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Stephen Baxter claims Crusaders still have everything to play for – despite an inconsistent season so far


Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter welcomes new signing Jude Winchester to Seaview

Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter welcomes new signing Jude Winchester to Seaview

Stephen Hamilton

Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter welcomes new signing Jude Winchester to Seaview

Stephen Baxter has been in football long enough to know that when you reach mid-January there is still plenty of time for fortunes to change dramatically.

Naturally Baxter, who is approaching 17 years in charge of Crusaders, would much rather his team was sitting top of the Danske Bank Premiership with a comfortable lead rather than 10 points behind table-toppers Linfield.

But they are very much still in the mix, with 18 games to go, including today’s trip to Warrenpoint Town and a match in hand.

That gives plenty of scope and hope as realistic challengers thanks to the attitude of his players and building up a head of steam on the back of a three-match unbeaten run, including big wins against Cliftonville in the league and Glenavon in the Irish Cup, after fixtures either side of Christmas were wiped out when cases of Covid-19 spread through his squad.

“When you come into the second half of the season you are looking to still be in the Irish Cup, you are looking to keep charging at the league and see where it takes you and there is a lot to play for,” said Baxter, ahead of today’s trip to Milltown, when newest signing Jude Winchester will be in line to make his debut after arriving from Ballymena United.

“Winning games brings momentum, it’s good to get a small winning streak and we have done that well.

“I have been pleased with the effort of the team.

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“A lot of people gauge things around results and things like that, I gauge it on what I see from players, the honesty of players and what they give you, how they talk to you and what they do.

“They are an immense bunch of guys and when they give me what they give me then I am happy.

“Nothing else really bothers me as long as they are doing well, they are happy and when they are playing well I am happy.”

The last seven days have given Baxter some time to reflect on what has been a testing spell — having Christmas wrecked by the Covid outbreak and then a whirlwind three matches in six days when the players responded better than even their manager could have expected after being laid low.

“The camp was riddled with Covid – in our beds for two weeks and then to come into a training session on Thursday and play Saturday, said Baxter. “We weren’t up to our levels in that game (against Carrick Rangers). There were players who couldn’t even play, but they tried.

“We got a point and we nearly got over the line in the final 20 minutes. Then we gave an unbelievable performance at Cliftonville and a brilliant performance at Glenavon in the Irish Cup.

“It was a great week for us. In six days it was a lot to ask of the team to come and play three games on the back of Covid.”

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