Belfast Telegraph

Crues chief is delighted as boss Baxter extends stay

By Graham Luney

Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter has signed a new five-year contract, keeping him at the club until June 2023.

The 52-year-old took over the Seaview reins in 2005 and has since led the Hatchetmen to two Danske Bank Premiership titles.

It was a fairytale turnaround as Baxter had to endure relegation at the hands of Glenavon in a 2005 play-off.

The former Linfield and Crusaders striker led the club back to the top tier the following season and has won a total of 10 trophies, the most recent being the County Antrim Shield last month.

Crusaders are currently three points clear of Coleraine at the top of the league table going into today's home clash with Glentoran.

Chairman Stephen Bell said: "Stephen has been the keystone in our club's development and success since 2005. He has brought unparalleled professionalism, drive, enthusiasm and of course success to our club.

"Stephen is the man to lead our club as we move forward and implement our recently published 2018-2022 club strategy."

It was confirmed this week that Baxter had been named BetMcLean Manager of the Month for January. It's the third time in a row he has won the prestigious NIFWA award.

He said: "I think it's a reflection on how well the team are playing and how consistent they are. It reflects on how the entire club is functioning. We are a very close-knit group, from the backroom staff, the players and the management team. There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes.

"Football has to be enjoyed, you have to play with a smile on your face and that's what they are doing. I'm grateful for the award. To do three in a row is very special.

"We've probably paid the price of our success over the last week. We've been rattling out the league games, especially over the hectic Christmas and New Year period. We knew the cup games were coming up the track.

"A one-off cup tie is a different type of pressure. We also knew we had key players struggling in terms of injury. We duly asked a little bit too much from them.

"When boys are playing with hamstring strains, if they carry on, there is a danger they can turn into chronic injuries. That's why we had to pull some of them out."

Meanwhile, a pitch inspection is expected at the Ballymena Showgrounds today ahead of the Ballymena United v Cliftonville League Cup semi-final which has already been postponed three times due to freezing conditions.

Reds boss Barry Gray said: "They're a very difficult team to play against and they have a very good home record, so it will take something to get a positive result.

"But (last) Saturday has shown the levels we can hit and we need to build on that now. Making it into the League Cup final would be great for us all.

"What we saw on Saturday was how the team and supporters kept each other going. The players know that if they go out and give their all, the fans will be there for them, so we need to take that, keep it going and try to turn that into another good result.

"We believe we can get the win and if you can't take confidence from a result like Saturday's then I don't know what you can take confidence from.

"It's another game and another tough challenge, but these are the matches you want to be involved in."

Belfast Telegraph

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