Belfast Telegraph

Baxter's boys can put on a show for O'Neill

By Steven Beacom

Former Northern Ireland star Colin O'Neill is set to attend his first Crusaders game since slamming their style of play and the overall standard of Irish League football.

O'Neill, who caused uproar amongst Irish League fans last month with his controversial comments in the Belfast Telegraph, has been invited by friends to watch the Danske Bank Premiership showdown with Cliftonville at Seaview today.

Champions Crusaders enter the north Belfast derby eight points ahead of the Reds, who are their nearest challengers.

Crusaders striker Jordan Owens needs one goal to become the club's record goalscorer. He is currently level with the legendary Glenn Hunter on 157 goals.

O'Neill, despite still holding the same views on the local game, says: "I've been asked to go by some friends and am looking forward to the match.

"I still don't think Crusaders are good to watch and believe they bully teams, but I'll be interested to see if Jordan Owens can break Glenn Hunter's record.

"Owens has done well to score that number of goals.

"I think if Cliftonville win it will be a big boost to their title chances, but if Crusaders win the race will be over.

"Since I said what I said about the Crues and the Irish League in general a lot of people have said I was wrong, but a lot have said I was spot on too."

Crues boss Stephen Baxter defended his side after O'Neill's comments and invited the former Motherwell man to come to a training session at Seaview. He is keen to do that but no arrangements have been made to date.

The Reds fell further behind their north Belfast rivals at the top last Saturday when they lost 2-0 to Glentoran at The Oval.

Manager Gerard Lyttle is desperate to avoid the gap being stretched to 11 points, but he isn't concerned that the defeat to the Glens has had a detrimental impact on his team, who had previously been unbeaten in 13 Premiership matches.

"Hopefully we can win the game and get closer to Crusaders," said Lyttle.

"All we can do is keep winning.

"This will be a good contest and a good test for our boys to see where we are, but the confidence is very, very high in our changing room and there is a good buzz about the place.

"We are playing some good attacking football and long may it continue."

This year's Christmas calendar means no extra matches over the festive period, but Lyttle would be happy to play more games.

"It's not really congested this year where you have midweek games over the Christmas period," he said. "It probably benefits the teams that don't have as big a squad and they can get that rest."

Belfast Telegraph


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