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It would be unthinkable for us to miss out on a spot in the top six, claims Crusaders midfielder Lowry

 

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Better half: Philip Lowry and Crusaders know victory tonight would greatly help their top-six ambitions

Better half: Philip Lowry and Crusaders know victory tonight would greatly help their top-six ambitions

Inpho/Stephen Hamilton

Better half: Philip Lowry and Crusaders know victory tonight would greatly help their top-six ambitions

The mission is a simple one for Crusaders - mathematically, that is.

Defeat Glenavon and Dungannon Swifts in their next two matches and a top-six place after the Premiership split is assured.

But the north Belfast side have made a habit of shooting themselves in the foot this season and the stakes are high as they host the Lurgan Blues tonight in a match brought forward from tomorrow to avoid a clash with the funeral of HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

Inconsistent form has seen the Crues fall away in the title race but Irish Cup glory and all-important European qualification is still within reach.

Any drop out of the top-six would be a real slap in the face for the club, even if they can offer up no excuses.

Ballymena United are only a point behind the Crues in seventh, as are Gary Hamilton's men, who have a game in hand.

Crusaders midfielder Philip Lowry, who netted a late equaliser in a 2-2 home draw with Cliftonville last Saturday, insists his side need to hold their nerve.

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"The top-six is paramount, it is unthinkable for us to finish in the bottom half of the league," said the former Linfield and Derry City ace.

"It's been one of those seasons where it has been difficult to get any momentum and it has felt we have been sleepwalking into games with the busy schedule.

"We have been shooting ourselves in the foot in matches, but if we can win our next two games we can finish in the top-six.

"No disrespect to other teams but we have dropped points against Carrick, Warrenpoint and Dungannonm and if you are throwing away 10 points it leaves you where we are now, not in second or third place.

"But every team comes with a gameplan and they can sniff fear.

"You can't switch your confidence on and off, you need mental toughness to stay at it and we have fallen down a bit this season.

"I don't like making any excuses, we have to cut out the mistakes.

"The problem is the errors are happening too often, you can't give teams goals otherwise the pressure mounts on you.

"We need to put teams away when we are on top and keep the back door shut."

Crues boss Stephen Baxter believes the players are digging deep during a testing time and was pleased with their display against the Reds.

"All points are important to fight for," he said. "We lost four on the spin and now we are four unbeaten which is good.

"We had lost our last few at Seaview and, from my point of view, the determination to get something out of the game and push for the winner was excellent.

"There was a great focus and desire in the team against Cliftonville, and we will need that to make the top-six.

"There are a few points separating the teams and everyone has difficult games, so it could go any way."

The sides who do qualify for Europe are unlikely to get much rest and recuperation before they go again in the summer.

Baxter added: "The champions of our country will get two weeks off before they play in Europe and it's extremely difficult in terms of preparation, but the flip side of that is you have a world that has been decimated by a pandemic that has been horrendous for us all to live through and we are privileged to be still playing.

"We are thankful for doing the things we love and hopefully we will see the back end of this.

"It's been difficult, but we want to win league titles and qualify for Europe.

"That's what we are all fighting for."

Lowry added: "I'm sure we will get some time off at the end of this season but the holidays may be cut short if there's a European game!"


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