Belfast Telegraph

I won't take risks ahead of Cup final, says Baxter

Cliftonville 2 Crusaders 0

Ryan Catney celebrates with Ryan Curran following Cliftonville’s second goal on a day that left Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter counting the cost of injuries
Ryan Catney celebrates with Ryan Curran following Cliftonville’s second goal on a day that left Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter counting the cost of injuries
Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter

By Conor McLaughlin

Stephen Baxter joked that he may have to name himself as Crusaders' Irish Cup final goalkeeper after Gerard Doherty joined Sean O'Neill on the casualty list.

Doherty was forced out of Saturday's defeat by Cliftonville when he injured a finger in the aftermath of a save from Joe Gormley in the closing minutes of the first half and, with record goalscorer Jordan Owens forced off just after the interval, the Crues boss admits he will have to wrap his players in cotton wool with that Cup final battle against Ballinamallard United less than a fortnight away.

"It was one of the strangest north Belfast derbies I've experienced in about 10 years," said Baxter.

"It was a little bit subdued and there was none of the hype and razzmatazz you usually get with these games and I think that's because both teams knew, regardless of the result, they're not really going to make any kind of impact on the league table.

"We have to manage things in terms of injuries and suspensions with one eye on the Cup final.

"We can't take any chances with anyone and we're in a situation where we've gone from having three quality goalkeepers available to potentially having just one.

"Sean O'Neill has been out troubled by a hamstring problem for the last few weeks and now Gerard Doherty has picked up what looks like a serious injury. If anything happens to Harry Doherty, I might have to do nets in the final myself."

Ryan Curran was Cliftonville's star man yet again, following up a ninth-minute penalty with a delightful solo strike soon after to earn his side a first win in five battles with Crusaders this season.

Just as damning from a statistical perspective was that the Reds had not kept a clean sheet in 17 meetings with their neighbours, stretching back to October 2014 - and it took a stupendous intervention from Richard Brush to amend that particular facet of derby day trivia.

After a full-stretch fingertip save to turn Jordan Forsythe's 77th-minute strike against the crossbar, Brush flew back across the face of goal to touch Kyle Owens' follow-up onto the post.

Home boss Paddy McLaughlin said: "I think any goalkeeper would have been happy with either one of those saves, never mind the two of them.

"The first one was fantastic but you're thinking it's not going to count for anything and he won't get any credit for it because they score the rebound, but to save that too was unbelievable.

"You saw from the reaction of the crowd how great a save the second one was and it was important because a Crusaders goal at that stage could have made a big difference but credit to Richard, that's why he's one of the best about."

McLaughlin - whose side are now guaranteed a home semi-final against Coleraine in the Europa League play-offs, assuming Crusaders aren't shocked by the unfancied Mallards on Cup final day - added: "We got off to a great start with the two early goals.

"We could have had a goal or two more but really pleasing for me was our defending. Everybody knows how Crusaders go about things - they play to their strengths and it's been very successful for them.

"Set-pieces cost us the last time we played them and that was something we focused on in training this week and I'm delighted the players took what we worked on into the match with them."

CLIFTONVILLE: Brush, Ives, Breen, Harney, C Curran, R Curran, R Donnelly (Maguire, 68 mins), Bagnall, Catney (Grace, 78 mins), Gormley (McConnell, 89 mins), Gorman. Unused subs: Neeson, A Harkin, McMenamin, A Donnelly.

CRUSADERS: G Doherty (H Doherty, 46 mins), Beverland, Caddell, Forsythe, K Owens, Ruddy, J Owens (Ronan Hale, 47 mins), Thompson, Heatley, Clarke, Patterson. Unused subs: McChrystal, Coates, Lowry, Ward, Rory Hale.

Referee: Lee Tavinder (Dungannon)

Man of the match: Ryan Curran

Match rating: 8/10

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