Belfast Telegraph

Keeping a big squad happy is key to Crusaders, says Manager of the Month Baxter

By Alex Mills

Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter admits there is no secret to his team's surge to the top of the table.

The Shore Road boys moved three points clear in the race for the Danske Bank Premiership title following their win over Carrick Rangers on Tuesday night.

But it was over the month of January that Baxter's boys put their foot hard on the gas and finally nudged ahead of long-time leaders Coleraine.

Three league wins and a draw at the Ballycastle Road Showgrounds helped them reach the summit, while they also enjoyed an Irish Cup victory over Maiden City before losing out in extra time in their League Cup semi final showdown with Dungannon Swifts.

It's hardly surprisingly that Baxter again mounted the NI Football Writers' Association's winners' rostrum to pick up the BetMcLean Manager of the Month award for the third time on the bounce.

Having possibly the biggest and strongest squad of players in the league, Baxter admits his man management skills are put to the test on a regular basis.

"There is no secret behind it, it's generally down to communication and talking to the players," he said.

"When I played, if you weren't in the team, some managers chose to ignore you. That could have gone on for months - and it's a terrible, terrible place to be as a player.

"I always said, if I ever became a manager, I will never do that. So I continue to talk to all the players, even asking about their wife or the kids, or even the dog. Some need an arm around them and they all need encouragement.

"It's a difficult job and we talk around it a fair bit - that includes everyone. We don't leave anyone out. That's my way. I know it's not easy. Top players not playing is never good.

"But if you want to be successful, you have got to have top players, both in and out of the team."

Belfast Telegraph

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