Belfast Telegraph

Crusaders will do everything to land 'incredible' Wolves prize, says Stephen Baxter

Flashback: Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter with then Fulham manager Martin Jol in 2011
Flashback: Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter with then Fulham manager Martin Jol in 2011
Nuno Espirito Santo

By Graham Luney

Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter feels his men have a "fighting chance" of progressing in the Europa League to set up a blockbuster battle with Premier League side Wolves, but he will never take that exciting prize for granted.

The Crues must overcome B36 Torshavn in the first qualifying round to secure those glamour ties against Nuno Espirito Santo's classy side.

A stunning first season back in the Premier League saw the Molineux men finish seventh and they will now play European football for the first time since 1980.

Should Crusaders secure that financially lucrative prize, it will evoke memories of the north Belfast side's tussles with Fulham in 2011.

The Cottagers, managed by Martin Jol, won 3-1 in Belfast before triumphing 4-0 at Craven Cottage.

Crusaders may have lost that game, but it was a memorable moment in the club's history and it helped catapult them forward as a European, as well as domestic, force.

If Baxter's men can topple B36 Torshavn they will take on Wolves at Molineux on Thursday, July 25 before welcoming the Premier League side to Seaview on Thursday, August 1.

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But before the Irish Cup winners can have a rattle at last season's beaten FA Cup semi-finalists, they must conquer a B36 side who are currently third in the Faroe Islands Premier League after 13 games.

While the Crues' next opponents are certainly beatable, Baxter has the job of stamping out any complacency.

"If we go in with an attitude you have one foot already in the next round you will lose the game," he warned.

"I've been in football long enough to know that happens. European football is well set up and the teams you face are very capable.

"This will be a tough game for us and nothing will be taken for granted.

"Torshavn were keen to draw us and they won their first round tie last year in the same competition. This is a big moment for them also and they are in season which is an added advantage to them.

"We are working towards a four-game friendly warm-up process and that makes our challenge difficult, we will have to work really hard.

"But we are pleased we have a draw which has given us a fighting chance of competing.

"Over the last few years we have been up against opposition which has been so much better than us, so this time I feel we are on a more level playing field. We stand a fighting chance and the opportunity is there to push on and get an absolute bumper tie against Wolves of the Premier League.

"That's a big prize and incentive for the team to push on to achieve that. A lot of preparation work will be done and we will do our homework. I'm hoping to fly out this weekend to watch Torshavn."

Of the current panel, Sean O'Neill, Jordan Owens, Colin Coates and Declan Caddell were at Crusaders when Fulham were the special Europa League guests in 2011.

"In this day and age for any Premier League team to come to Belfast would be incredible," added Baxter. "We had that amazing experience with Fulham, then managed by Martin Jol, and I still have the photograph of me with him on my Facebook page.

"That was a very special moment to host Fulham and they honoured us by putting out their best team as well."

Crusaders officials are still negotiating the timing of the home and away legs with B36 Torshavn representatives.

The Shore Road side would prefer to play the first leg of the fixture away from home. A 3pm kick-off has been pencilled in for Seaview on July 11 but the Crues would like to switch the fixtures.

Linfield will play Rosenborg at Windsor Park at 7.45pm on Wednesday, July 10 in the first leg of their Champions League clash. The return leg will be a 7pm kick-off in Norway on Wednesday, July 17.

If the Blues win that tie they will face either Belarusian champions BATE Borisov or Piast Gliwice of Poland in the second qualifying round.

If Linfield lose they will drop into the Europa League qualifiers, with the loser of the HJK Helsinki and HB Torshavn tie their potential opponents in that competition.

• Cameron McGeehan has signed a new two-year contract with Championship newcomers Barnsley.

The former Northern Ireland Under-21 international will now remain at Oakwell until the end of the 2020-21 campaign.

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