Belfast Telegraph

Crusaders Baxter deserves to savour every minute of glamour tie: Heatley

Wolves v Crusaders, Europa League Qualifying Round Two: Molineux, Thursday, 7.45pm

Great buzz: Paul Heatley can’t wait to take on mighty Wolves
Great buzz: Paul Heatley can’t wait to take on mighty Wolves
Jordan Owens with Glenn Hunter

By Steven Beacom

Crusaders hero Paul Heatley has paid a glowing tribute to manager Stephen Baxter ahead of Thursday's mouthwatering Europa League tie against Wolves at Molineux.

Baxter has worked wonders since taking charge at Seaview in 2005, guiding the club to promotion to the top flight and inspiring the Crues to every domestic honour here as well as Setanta Cup success.

He has also regularly led Crusaders in Europe and recent history suggests they have become the best equipped Irish League side in continental competition.

Back in 2011, a year before Heatley joined the Crues, they faced Premier League opposition in Fulham. Now, they will take on Wolves with the away leg of the second qualifying round clash this week followed by the return on Belfast's Shore Road on August 1.

"Stephen gives absolutely everything for the club and puts his heart and soul into all that he does," said Heatley, who scored twice in last week's vital 3-2 victory in the Faroe Islands against B36 Torshavn which secured a 5-2 aggregate win.

"A game like this is just reward for him and I hope he has the same phenomenal experience at Molineux with the atmosphere and everything else that the players will experience because he deserves to."

Like Baxter, 32-year-old Heatley is already a Crusaders great. He is now the second highest scorer in the club's history alongside Glenn Hunter with 157 goals from 302 appearances. Only team-mate and another huge favourite at the club, Jordan Owens, has more with 218.

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"Glenn is a legend at Crusaders and that will never change. He's written into the history books and I'm immensely proud to be associated with a player of that calibre," said Heatley, who after his double blast against Torshavn was back working in his banking job the very next day.

"Obviously, Jordan Owens is our record goalscorer. To be in the same era as Jordan and to be able to play alongside him for so long is a fantastic experience.

"Hopefully we can keep progressing. When we are finished with our careers those records are going to be something special to look back on."

For now, though, all eyes are on Wolves.

"To come up against a team that finished seventh in the Premier League last season is going to be incredible and we intend to savour every moment of it," said Heatley, a Liverpool fan who well remembers Wolves beating the European champions in the FA Cup last term.

"The boys are starting to evaluate and think who our opposite number might be and we were having a wee laugh thinking that Adama Traore may be up against Billy Joe Burns.

"Declan Caddell against Joao Moutinho might be worth watching as well."

If the Crues pull off a huge shock against Wolves they will face Pyunik (Armenia) or Jablonec (Czech Republic) in the next round.

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