Some football fans are scratching their heads, wondering why the Carling Premiership programme is being disrupted — not by the weather but by the Co-operative Insurance Cup!
The game’s flagship event has been elbowed off its traditional Saturday slot by the knockout competition and many observers feel that the Premiership should remain centre stage at weekends.
The fixtures list has a strange look to it at the moment with Glentoran taking on Cliftonville in the Co-operative Insurance Cup on Sunday and Linfield back in action against the Reds at Solitude in the league next Friday while Newry City host Coleraine on the same night.
Baxter will not welcome any move to make Crusaders play fixtures on a Sunday, but he’s willing to be gripped by cup fever on a Saturday, with the Crues due to face Ballymena United tomorrow.
“It’s a hard one,” he said. “This is a great competition and the interest level picks up now that we are into another round. I’m not sure whether it’s right to play the earlier rounds on a Saturday because you like your league games to take priority as they are big matches, but the sponsors have done a sterling job and we are very proud of the sponsorship they are offering the local game.
“Crusaders will play whenever we are asked to play — as long as it’s not a Sunday!”
Crusaders beat Loughgall 2-1 in the third round of the competition, but it was a nervous performance from the home side as it came on the back of a 8-1 thrashing dished out by Linfield.
Since then, the Hatchetmen have regained their composure and even managed to stun the Carling Premiership champions in the league.
“We were torpedoed out of the water by that result, but we have dipped our toes back into it,” added Baxter. “These players are great young men, they don’t get paid a lot of money, but they give everything they have.”
However, injuries and suspensions have put the brakes on Crusaders’ progress this season and Jordan Owens — who scored the opening goal at the Showgrounds last weekend — must now serve a six-match ban for a headbutt during the Linfield game.
Defender David Gibson is also banned for tomorrow’s tussle, but left-back David Bell is available again after a suspension.
Baxter has had to reshuffle his backline more than he would have liked this season and one of the best centre-backs in the league, Colin Coates, has even had to play out of position. Even Northern Ireland boss Nigel Worthington has asked the Crues skipper to perform a left-back role!
“That Northern Ireland game was my first international at Windsor so it was a great honour and of course I’ll play anywhere for my country but centre-back remains my preferred position,” said Coates. “It’s great that Irish League players are still considered by Nigel and it’s up to us to keep improving.”
Meanwhile, the Crues have taken another step towards securing their financial survival by launching a new fundraising project. The club has launched “The 200 Club”, encouraging members to donate a minimum of £10 a month but fans can also win cash prizes along the way.
Crues chairman Stephen Bell said: “Anyone who joins this exclusive club will be helping safeguard the future of the football club.”
Fans can register their interest by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is hoped that membership cards will be available from tomorrow when funds and bank details will be collected.