Boss Baxter thrilled with Crusaders' goal-scoring new-boy Murray
Carrick Rangers 0-3 Crusaders
Crusaders eased clear at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership as they slip-slided their way to a comfortable victory over Carrick Rangers at a freezing Belfast Loughshore Arena.
Darren Murray scored twice on his debut and Philip Lowry was rewarded for a man of the match performance with the third goal as the Crues extended their unbeaten run in the league to 17 games.
Manager Stephen Baxter was delighted by the performance in such tricky underfoot conditions.
"We were solid at the back and created the chances up front. Darren has settled in well, he's alive in the box and took both his goals very well," he said.
"I told them at half-time we should have had more than one goal but the second put the game to bed and we were able to enjoy ourselves. It was a good response to our two cup defeats and just nice to get through a tricky game. We now have a three-point lead and it's a fight to the line."
The only other time these teams played back-to-back Premiership games, in March 2016, Crusaders followed a 4-0 victory with a 4-3 defeat, so despite their 6-0 win at Seaview 10 days ago, Baxter was taking nothing for granted last night.
But the leaders were quickly into their stride with Billy Joe Burns popping up in the box to force Harry Doherty into a double save after only five minutes.
The early pressure continued and it took Murray only nine minutes to become a hero with the Crues fans. Lowry's cross into the box caused confusion in the Carrick defence and the new signing poked home.
The goal settled the visitors and Carrick found it difficult to make any impression in the final third. At the other end, Burns was getting forward at every opportunity and a cross was out of the reach of Jordan Owens.
Carrick did finally get into the Crusaders penalty area in the 29th minute but Chris Morrow failed to trouble Brian Jensen with a tame shot from 12 yards. In the opposite area, Paul Heatley's connection was even worse, a complete miskick after a lovely one-two with Gavin Whyte.
Just before the interval, Jonathan Smith's mazy run was ended by Burns, a superbly timed tackle in the penalty area but at least it gave the home side some hope of breaking their three-game duck in front of goal.
Carrick did enjoy more possession on the resumption but it was still Crusaders who posed the greater threat and three times in the first 15 minutes, Heatley came close to scoring.
First he saw a shot blocked on the line by Damien McNulty, then, after a sweeping three-man move, Murray's first-time pass was met by the diminutive winger but his shot was just the wrong side of the post, and on the hour a header from eight yards was clawed away.
But less than 60 seconds later, the Crues had got their vital second. Lowry's shot from 25 yards was too hot for Doherty to hold and Murray was in the right place to tap home the rebound.
Crusaders had scored three against Carrick in all but one of their previous 15 games, dating back to 2011 - winning 14 of them - and the sequence was maintained in the 68th minute.
Lowry had just denied Eamon Scannell a clear shot and his next action saw him surging through the Carrick defence to give Doherty no chance with a low shot from the edge of the box.
With the visitors now in cruise control, Lowry was substituted and Murray, who was on a yellow card, quickly followed to deny him the chance of a debut hat-trick. But Crusaders' goal difference is already 18 better than Coleraine's and that could yet be vital at the end of the season.