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Crusaders will give it our all to turn European fortunes around following narrow loss in Gibraltar, insists Stephen Baxter

Europa Conference League


Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter isn't throwing in the towel

Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter isn't throwing in the towel

©INPHO/Stephen Hamilton

Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter isn't throwing in the towel

Crusaders will return to Belfast a little deflated after their 2-1 defeat to Bruno’s Magpies of Gibraltar but with a renewed desire to have the last laugh in their Europa Conference League clash.

Stephen Baxter’s side have work to do in their first qualifying round tie after Thursday night’s narrow loss.

Goals either side of half-time from Daniel Bent and Pibe have the Irish Cup winners on the back foot but Jordan Forsythe grabbed one back and the Shore Road men remain confident they can progress to a showdown against top Swiss side Basel.

Temperatures were soaring in Gibraltar for the opening meeting and the side that finished fourth in the Gibraltar National League last season handled the heat better to become the first club to win on their European debut in the 2022-23 season.

But the Crues will look to find a higher gear in the rematch at Seaview and they now know more about their opponents.

“We came back strongly in the second half and knocked the ball around well,” said Crues boss Baxter. “Jordan Owens nearly popped up with an equaliser two minutes before the end.

“It was a pleasing finish to the game and we have a goal to take back to Seaview and it gives us something to go after.

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“The heat we had to deal with was horrendous. In European football you have to play the conditions and that was the great difficulty for us.

“The heat was a huge factor and we had to cut the warm-up from 30 to 15 minutes as it was like a furnace.

“It was an early kick-off and clubs use it to their advantage when they know you don’t like the heat. I was on the pitch earlier for 10 minutes and had to get off it was so hot, and the boys were zapped.

“We will be reasonably pleased to bring something back to fight for.

“No doubt we will give it a go in the second leg and when we see the video we can analyse them a bit more. Had we lost 3-0 it would have been an uphill climb but we are looking for two goals at Seaview to win this tie and we will give it everything.”

Ballymena United, meanwhile, have disclosed a two-season deal with bus manufacturer Wrightbus.

The club’s new main sponsor includes a commitment to work with the club on a range of community and charitable projects.

Sky Blues chairman John Taggart said: “Ballymena United plays a key role within the local community and Wrightbus is very much an important part of our local community. Wrightbus is a company at the leading edge of bus manufacture — a market leader based here in our town, Ballymena.

“In recent years the town of Ballymena has taken a number of hard knocks with the loss of multinationals leaving many locals out of work. Wrightbus, through a growing orderbook, are now providing job opportunities for local residents and that can only be beneficial to our community.

“We are delighted that Wrightbus has agreed to be Ballymena United’s main sponsor and we look forward to building a strong relationship between the club and our main sponsor in the years ahead.”

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