Belfast Telegraph

Crusaders keeper O'Neill still feeling the pain of Rainey's exit

By Graham Luney

Sean O'Neill wishes David Rainey was still leading the line for Crusaders.

Rainey will make his first return to Seaview this afternoon in Glenavon colours after being released by the Crues at the end of last season.

Keeper O'Neill has warned his former comrade there will be no shirking a 50-50 challenge but the Crues number one was disappointed to see the legendary striker part company with the Hatchetmen.

Some Crusaders fans were upset at the departure of the 37-year-old and O'Neill is among them.

Crues boss Stephen Baxter made the call as he wanted to explore other attacking options and now he's looking for more goals from Jordan Owens, Gary McCutcheon, Timmy Adamson and Paul Heatley.

Rainey – and former Crues right-back Gareth McKeown – will make their return visit to Seaview with surprise package of the season Glenavon sitting pretty at the top of the table.

"David and Gareth coming back makes the game more interesting but all our objectives are the same – we want to win it," said O'Neill. "Both these guys have plenty of experience and they were big personalities in the dressing room.

"Some younger players have come into our side and they would be quieter.

"I'll be giving everything in 50-50 challenges as will the other players but David has always been a great player and, to be honest, I think we are missing a bit of his energy, drive and power in front of goal.

"Stephen (Baxter) made the decision to let David go and he has to make these calls as manager.

"I believe we have the best manager in the league.

"People talk about David Jeffrey and his record at Linfield but in terms of man-management I think there is no-one better than Stephen for getting the best out of his players.

"I just feel David would have offered us something different when the boys up front are perhaps missing chances. He just has so much energy and he seems to still be very fit after losing a lot of weight."

Crusaders got off to the worst possible start with back to back defeats, but a superb 2-0 win over Linfield at Seaview suggested they had turned a corner.

But only one victory in their next five league matches was not in the script.

"My message to the fans would be to stick with this team because we will get it right," added O'Neill.

"Perhaps we needed time to gel and we seem to rise to the occasion in big games so hopefully we can do that against Glenavon and then Cliftonville next week."

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