Belfast Telegraph

Baxter on the hunt for quality after Owens injury

By Steven Beacom

Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter has revealed he is on the lookout for a high-quality striker for the start of the Irish League season after the club's record goalscorer Jordan Owens suffered a hamstring injury in the Champions League.

Owens was substituted after just 32 minutes of Tuesday's 2-0 defeat to Bulgarian side Ludogorets and could be out of action for up to six weeks.

It is a major blow for the Crues, who next month will start the defence of the title they won in dramatic fashion last term.

Baxter said: "Jordan looks like he has pulled a hamstring which is six weeks in anyone's book. It would be a rush now to get him ready for the start of the season.

"There's not too many players like Jordan out there so we will have to re-think what we are doing and how we are doing it.

"We have 23 players available and we will keep our eye on the market to see if something turns up that interests us because we may well need another No.9.

"These things stretch you, but I thought David Cushley did well when he came on for Jordan against Ludogorets.

"He is a big-game player and we need to see more from him. Sometimes one man's injury is another man's opportunity."

Following the Ludogorets game at Seaview, Baxter was keen to praise the commitment of defender Rodney Brown, who scored an own goal in both legs of the Champions League first qualifying round tie which ended 9-0 on aggregate.

Brown had a nightmare opening period, putting the ball into his own net on Tuesday as he tried to deal with Jody Lukoki, the visitors' rapid winger.

"Jody Lukoki didn't play in the first leg, but he is their star player and his pace is unbelievable, and Rodney is a young lad," added Baxter. "I think Rodney was a little terrified about getting done all the time but that created a bigger problem because they worked out that was their avenue into goal.

"Rodney got stung a little bit in the first 10 or 15 minutes but he composed himself and got his act together, and I thought he had an excellent hour after that.

"This is a learning curve for Rodney. It was also a learning exercise for Kyle Owens, who was out of position at times leaving Rodney exposed and we had to sort that out.

"We were screaming all night to 'hold your shape' because if we didn't they would tear us apart, and at the end of the match my feeling was one of immense pride with our performance."

The Crues, under new Uefa rules, drop into the Europa League where they face Slovenia's Olimpija Ljubljana in the second qualifying round.

The first leg will be in Ljubljana on Thursday 26 July, with the return leg at Seaview a week later on Thursday 2 August.

Belfast Telegraph

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