Belfast Telegraph

Crusaders must show Seaview swagger to regain pride, says defiant Baxter

 

By Steven Beacom

Stephen Baxter has urged his Crusaders side to show some Seaview swagger in the Champions League tonight against Ludogorets.

The Irish League's top dogs will enter the second leg of the first qualifying round tie trailing 7-0 from last week's opener when the Bulgarian outfit turned on the style.

Baxter was so impressed by the opposition that he says they are the best 'footballing side' he has faced in his numerous experiences as a player and manager in continental competition.

That won't stop the three time league title winning boss demanding the pride and resilience this evening (8pm) that has become a hallmark of Crusaders at home in Europe under Baxter.

"We are looking for a little bit of respectability and pride in our performance," said the Crues manager. "I want us to go out and play with a bit of a swagger and bring our Seaview game to them as opposed to playing on their big pitch where they played us off the park."

Honest enough to admit the difference in quality between the sides, Baxter added: "Every Ludogorets player was between 5 ft 6" and 5 ft 10" and they had only one 6 ft player. When I saw them on the pitch I thought that would suit us with set plays into the box, but the speed and movement they produced in Bulgaria meant we couldn't get near them.

"The tempo really impressed me in terms of how quick they moved the ball. It was amazing to watch. They were the best footballing team I have faced in my time in Europe.

"Ludogorets are now used to playing in the Champions League group stages and have a real quality about them. They have players valued at £5 million playing for them which tells you the difference.

"We are privileged to be involved at this level and we don't take any of it for granted.

"From our point of view, the second leg will be great, getting miles on the clock for our domestic season and also from a learning aspect as facing a quality side like Ludogorets again can help us tactically and technically.

"I believe the European experience benefits us and is a good bonding experience. We have been doing it the last six or seven years and I would miss it if it wasn't there."

Gavin Whyte, brilliant during last season's Danske Bank Premiership triumph for the Crues, is now an Oxford United player, but Baxter - who played such a massive role in his development - is delighted that the young winger is getting his big chance across the water.

"I think it's a good move for Gavin because it will give him a chance to play first team football. We are all so pleased for him and he deserves this opportunity," said Baxter, who is excited by the prospect of new signing Ross Clarke and youngster Ross Holden, returning from long term injury, helping to fill the void.

As was the case in the first leg, the Crues are without influential defenders Colin Coates and Sean Ward tonight but both should be back when the north Belfast club drop into the Europa League next week when they will meet either Olimpia Ljubljana from Slovenia or Azerbaijan team Qarabag.

Belfast Telegraph

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