Crusaders must win biggest games to hit top spot, says Stephen Baxter
Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter will warn his players they will need to bring their 'A-plus' game to the Coleraine Showgrounds tonight if they hope to get a positive result.
The Crues have struggled at the north west venue in recent seasons but they will look for a slice of revenge after the Bannsiders rolled over the Irish Cup holders at Seaview in October.
Ben Doherty's double did the damage that afternoon and it followed September's scrap at the Showgrounds when the home side enjoyed a thumping 4-2 victory.
Both sides are aiming to keep pace with Premiership leaders Cliftonville, who host champions Linfield on Monday night.
It promises to be another tense tussle in front of the live BBC cameras and Baxter accepts his troops will need to produce a performance right out of the top drawer.
"Players will need to bring their A-plus game, we haven't won up there for a while," warned the Crues boss, who has allowed midfielder Matthew Snoddy to move to Glenavon on loan.
"It's a tough place to go and they are flying high. They have done exceptionally well and they are a great side. We will have to be at our best but we are playing well and have confidence.
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"It's another big game of football at the top of the table and we are looking forward to it.
"There's no doubt you need to win some of these big games to stay at the top, and with Linfield playing Cliftonville on Monday, it's a reminder there's big games everywhere. The league is very tight and it's brilliant for the media and fans.
"They are all important games and we will prepare really well for it, as will Coleraine."
There's plenty of time for one or two teams to pull away from the chasing pack but at the moment we have a thrilling title race.
"It's a long time since the title race has been this close," added Baxter.
"You normally see two teams emerging but in four weeks those two might emerge.
"I think it's fabulous, and from the start of the season we knew six teams were going to be competitive at the top and every side will be tested in a big way.
"I hope there's a few teams going for the title and we are one of them. With the drop off in one of the league slots for Europe, it does put a greater emphasis on the games, but you can only play the next game and you need to manage your situation.
"Players must be fit and the preparation must be right, but it's a game of football, it's not life or death."
Crues midfielder Philip Lowry, who banged in two goals in the 3-0 Irish Cup win over Dundela last Saturday, knows the stakes are high in games against title rivals.
"It's a humdinger of a title race and everyone seems to be fired up for it," said Lowry, who could come up against his brother Stephen again.
"It will be a big six to eight weeks for us and we need to kick on against the big teams.
"We have been hot and cold this year and just when it seems we get momentum we take two steps back. It's important we put in a good performance at Coleraine and get the three points.
"Linfield, out of the Cup now, will go for the title, and you always maintain the side that finishes above the champions will win it.
"Linfield will look to add a few players and David Healy is not stupid, he will get them back at it, and from our perspective we must look after ourselves as we have massive games coming up."