Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter: We are ready for second shot at Livingston in IRN-BRU Cup
Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter says his players will relish another crack at the IRN-BRU Cup — even if it does give him a fixture headache.
The Crues have been handed a rematch with Livingston at Seaview next Tuesday night after the Scottish side admitted fielding an ineligible player in their 2-1 victory earlier this month.
Livingston won the October 7 battle but Alan Lithgow was supposed to be suspended, and the club have also been fined £4,000.
With Crusaders taking on Glentoran in the County Antrim Shield at The Oval tonight (7.45pm) ahead of a Danske Bank Premiership blockbuster against Linfield at Windsor Park on Saturday, this additional contest makes it a busy competitive calendar on the Shore Road.
Some supporters will feel that the punishment doesn’t go far enough and that the West Lothian club should be booted out of the tournament with the Crues progressing to a match against Welsh side The New Saints in the quarter-finals on November 13, but Baxter isn’t jumping up and down in fury as the tournament, which has featured Welsh and Irish sides for the first time, is not high up on his or the club’s priority list.
“It’s a bit of a surreal one for us as we were knocked out of this tournament and now we find ourselves back in it,” said the Crues boss.
“We will have another go at it but it has come at an important period of the season for us and we have a massive game against Linfield to focus on this weekend. You could argue it’s another game we could do without because there is always the possibility of us sustaining more injuries, like we did in the first game.
“It’s hard to get your head around what has happened but a decision has been made and we will respect it. When you enter a competition you have respect for its rules and the authorities have determined that the game should be replayed.
“Now that we are back in the competition we have been given another opportunity to progress so the players will give it a go but I’ll have to use the squad wisely and make the necessary changes. We have four or five injuries and you don’t want to have too many.
“I don’t feel disappointed that Livingston were not removed from the competition as it’s not a priority for me.
“Our minds are focused on a very important game against Linfield and we will just abide by the rules of this other competition.
“Perhaps some teams in Scotland may take a different view than ourselves but we had a brilliant game of football in the first match and hopefully we can give them a good game again.”
SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster said yesterday: “In the interests of sporting integrity and fairness to both sides, the game will be replayed.”
A sub-committee of the SPFL board charged Livingston for playing Lithgow while he was ineligible as he was under a Scottish FA suspension at the time.
The defender started the game at Seaview and played the full 90 minutes of the fourth-round clash. Livingston had pleaded guilty to a breach of the SPFL regulations.
The club issued a statement which read: “Livingston FC has accepted the SPFL’s decision and feel this is a fair outcome.
“The Board, Operational Committee and Management team apologise for what was a genuine misinterpretation of the rules and thank our loyal fans for their continued support.”
On the domestic front, the Crues can book a place in the semi-finals of the County Antrim Shield with a win over Glentoran at The Oval tonight and striker Jordan Owens is expecting a titanic battle.
“It’ll be a difficult game because The Oval is always a tough place to go,” said Owens.
“There might be a few changes in the team with one eye on Saturday.”