Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Baxter and Crues can focus on vital league showdowns

Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter is looking forward to the calm before the storm this evening.

The Crues take on Donegal Celtic is what amounts to little more than a meaningless encounter, but looming just around the corner is the start of the 30-game Premier League campaign, the outcome of which may determine if top flight football is still being played on the Shore Road next season.

That is when the new invitational Premier League kicks-off and Crusaders were placed 15th in the ranking released just before the CIS Insurance Cup campaign started last month.

And with only 12 places up for grabs in the new structure a high finish is needed by the Seaview outfit.

For that reason Baxter is happy to go into tonight's final CIS Cup group game with progress to the quarter-final stages of the competition already secured.

"Reaching the quarter-finals with a game to spare is a good achievement for us," said Baxter.

"It is nice to have a game with no pressure or importance attached to it, other than our own professional pride.

"There are enough pressure games during the season so being able to relax and play football will be good for the players.

"I can also look at the squad, decide who might need a rest, see if anyone is carrying an injury that doesn't have to be risked, who would benefit from getting 90 minutes under their belt and pick a team accordingly."

Two men who will definitely sit this one out are new club captain Darren Lockhart and defender Colin Coates.

Coates played his first game of the season when the Crues beat Limavady United 1-0 last Saturday - the team's first clean-sheet of the season - but it appears that the knee injury that caused him to miss the opening five games of the season isn't fully recovered and Baxter won't take any chances ahead of next Saturday's league opener at home to Portadown.

Liam Bradley will be available for Donegal Celtic after serving his suspension in midweek after being sent-off last weekend.

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