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Crusaders will give everything to clinch place in the top-six in the Irish League, insists manager Baxter


Stephen Baxter

Stephen Baxter


Jamie McGonigle

Jamie McGonigle


Stephen Baxter

With just three games to go before the split in the Danske Bank Premiership, Crusaders are in unfamiliar territory - scrapping for a place in the top six.

The 1-1 draw at second-from-bottom Carrick Rangers on Tuesday night was the 12th time they have failed to win in the 18 games since the return from lockdown in January and leaves the Crues in seventh place, albeit behind Ballymena United by a solitary goal on goal difference.

It is nine years since the north Belfast side finished outside the top four, never mind the top six, and they were champions for the third time in four years just three seasons ago.

Manager Stephen Baxter admitted it is not where he expected to be at this stage.

"That's football, and you have to deal with it," he said. "We'll have to nail down the next few games, three games to fight for points (against) Cliftonville, Glenavon and Dungannon.

"It's a fight for the top six and it'll be Glenavon, Ballymena and Crusaders for that final spot."

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Glenavon kept themselves right in the mix with their victory against Warrenpoint on Tuesday and, indeed, if they win their match in hand - the return fixture at Milltown - all three contenders could be level on points going into the final round before the split.

Baxter, though, accepted the Crues had only themselves to blame for not picking up all three points at the Loughshore Hotel Arena after squandering a series of first-half chances and failing to put Carrick under any pressure in the second.

"If we had been four-up at half-time, you could have said fair enough because we played that well," he added. "But we only had Jamie McGonigle's early goal to show for all our effort, and if you don't take your chances you leave the game open.

"In the second half they had one good ball into the box, they get a good strike from the edge which hits the top corner.

"But we didn't work enough in the second half, we gave them something to hang onto so they will be pleased with their point and we are disappointed, left asking, 'How did we not win that?'"

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