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Baxter urges Crues to make the most of their Euro lifeline

By Steven Beacom

Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter is tonight hoping to take advantage of new Uefa rules that have given his side a second shot at European glory this season.

Previously when Irish League sides were defeated in Europe they focused on domestic matters.

Not so now for the side that wins the title.

When they are knocked out of the Champions League they drop into the Europa League.

And Baxter believes that the heavy Champions League loss suffered against Bulgarian outfit Ludogorets - 9-0 on aggregate - earlier this month can help the Crues when they take on Slovenia side Olimpija Ljubljana in the second qualifying round Europa League tie.

The Crues are missing injured striker Jordan Owens for this evening's (7.00pm) first leg in Slovenia but do have key defenders Colin Coates and Sean Ward back after both were absent from the Ludogorets clash.

Baxter's side will once again start as underdogs, but he is relishing the challenge and another adventure in Europe.

"With respect we could have been playing Nortel in Belfast working towards the new domestic season so it's not bad playing against a high level of opposition like Ljubljana and getting another shot in Europe," said the man who has won five league titles as a player and manager with the Crues.

"Every time we play in Europe we learn a lot so the more we can do it the better. Against Ludogorets, who were a top side, we learnt a great deal and hopefully that will help us in this tie.

"In the first leg in Slovenia we know we are in for a tough match but if we can get something out of it the return match at Seaview would be very interesting."

There's also a massive financial incentive for the Hatchetmen to win this clash.

Should the Crues triumph over two legs their cash windfall from Uefa this season would smash the €1m (£889,000) mark.

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