Baxter wary as Linfield find winning touch
Stephen Baxter has been impressed at the way David Jeffrey has come fighting out of the trenches at Linfield.
The Blues boss has come under considerable pressure this season after a disappointing first third of the campaign, however in recent weeks the champions have rediscovered their hunger, desire and finishing touch.
Crusaders have emerged victorious from their last two visits to Windsor Park — winning 2-1 in the league back in September and a 1-0 Irn-Bru League Cup victory last month — but Crues boss Baxter is aware that the Blues are a different animal now.
Four wins on the spin has generated new optimism at the turn of the year and there are some fans who will feel that the Irish Cup is a more realistic target for a Blues side that trails league leaders Cliftonville by 10 points — make that 13 if the Reds win their game in hand.
The Blues-Crusaders battle is the tie of the fifth round of the Irish Cup by some distance — a repeat of the 2011 and 2012 finals.
So everyone’s looking for revenge at the international venue. Jeffrey’s men want to make up for their last two showings against the Crues at Windsor, while the Hatchetmen are pretty sick of the sight of their Belfast rivals in the competition.
But Jeffrey has got his troops firing again after a poor spell — particularly the red hot Matthew Tipton and Mark McAllister.
“Linfield seem to have a momentum and charge with them now and of course David, because of what he has achieved, has no peers,” said Baxter.
“He has a quality squad to work with but there’s a lot more to it than that — he has shown through the years that he knows how to win matches and trophies.
“There was a period this season when he was under some pressure but he has dealt with it well and the fact that he has been there and done it so many times has helped him come back stronger.
“You can’t be as successful as David has been without being intelligent and understanding the game.
“Us fellow managers look up to him as his record is phenomenal.
“But we are also looking forward to what should be a thrilling game and we always play to win.
“These games are special and I always feel in the cup competitions that teams go for it more.”
Baxter won’t be able to call upon the services of the suspended Craig McClean or Jordan Owens — the striker who scored the winner in last month’s League Cup scrap.
“These things happen and that’s why you need a squad of capable players,” added Baxter. “There are guys like Stephen McBride, Paul Leeman and David Rainey who are keen to make an impression. They are waiting for their chance to help the team.”
If selected, Blues midfielder Philip Lowry will make his 150th appearance for the club.
Glentoran manager Eddie Patterson has rubbished claims Andy Waterworth is leaving the club.
Patterson said: “Andy is going nowhere — he is under contract. There was an inquiry from Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny but he was told Andy was staying here. I also don’t know why Jason Hill’s name has been included in speculation regarding players’ futures.”