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It's great to have Portadown back on the big stage once again, admits Crusaders manager Baxter



Stephen Baxter

Stephen Baxter

�INPHO/Stephen Hamilton

Stephen Baxter

Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter says he is chuffed to see tomorrow's opponents Portadown back in the top flight of Irish League football.

Baxter remembers with relish some of the battles he had as a player with Ronnie McFall's great title-winning Portadown sides in the 1990s and is eagerly awaiting taking on Matthew Tipton's modern day version at Seaview.

The Crues will enter the fixture third in the table after a 2-0 success at home to Glentoran, while the Ports, promoted last term from the Championship, were buoyed in midweek by a convincing 3-0 victory at Dungannon.

"To see Portadown back in the top flight is fantastic because they are a proper football club with proper football people, and it is a joy to see them in the Irish Premiership," said Baxter.

"In all my time in the game, and I've been in it a long time, they have been a big team in our league. Our physio is Brian Strain, a legend of Portadown who, like ourselves, had a lovely purple patch when they won titles and were phenomenal when I was playing.

"I have such respect for Ronnie McFall, their legendary former manager. I keep in touch with him and contacted him last week to see how he was. Those are the lifelong friends you meet in the game."

While Linfield and Larne are considered title favourites, Crusaders have a manager and players who know how to get the job done and are very much in contention.

Baxter, who has guided the Crues to three title successes as boss, gave a telling insight into what makes a team go all the way.

"When you turn up for pre-season training is when you start thinking about the title," said the Seaview supremo. "Titles are won in the long grass, as I say, and the hard running when they run up and down the pitch and we knock the legs off the boys to get them fully fit.

"Then there's all that they do away from the ground and the hard graft they put in week in, week out. That's what wins league titles, not one-off performances. It's graft for eight months of the year to try and produce a team that is capable of challenging, and all we can do now is challenge.

"All along my feeling has been to be in the top four and then, when you get closer to the time, hope that you are within touching distance to mount a sprint finish.

"It's a very hard-fought league, as results have shown so far. You are going to earn every single point this season."

Belfast Telegraph