runner-up spot in the Carling Premiership, manager Stephen Baxter may shuffle his pack for today’s trip to Cliftonville.

But Crues goalkeeper Chris Keenan maintains the players’ mentality will never change.

The players are now competing for a place in the Irish Cup final squad and opportunities to impress the manager are running out.

After this derby fixture, the Crues visit Glentoran on Saturday and although it’s inevitable minds are already drifting towards the May 7 showdown against Linfield, Keenan says no-one will be removing their foot from the pedal.

The Reds will be thirsty for revenge after the Crues thumped them 5-0 at Seaview last month.

Few people knew it then but that result must have been another nail hammered into the coffin of Eddie Patterson’s managerial reign in north Belfast.

“Cliftonville is yet another big game for us but we just have this mentality that is win, win, win,” said former Larne stopper Keenan.

“As Stephen (Baxter) said, we just have to keep this run going and we certainly don’t want anyone getting hurt ahead of the cup final. We want to go out at Solitude and the Oval and put on a show and finish on a high.”

Crusaders could finish the season with no silverware in the cabinet but the quality of football they have served up throughout the campaign has been a joy to watch, certainly for supporters who had become used to relegation scraps. “A lot of the signings we have made this season have really made us tick and I think we have kept a lot of boys injury free for most of the season,” added Keenan.

“Second place is a very big achievement for us this year. At the start of the season you always aim for top six and anything better than that is a bonus.

“This year we have pushed on but it was just unfortunate we lost at home to Linfield, coming on the back of winning 10 or 11 on the spin. It was a big setback but the boys shrugged off that disappointment quickly to win the Irish Cup semi-final over Portadown.

“We are a goal scoring team and it’s just a shame that at the start of the season we were struggling to keep them out.

“But the runner-up spot is great for the players, particularly boys like Colin Coates and Chris Morrow who have been here through the relegation time and coming back up.”

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