Belfast Telegraph

Crusaders cannot allow League Cup woe to linger: Baxter

 

By Adrian Rutherford

Stephen Baxter has warned Crusaders to quickly forget their League Cup heartbreak.

The Crues' hopes of a clean sweep ended when they lost a pulsating semi-final in the pouring rain at Dungannon on Tuesday night.

An extra-time defeat brought a halt to a 23-game unbeaten run, stretching all the way back to mid-October.

Ryan Harpur's penalty saw the Swifts progress to the final 2-1, on an evening when the Crues' injury problems deepened.

Mark McChrystal and Philip Lowry both went off with knocks.

But the wounds - mental and physical - must heal quickly for the Crues, who face a series of key games over the next 10 days.

Tomorrow, they meet north Belfast rivals Cliftonville in the sixth round of the Tennent's Irish Cup at Solitude.

Then come league games against Carrick Rangers and Glentoran, as the Crues aim to stay out in front in the title race.

Manager Baxter said: "We have to regroup and get focused again.

"We've a huge Irish Cup match on Saturday against our near neighbours, it will be a huge game of football, and then we've a big game at Carrick next Tuesday night, so there is still a lot to play for.

"We have to roll our sleeves up, regroup and go again.

"I am sure there are a lot of big characters in the dressing room who will do just that.

"We've got to go away now and let the players rest for a few days. We'll get them in on Thursday and see what the injuries are like.

"Mark McChrystal has pulled a calf muscle, Philip (Lowry) might have a broken bone in his foot."

The Crues were without injured quartet Howard Beverland, Rodney Brown, Michael Carvill and Ross Holden on Tuesday night.

And the addition of two more to the casualty list at Stangmore Park is hardly what Baxter needed.

Now comes a big test against Cliftonville in the sixth round of the Irish Cup.

"In normal circumstances I'd say yes (it's the perfect game), but it's the fit bodies that is the problem," Baxter added.

"I'm not disappointed with this team around their application and attitude and all the things they have done. They were just tired - simple as that. They said afterwards in the changing room that some of them are absolutely zonked, and that's just the rigours of playing two matches a week.

"You have to remember we played at Coleraine, we played at Ballymena and we played at Dungannon - on three pitches that have just pulled the legs clean out of people."

The Crues go into the derby clash lifted by the news of Darren Murray's arrival from Warrenpoint Town.

"It has been a long month and I thought the deal wasn't going to happen but suddenly it has and I am here," said the 26-year-old.

"I hope I can repay the faith Stephen Baxter has put in me and I can't wait to show the supporters why Crusaders have bought me."

Belfast Telegraph

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