Belfast Telegraph

Crusaders must find ruthless streak, says Baxter

By Graham Luney

Stephen Baxter is confident his Crusaders side can find the killer touch against Linfield at Seaview.

Both sides have been tipped to challenge for the title this season but they have failed to win any of their opening two fixtures and the Shore Road men have lost both.

A 1-0 loss at Ballinamallard United followed by a 2-1 defeat at home to Ballymena United represents a disappointing start to the campaign for the Hatchetmen.

But the mood isn't much more bouyant at Windsor Park where David Jeffrey's side were held 1-1 at Portadown and then slumped to a 4-2 defeat at home to the champions Cliftonville.

If the Reds secure a win against Warrenpoint Town tomorrow, defeat at Seaview would leave the Blues eight points behind Tommy Breslin's charges and the Crues nine points behind.

Even at this early stage of the season, that gap would set off a few alarm bells in either camp. At Seaview, Crusaders are carving out chances but lacking a ruthless streak – a trend that Baxter hopes will end tomorrow.

"Sometimes you come away from games and think 'what happened there?'," said the Crues boss.

"You can dominate the play for long periods, have a lot of possession, create chances and still not win a game.

"You can be on the front foot for much of the time but still wonder how on earth you never managed to win the game. Sometimes you only get two or three big chances and you need to take them. That's how football works and if you don't take those chances you can be punished.

"I haven't been disappointed with the performances as we have been knocking on the door and looking threatening at times but it's about winning matches. It's unfortunate that ourselves and Linfield are playing this fixture now.

"One of us could be bottom of the league after the game but that's just how the fixtures have fallen."

Players such as Aaron Burns and James Knowles and Sean Ward have given Linfield a new dimension while Andy Waterworth is on the road back to fitness.

And the Blues will arrive at the Shore Road venue with the attitude of a wounded lion after they tasted defeat against the Reds. Former Linfield striker Baxter has followed his old team's fortunes this season and he believes they probably deserve more than one point from their two battles.

"With another turn of the ball they could have got three points at Portadown," said Baxter. "They were on top against Cliftonville when it was 2-2 but just couldn't complete the job against a team who are champions at the moment.

"But there's no question Linfield have real quality right throughout their squad – huge players and players have enjoyed incredible success.

"I think everyone believes they will be there or thereabouts when the trophies are handed out.

"Myself and David (Jeffrey) have been in the game a long time and we know exactly what to expect when these sides meet. We also know how things change over the course of a season and how injuries and suspensions play a part."

Many Linfield fans are expected to boycott tomorrow's game in response to the court action taken by Crusaders over the redevelopment of Windsor Park.

A group called the Linfield Supporters Advisory Forum told this newspaper they felt the legal action was a "petty, vindictive attack on the club's achievements".

The legal dispute between the Crues – who argued that government funding of the Linfield-owned stadium would hand the Blues an unfair financial advantage over rival clubs – and the Irish FA has now been settled but some Linfield fans still want to convey the message they are unhappy their club's history was painted in a negative light.

Baxter has stressed that the Northern Ireland "football family" is a close-knit community and he doesn't want to see any division.

"I am very proud of our wee country and what we achieve at international level," added Baxter. "Here we have part-time football which is still a great product and so many people are working hard within it. It's profile has been enhanced by Sky Sports coverage and I only want to read about positive things that are going on.

"When this thing settles down we can hopefully see more money come into the clubs for the betterment of the game and making it a good, competitive league. I want to see more people come through the turnstiles. There was a great buzz and atmosphere at Ballinmallard and I would like to see that at all the matches. I think we should all be supportive of one another and Linfield, as the daddy bears of the league, are a huge part of what we are about."

There will be an historic first on Monday night when Crusaders tackle Newington in the League Cup at Seaview for the first time in a competitive fixture. Both clubs have delievered a successful good relations education programme in north-Belfast and Newtownabbey over the past few years.

"We'll be playing our tenants and it's a special occasion for everyone," added Baxter.

"The Seaview Enterprises initiative is doing fantastic work and reaching out to both communities. Barney Thompson and Philip Mitchell have done tremendous work and there's a great atmosphere surrounding this wonderul community initiative."

Belfast Telegraph

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