Belfast Telegraph

Baxter demands a reaction from wounded Crues

By Alex Mills

Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter believes the hurt of two quick-fire cup exits can be eased should his team re-open a gap at the top of the league tonight.

The Shore Road boys' 23-game unbeaten run hit the buffers when they crashed out of the League Cup at the semi-final stage to Dungannon Swifts before losing to Cliftonville at the weekend in the Irish Cup.

Bullish Baxter insists his troops will have no time to lick their gaping wounds as they make the short trip to the Loughshore Hotel Arena tonight to face a Carrick Rangers side haunted by the threat of relegation.

Indeed, depending on results, Davy McAlinden's men could be overtaken by Ballinamallard United at the foot of the Danske Bank Premiership.

"It's good this game comes so soon after Saturday's debacle at Solitude," said Baxter, whose team were on the wrong end of a number of controversial refereeing decisions.

"Yes, we still have a tinge of disappointment. We were in total control of the game for the first 35 minutes or so and then things happened that were outside of our control.

"But it's gone. It was disappointing to exit two cup competitions in the space of a few days, especially as we were on a great run of form. But I'm long enough in this game to know how things can change so quickly.

"There is no point in looking back. Our focus is now on the league campaign, starting with Carrick Rangers.

"We played them recently at our place and we ran out impressive 6-0 winners, so I'm sure they'll be looking to avenge that defeat.

"The pitch is difficult down there, and I don't think the weather forecast is encouraging, but after what has happened it's important we have a reaction."

Declan Caddell has an automatic one-match ban after being dismissed at Solitude.

"We were missing Howard Beverland, Colin Coates and Mark McChrystal on Saturday, while Philip Lowry is nursing a foot injury," said Baxter. "It's a matter of waiting to see who will make it. We'll not be taking risks.

"There is a lot at stake. We approach the fixture aware that a victory can take us three points clear and that's a massive incentive, especially on the back of the cup defeats - it would ease pain.

"But we'll be taking nothing for granted. It's the start of a big period for us. We have Glentoran at the weekend and then the following Sunday we travel to face Inverness in the Scottish IRN BRU Cup semi-final. It's a matter of keeping the heads down and staying focused."

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