Belfast Telegraph

Crusaders won't underestimate 'brilliant' Institute, vows Baxter

Crusaders v Institute, BetMcLean League Cup Semi-Final, Seaview, Tonight, 7.45pm

Staying calm: Stephen Baxter is taking nothing for granted
Staying calm: Stephen Baxter is taking nothing for granted
Adrian Rutherford

By Adrian Rutherford

Stephen Baxter has warned Crusaders to expect a real test when they take on Institute tonight for a place in the League Cup final.

After getting knocked out at the semi-final stage in each of the last two seasons, Baxter is desperate to avoid an unwanted hat-trick.

The Crues, two-time Cup winners, are aiming to make their eighth final.

Institute, who have never reached the decider, are steadily improving under Sean Connor - they beat Coleraine on Saturday and claimed a 1-1 draw at Seaview in early November.

Baxter admits the chance to play in a cup final is a major incentive, but knows the north west side cannot be underestimated.

"You have an opportunity to get into a final - the League Cup final is there to be grabbed," he said.

"We have to go after that game as best we can.

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"Institute have been fantastic for the past six or seven games, they beat Coleraine at the weekend and have had some other big results over the last few weeks.

"We played them a few weeks ago and they were brilliant, so we will certainly not underestimate them.

"It will be a big challenge for us yet again, and they will not be frightened of the challenge either - so we need to be ready."

The Crues last lifted the League Cup in 2012.

They reached the semi-finals in each of the last two seasons, losing to Dungannon in 2017 and Ballymena last term.

They start tonight as favourites, but Baxter does not read anything into that.

"People talk about expecting to win, and we are expected to win football matches, but we have to earn the right to win matches," he added.

"Certainly there will be no complacency from me or the players. It is not what we do.

"We will prepare properly, we will go out and give it our best.

"Expectations don't bother me - it is up to us to perform on the night."

Crues duo Rory Hale (knee) and Jordan Owens (achilles) were injured in Saturday's 6-1 win at Dungannon, and could miss tonight's game.

For Institute, Ryan Morrow and Aidan McCauley are both available once again after suspension.

Dean Curry and Niall Grace were not risked in the 2-0 win over Coleraine at the weekend as they were carrying knocks.

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