Crusaders high in motivation, says Stephen Baxter
Stephen Baxter has claimed that the 'David Jeffrey factor' will have no bearing on the County Antrim Shield final – because Crusaders v Linfield clashes are all blockbuster affairs.
Jeffrey announced two weeks ago that he will step down from his position as Blues boss at the end of the season.
His Crusaders counterpart believes, however, that despite the Shield decider being the last into which Jeffrey will lead Linfield, he would have had his team highly motivated anyway.
And with silverware at stake, that will be very much the case for both teams.
"The managerial situation at Linfield wouldn't really impact on the game much – players want to win cup finals," said Baxter.
"The Crusaders-Linfield games have been very tight in the last two years and there is only ever an odd goal in it.
"We will expect them to come all guns blazing against us. They didn't play at the weekend so they had an opportunity to rest one or two and they will have a good, fit squad."
The extra motivation for the Crusaders players – if any was needed – is to make up for the disappointment of losing the League Cup final to Cliftonville, after a penalty shoot-out, just six weeks ago.
The two north-Belfast teams were also in the league title fight at that stage, but another defeat to the Reds last month all but put paid to their hopes of becoming champions.
Linfield are still very much in Premiership contention though and Baxter has no fear of coming up against the teams who are fighting it out above them.
"You expect to face the big sides – when you get to the later stages of competitions you come up against the big sides," said Baxter.
"We lost narrowly on penalties in the last final so it would be nice to have a different outcome this time, but it will be a big test.
"Whatever 11 players go out there they will give their very best and try to win the competition – that's all I can ask of them."
Tonight's match will be Crusaders eighth since the start of February – Linfield have played two less – but Baxter is offering no excuses.
"It will be a tough, tough game for us, but we are in that period when I knew the schedule would be tight," he said
"We go to Coleraine on Friday and have the Setanta, against Sligo on Monday, while we still have a Glentoran game to catch up on in the league before the split.
"That's the price of success and I'm sure other teams would love to be involved in these matches."
e WARRENPOINT Town face Glenavon in a rearranged Danske Bank Premiership match at Stangmore Park tonight, kick-off 8pm.
e THE Irish Cup semi-final between Ballymena United and Queen's University will take place at The Oval on Saturday April 5 (3pm).
The other last four contest, in which Crusaders will face either Glenavon or Glentoran, is to be played at Windsor Park.