Belfast Telegraph

Crusaders' boss relishes a derby day shot at redemption

By Alex Mills

Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter believes today's North Belfast derby comes just at the right time for his wounded troops. They suffered only their second home defeat in 37 games last weekend when losing out to Coleraine, who chalked up their first win at Seaview since 2010.

It wasn't the result that hurt Baxter, it was the manner of the defeat. They simply wilted in front of their home fans - the same supporters who have enjoyed a cocktail of successes in recent seasons.

Baxter, uncharacteristically, laid into his boys afterwards in a rare public outburst, labelling them "a disgrace".

He is now looking for a response when his team make the short trip up the road to face derby rivals Cliftonville at Solitude this afternoon.

"I watched a video of last week's game and I can honestly state it wasn't a Crusaders performance," said Baxter. "In my estimation, we were simply off it.

"Perhaps three matches in the first week took its toll? Perhaps the players were under the opinion they just needed to turn up to win? I just don't know.

"Unfortunately it doesn't work like that. If you are not clued in from the start, it's difficult or practically impossible to pick up.

"We were flat. Even though we had a lot of the ball, we had no penetration. What made it even more frustrating was the fact that Coleraine's two goals came from set piece situations.

"The bottom line is they won all the niggling battles. We didn't play with the intensity we can. They were willing to roll up the sleeves and make things happen. In many ways, they did to us what we have being doing to other teams for quite some time."

Baxter insists a massive improvement is required for this big Danske Bank Premiership derby clash.

"Well, I suppose it's the perfect fixture for us," he added. "These games are always feisty affairs... they are always hard fought and close games.

"There has been a lot of changes at Cliftonville over the summer with a new manager (Barry Gray) coming in with quite a few new players.

"So it has the makings of another great game. Although we were disappointed last week, you have to take into consideration that we are only three games in, it's still very early days.

"There were no inquests. The boys trained really well this week. They've got the Coleraine result out of their system. It's now gone. We look forward, not back," added Baxter, who is thrilled with the early season form of midfielder Philip Lowry.

"He has shed a stone in weight and is looking hungry again," he added. "Philip is like a new player. Last season he was travelling in from England, which meant he was up in the middle of the night to catch flights.

"But he is now working and living in Belfast. He is now able to train with the rest of the boys and I think that is being reflected in his performances."

Baxter is also hoping to have influential skipper Colin Coates installed to the heart of his defence for the game.

He sustained a hamstring problem in the win over Warrenpoint Town and missed out at the weekend.

Cliftonville

Crusaders

Danske Bank Premiership:

Solitude, Today, 3.00 pm

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