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Stephen Baxter feels hand of history resting on his shoulder

By Graham Luney

Published 15/04/2016

Victory roar: Stephen Baxter hopes Crusaders can finish the job tomorrow
Victory roar: Stephen Baxter hopes Crusaders can finish the job tomorrow

Stephen Baxter has admitted his Crusaders side are on the brink of an emotional success story and should they retain the Danske Bank Premiership title it will take everyone who cares about the club a long time to appreciate the magnitude of their achievement.

The north Belfast side has never successfully defended a league title in their 118-year history, but a new glorious chapter is almost complete with the Hatchetmen once again looking a cut above the rest.

A dramatic 2-0 victory over closest rivals Linfield at Seaview last Saturday opened up an eight point gap at the top of the table with only four games remaining.

The title mission could be completed as early as tomorrow if the Crues win at Glenavon and David Healy's side fail to beat Coleraine at Windsor Park.

Baxter refers to these permutations as 'ifs, buts and maybes', but it's widely accepted that after the crucial win last weekend the red and black ribbons will be remaining on local football's most prestigious prize.

A year ago the celebrations were wild as Crusaders claimed their first title triumph in 18 years, but the Seaview boys are, quite rightly, bracing themselves for an even bigger party.

"You go through a range of emotions when you win anything in football and there's a great euphoria involved because a lot of hard work goes into getting you there," said Baxter, who won two titles as a player with both the Crues and Blues.

"It's a special feeling when you get over the line. We saw it when Glenavon won the Irish Cup semi-final against us and we enjoyed it after the win against Linfield. It's a massive release of emotion because with the weight of expectation there is a build up of stress and tension and there was a bit of that when I jumped on the fence at Solitude a year ago.

"But I also believe it takes time to fully appreciate what you have achieved. It was the same for Danny Willett after winning The Masters. It wasn't until he came back to London when the enormity of his achievement hit him.

"When we won the title last year we hadn't done it in 18 years so it was very special. Grown men were crying and seeing people enjoy the moment was incredible.

"Sometimes it means more to us as we are a small club and these successful periods don't come along often.

"At Crusaders we have had great times with Roy Walker in the 1980s and Billy Johnston in the 70s, while guys like Walter McFarland left us with special memories. You are only talking about a few eras in the history of the club.

"It's also always been said that it's incredibly hard to defend a title.

"I can believe that when I hear of how opposition players have complained about being shattered after trying to beat us.

"We can empathise with that as we were the same going up against David Jeffrey's great Linfield teams."

Crusaders defender Josh Robinson played for a Fleetwood Town side in a development fixture against a Liverpool XI yesterday.

The Liverpool side included keeper Adam Bogdan and Jose Enrique while Northern Ireland international Ryan McLaughlin was among the substitutes.

Belfast Telegraph

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