Belfast Telegraph

Crusaders' victory at Coleraine is a 'marker' in tight title race, says Baxter

Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter. Credit: Inpho/Stephen Hamilton
Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter. Credit: Inpho/Stephen Hamilton
Gareth Hanna

By Gareth Hanna

Crusaders have put down a 'marker' in their 2-1 win over title rivals Coleraine, according to manager Stephen Baxter.

Jordan Owens' 20th minute header was enough to separate the sides and send the Crues second, just a point behind leaders Cliftonville although having played two games more.

It was the first time Baxter's men had enjoyed success at the Coleraine Showgrounds since January 2016.

Breaking that hoodoo, as well as the significance of the result in the title race, left Baxter visibly delighted come the final whistle.

"It's only three points but when you haven't at a place in four years and they've already beaten us twice, it's important that you put a marker down," he told BBC.

"Also with the way the league is, it's important to win these matches. It's only three points but you'll enjoy the moment when it arrives. That's what football's all about.

"All of the teams at the top are there on merit, fighting week in, week out and it's the odd goal separating everybody. That's what this league's about this year. There are six very good teams in there and we'll see how it all shakes out."

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Coleraine, Linfield and Glentoran are all tied on 47 points, three behind leaders Cliftonville.

Given the nature of this season's title race, and with the Reds welcoming the Blues to Solitude on Friday evening, Crusaders' man of the match BJ Burns understood the significance of staying in the middle of the chase.

"It's a massive result for us," he said. "We've struggled down here. Keeping a clean sheet was brilliant and big Chicken (Jordan Owens) pops up with the goal for us as he always does.

"It makes the bus journey a bit better. Coleraine are a quality side and they've shown that over the last couple of years. Eoin Bradley and James McLaughlin are always going to cause problems. They bombarded us in the second half but we kept a good shape, the boys in front defended well and a clean sheet's a clean sheet.

"Every win's a big win, especially away to Coleraine. Every away game is going to be massive. All we can do is look after ourselves."

Crusaders and Coleraine will next meet on February 14 in the League Cup final but Baxter isn't convinced this result will make a difference to his side's approach.

"We're always confident," he smiled. "This team is brimming with confidence. When you see the quality we have in our team, we'll take anyone on."

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