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Crusaders can cope with packed fixture list, says Baxter

Dungannon v Crusaders, Danske Bank Premiership, Stangmore Park, Tonight, 7.45pm

By Graham Luney

Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter is confident his squad can weather a winter storm as the fixture list gets increasingly congested.

The games are coming thick and fast for the Crues, continuing with the Danske Bank Premiership clash at Dungannon Swifts tonight, but Baxter has attempted to assemble a squad that is capable of fighting on several fronts.

As the Shore Road men have progressed to the semi-finals of the IRN-BRU Cup, County Antrim Shield and Bet McLean League Cup, there are plenty of big games on the horizon.

In recent seasons Crusaders have come up short in cup competitions, and earlier this year they ran out of gas just before the finishing line in the title race.

The more matches teams play, the more injuries and suspensions they will pick up, and new arrivals in the treatment room are Mark McChrystal and Matthew Snoddy.

But the good news for the Crues is that the players who are fit for battle are looking composed and confident.

Eight wins on the bounce is quite an achievement for any side, but it was their performance on Saturday which sent a powerful message to the rest of the league as Carrick Rangers were crushed 7-1 at Seaview.

The Crues are in third position, six points behind leaders Coleraine and with a game in hand over the pacesetters, who host Ards tonight.

If they can maintain this ruthless streak then another title assault looks certain.

"I feel a performance like this one has been coming from us and it's important when you're on top to drive home your advantage," said Baxter after the victory against Carrick.

"We were clinical and played at a high tempo. We will take each game in our stride but no-one will get ahead of themselves, it's still early in the season.

"We are scoring a lot of goals in the victories which is very pleasing.

"I'm disappointed we conceded a goal from a corner kick against Carrick but you have to maintain these level of performances if you hope to compete at the top of the table.

"We are in there fighting among four or five other very good sides.

"One swallow doesn't make a summer and it's about onwards and upwards for us, keep working hard at your job and making sure the players do what they are meant to do.

"We have big games coming up but the players are playing well.

"We probably put all our eggs in one basket last year in going for the league and just fell one hurdle short, by two points.

"You have to weigh it all up as you go, and when these games come around you are thinking about resting one or two, but you also want to get in there and fight for everything.

"We will address the games when they come, we have two big league games and then the cup matches. The squad is being stretched and now we have Mark McChrystal and Matthew Snoddy injured and we are being asked questions.

"We might have to visit the market and see if we can strengthen in January but we have a few semi-finals and they will look after themselves."

Victory at Stangmore Park would put the north Belfast men one point behind second-placed Glenavon.

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