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Colin Coates is a one off but decisions are made for Crusaders ahead of anyone else, says Baxter



Top boss: January Manager of the Month Stephen Baxter directing his players

Top boss: January Manager of the Month Stephen Baxter directing his players

�INPHO/Declan Roughan

Top boss: January Manager of the Month Stephen Baxter directing his players

Stephen Baxter says he's not afraid to make huge calls in the interests of Crusaders Football Club.

The Crues boss has an impressive squad to manage but it will always evolve and that can sometimes mean big names will head for the departure lounge.

Last month, Baxter allowed his long-serving inspirational skipper Colin Coates to move to Glenavon.

Out of contract in the summer, the former Northern Ireland international decided to accept a good offer from the Lurgan Blues.

It can't be easy for Baxter to watch brave warriors move on to fight different battles but the reality of football is that players will come and go and young, hungry performers can drive a club forward.

"Do I agonise over some decisions? Yes and no," said the Crues boss. "You always have to be realistic and see the big picture.

"You have to try to explain it. I came through my playing career with some managers who never explain it, and just show you the door, which is really hard.

"I said if I ever got involved in this I'd always try to explain why we do things.

"But you have to make decisions for the good of the football club and the long-term sustainability of the football club, and what's right for the player, too.

"Colin Coates is a lad we will never see the likes of again. He was at the club from the age of 17 and he was shaped and moulded into the player we made him.

"He has been awesome in his career around that but injuries and different things come to all players and you don't get as many minutes out of them.

"When the opportunity came for him, he chose to leave and everybody has to have their own thought process.

"I only have good words for Colin, he knows my thoughts on all of this and he is a great guy. 

"I wish him well and I'm sure he'll do well for the next couple of years and he'll always be held in the highest esteem at our football club.

"But these are really hard decisions. The football club has to come first, though."

Baxter has been named NIFWA Manager of the Month for January after Crusaders won every game without conceding a goal.

The north Belfast side sit just two points off the top after winning their last five Premiership games and it's the 20th time in his career that the former Crusaders and Linfield striker has lifted the gong.

There's a League Cup final against Coleraine next Saturday night to keep the juices flowing, while the Gibson Cup and Irish Cup remain realistic targets.

The fans will be happy with that, especially after an injury curse seems to have arrived on the Shore Road.

"I think when you look at teams, and we've been up there challenging for some time, and two or three years ago we were taking a lot of headlines but it's switched to Coleraine and then Ballymena and Linfield last year and Glentoran this year, as well as Larne, there are a lot of things that go on that never get seen," added Baxter, whose side are at Glenavon today.

"We were rolling out with a lot of injuries this year, like Ballymena. We got off to a brilliant, brilliant start this season and beat Linfield to go top of the league and on that night we lost two boys to injuries.

"We then played a midweek game and lost another two players and then three in the following game on the Saturday.

"So we went from no injuries to seven in a week, and they were all quite bad injuries.

"All of a sudden, you're asking what's going on. You couldn't make it up.

"But you have to get on with it for the next seven or eight games. When you lose that amount of players, inevitably there are rocky results.

"We have to chop and change the back four for instance, but we don't moan about it, it's football and you deal with it.

"You need your better players fit and playing consistently if you're going to compete."

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