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Crues must pile more pressure on chasing pack: Bax

By Graham Luney

Published 26/11/2016

Long haul: Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter
Long haul: Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter

Crusaders may boast a healthy seven points lead at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership but manager Stephen Baxter will keep the players' feet firmly on the ground.

The dramatic late win at home to Ards last weekend, coupled with Cliftonville's victory at Linfield, allowed the champions to extend their lead at the summit but it's widely accepted the Shore Road side need to find more of their character than class as they try to overcome resilient opponents.

David Cushley's deflected strike in stoppage time floored Ards at Seaview but the north Belfast side came so close to dropping points, not for the first time this season.

On Saturday the back-to-back title winners travel to Dungannon Swifts, a side lifted by their 4-1 thumping of Ballymena United, and Baxter knows his boys cannot take their eye off the ball.

"There's 38 games in this league and you are not going to be allowed to play well every single week," said Baxter.

"You have to fight, fight and fight and it's a long haul.

"The (ankle) injury to Colin Coates was disappointing but in the grand scheme of things we are seven points clear and there are big football matches coming up in the next six to eight weeks. We will look where are at Christmas and take it from there.

"Michael Gault can come in for Colin and he was excellent when he came on against Ards. The other night when he played at Coleraine he was magnificent. That is the type of player that we need around us and we have to call on the other players like Philip Lowry to keep us winning matches and then in January the (transfer) window opens and we'll see what that brings."

The Crues breathed a huge sigh of relief after pinching the points at the death against Ards but Baxter admitted his troops could be a lot sharper.

"It was an average performance," he said. "We are seven points clear in this league and we are not playing particularly well. We aren't playing with the same flair and freedom we had last year but teams aren't allowing us to so we have to tip our hats and say fair enough.

"Portadown had five strung along the back against us and Ards did something similar. You have to break that down and it takes time to do that as they want to stay in the game as long as they can.

"They don't want to go a goal or two down in the first 15 minutes so I respect the teams that set out to say we will play to our strengths as I would do exactly the same. With a couple of willing runners in attack that Ards had they worked really hard to try to create something and they did get one nice chance which fell to Ross Arthurs but Sean (O'Neill) made a smart save. We had chances too but these things even themselves out.

"We are giving it our best shot and at this moment in time, in the middle of November, I'm reasonably pleased."

Skipper Colin Coates did suffer a nasty ankle injury against Ards but there was no early indication of a break and the former Northern Ireland international hopes he won't face a long spell in the treatment room.

Belfast Telegraph

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