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Housework is off the agenda in Crues' bid to complete task

Cliftonville 2 Crusaders 3

By Conor McLaughlin

Stephen Baxter has banned his players from any Easter Monday spring cleaning as Crusaders bid to maintain their advantage at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership.

Saturday's victory over Cliftonville - which came courtesy of a double blast of Jordan Owens headers after Levi Ives looked to have handed Linfield the title initiative - preserved the Crues' one point lead in the standings and, with the next big fixture in an absorbing end-of-term shoot-out coming against Coleraine tomorrow night, the Seaview boss doesn't want any unnecessary exertion of energy from his side.

"Tuesday's another very tough match and I've spoken to them (his squad) about watching what they do over this Easter weekend," said Baxter.

"No bars, no nightclubs, nothing - no doing the dishes even. They need to relax, rest and make sure they're ready to go again."

Baxter was pleased to see what he called "a Crusaders performance" as the Shore Road men responded to recent defeats by Coleraine and Linfield with an incredible 10th victory in their last 11 north Belfast derby outings.

"We have very strong characters in the squad and it's clear how much this win meant to them because it was a big, big result," he added.

"When you're struggling to make yourself heard over the top of them in the changing room after the game, it's a sign of how happy and confident they are but I never doubted them at all because they've been excellent for me for many years now.

"It doesn't matter how many points you're clear or how many matches there are left to go, you just play the game in front of you, get what you can from it and move on to the next one. That's the attitude we've always had.

"This is a 38 game season and I've always known that. Our target is to still be top after the 38 games and we're on course to achieve that, but we still have some tough games to come. We'll play them one at a time and do everything we can to keep ourselves in front."

After Michael Carvill's scrambled 29th minute opener, the Crues were rocked when Ives struck either side of half-time, the second of which came via a deflection off Billy Joe Burns - and, with Linfield ahead at Ballymena, Baxter's men were staring down the barrel of conceding their long-held position at the summit.

The Blues' return to the top lasted just 21 minutes, however, as Owens converted crosses from Paul Heatley and Burns before a trio of saves from goalkeeper Sean O'Neill - who thwarted Jay Donnelly, Daniel Reynolds and Jaimie McGovern - left Reds assistant manager Mal Donaghy cursing the hosts' luck.

"We're pleased with the performance but disappointed with the result," he said.

"We've been punished for not dealing with crosses into our box - not cutting them out and then not winning the ball when it's been put in there - but we showed real fight and had chances to get something from the game, which I think we would have deserved."

Cliftonville: J Mooney, McGovern, Ives, McGuinness, Curran, Garrett, J Donnelly, Lavery, Cosgrove, Finnegan, Nelson. Unused subs: Burke (Mooney 32 mins), Bonner, Winchester, M Donnelly (Lavery, 87 mins), Reynolds (Garrett, 75 mins).

Crusaders: O'Neill, Burns, Beverland, Carvill, Caddell, McClean, Owens, Clarke, Keane, Heatley, Whyte. Unused subs: Mitchell, Snoddy (Whyte, 85 mins), Cushley (Heatley, 90 mins), Forsythe (Clarke, 8 mins), Suarez.

Referee: Raymond Crangle (Belfast)

Man of the match: Jordan Owens

Match rating: 8/10

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