A new era begins at Crusaders this afternoon — and manager Stephen Baxter believes that other clubs in the Carling Premiership will soon follow the lead of the Shore Road club.
It’s taken a little longer than expected, but the Crues new artificial pitch is down and will host its first league fixture when Glentoran head to north Belfast today (kick-off 2pm).
Baxter has quickly been convinced that digging up the Seaview grass was a good idea and he is now expecting his fellow managers to be won over by the surface.
“When the idea was first floated six months ago I said that I was a traditionalist and I didn’t want to see the end of the grass because that’s what I’ve always played football on,” said Baxter.
“I wasn’t excited by the development at all.
“I’ve changed my mind though and now I believe that these artificial surfaces are the way forward.
“They are all over Europe, particularly in Scandinavia and there are international matches and Champions League games being played on them.
“There isn’t a high level of maintenance to be done, they generate finance and I believe they have to be the way forward for the game in Northern Ireland and within three or four years I would think that half of our senior clubs will be playing on them.
“We trained on it on Thursday night, it was like Christmas morning for the players because they couldn’t wait to get out onto it and I think the pitch is absolutely superb.
“I played myself in the little practice match we had on it to get a feel of it. It’s zippy, you can pass the ball very well on it and it has a very nice feel.”
The proof will be in the pudding this afternoon though when the first senior fixture in Northern Ireland to be played on an artificial surface takes place.
All of the Crues last seven games have been played away from home — their last game at Seaview was on Saturday, October 10 — and they have suffered a bout of travel sickness.
Baxter hasn’t savoured a victory in the last five games and as well as slipping to second in the Premiership table, the Crues were knocked out of the Co-operative Insurance Cup by Portadown in midweek.
The Seaview chief remains upbeat and has seen plenty of positives.
“We’ve drawn one and lost four, but of those games, other than when we played Ballymena United because they were worthy winners on the day, we have performed well,” said Baxter.
“We lost 4-1 up at Coleraine, but we played really well in what was a great game.
“It was the same in the two Co-operative Insurance Cup games against Portadown. On Tuesday night we created a lot of chances, so I am not losing any sleep over our recent run.”
e Cliftonville v Glentoran, which was scheduled for Saturday, January 9, at Solitude, has been put back to Monday, January 11, and will be screened live on Sky Sports.
The same fixture was screened last season, with Glentoran winning 2-0.