Shock to the system: Baxter expecting response from Crusaders after Linfield hammering
Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter insists his wounded troops won't be feeling sorry for themselves ahead of tonight's BetMcLean League Cup semi-final clash with high-flying Ballymena United at Seaview.
The Shore Road boys are still hurting after a hammering at Linfield on Saturday - a result that leaves their league title defence hanging by a thread.
With the campaign now at the halfway stage, the Crues, after suffering seven defeats so far, find themselves 10 points adrift of David Jeffrey's Sky Blues.
Having already secured a slot in the County Antrim Shield final - they will face either Ballymena or Linfield next month - Baxter is demanding a response tonight against a team that has racked up a club record 10 successive victories in all competitions.
"Ballymena are a team that are flying at the moment," said Baxter. "They've already beaten us in the league up at their place, so there is certainly no time to sit back and feel sorry for ourselves.
"It's time to roll up the sleeves and stand up and be counted. We'll see what the response is - it's a bit of a test for us.
"We've a lot of big characters. They were hurt with our performance at Windsor Park, as we all were. So I'm certainly looking for a reaction. There is a League Cup final at stake."
Baxter will again be without the suspended Rory Patterson, while Jordan Owens and Howard Beverland are not expected to be fully recovered from injury.
"When you have one or two key players out, plus the fact that Gavin Whyte has moved on to Oxford United, we are feeling the pinch a little bit," said Baxter.
"Once you get a few injuries, the rhythm in the team is disrupted. But you must take the rough with the smooth and not become too despondent and get ready for the next challenge.
"After the run we've been on for the past four or five years, when you lose a game or two it's like a shock to the system. These things happen. Yes, we lost at Windsor on Saturday, but it doesn't give me sleepless nights."
Baxter made no excuses for his team's poor performance at the international arena.
"We were hit with an early double whammy," he added. "We tried to regroup to get our shape back at half-time, but we then conceded another dreadful goal.
"But we dust ourselves down, congratulate the opposition and move on. You always analyse the bigger picture. Yes, with the likes of Owens, Patterson and Beverland not available, you've got to utilise the squad.
"We lost a game. We'll assess it and move on. We've now given ourselves a mountain to climb in terms of our league challenge, but we'll keep going.
"We've also the Shield final along with this semi-final and we have the Irish Cup coming up in the New Year, so we have many big games up ahead."