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Baxter is urging Crusaders to keep their feet on the gas

By Adrian Rutherford

Stephen Baxter has warned there can be no complacency from Crusaders ahead of a run of games which could define their season.

The defending Danske Bank Premiership champions hold an eight-point lead as they head into the second half of the campaign.

They will aim to strengthen their grip on top spot against struggling Carrick Rangers tomorrow.

In many ways, this is a must-win game for Baxter's side, who face their three nearest challengers in the following three fixtures.

And heading into the busy Christmas and New Year period, Baxter has warned their current lead counts for nothing.

"No one is taking anything for granted - there is still a long, long way to go," he warned.

"We might be eight points clear at the moment but Cliftonville (in second place) have a game in hand.

"If they win that, suddenly the gap is down to five - and five points is nothing.

"For us it's just about taking it game by game, focusing on the next match and seeing where it takes us."

Baxter is mindful of last term, when the Crues ended 2014 five points off the lead.

They turned that around in the second half of the campaign, and he doesn't want history to repeat itself this time.

"Things can change very quickly in football," he highlighted.

"Going into the New Year's Day fixture last year we were five behind Linfield, so we know we cannot lose our focus."

The Crues head to Carrick this weekend for a game which, on paper at least, looks a banker away win.

However, the same could have been said about last weekend's visit to Dungannon, where Baxter's side needed a 90th-minute goal to claim the points.

"Carrick will be another tough game - there are no easy games in this league," added Baxter.

"We've a tough little run with Coleraine, Cliftonville and Linfield to come, but we'll make it tough for them too, and hopefully we'll still be in a good place at the end of it."

Tomorrow could be a big day for Crusaders striker Jordan Owens.

He needs just one more goal to move level with Glenn Hunter as the Crues' all-time record scorer and at the age of just 26 he is sure to go on to set the bar high for whoever comes after him.

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