Belfast Telegraph

Stephen Baxter should be lauded and not criticised: David Healy

 

Linfield boss David Healy (left) and Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter
Linfield boss David Healy (left) and Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter

By Steven Beacom

Linfield manager David Healy has hailed the contribution of counterpart Stephen Baxter to Crusaders ahead of the latest eagerly-anticipated meeting between the sides.

The Blues and Crues will rock up at Windsor Park today in the knowledge that between them they have won the last FIVE league titles.

Most think one of the above will clinch the crown this season too.

Linfield enter the match on a run of four straight Danske Bank Premiership victories. They are very much on the charge.

That form has taken Healy's side to the top of the table. They are two points ahead of Coleraine and three clear of third-placed Crusaders. Linfield also have two games in hand on the Bannsiders and the Seaview men.

While the Blues have been winning consistently lately in the league, it's been a funny old period for the Crues. They have taken one point from their last two matches. Prior to that, they had three league victories on the trot. Before that, it was three draws.

So what is in store for the north Belfast outfit at Windsor?

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Healy is certain they will offer Linfield an almighty challenge. A few Crusaders fans have questioned Baxter this term. The Blues boss says the Seaview chief deserves immense praise for the success he has delivered, not criticism.

"It's a big game for both teams. Over the years against Crusaders we have had some titanic tussles in the period that I've been manager of Linfield and I expect no different this time around," said Healy.

"Somehow Stephen was coming under a little bit of pressure (earlier this season). I don't know why given the job he has done there.

"Stephen Baxter is a winner. He has done so much for Crusaders and he has turned the club around.

"To qualify for European football consistently and win leagues and countless other trophies and bring a whole host of good experiences to the club, he should be commended not questioned. He is a man to be feared."

You could say the same about Linfield's strikers Shayne Lavery and Andy Waterworth. They made a rare appearance together in last weekend's 2-0 success at Warrenpoint.

Both scored, paying back Healy's faith in using them as a pair in a 3-5-2 formation.

"It was great to see the boys scoring but we want to see goals from all over the team," stated Healy.

"It's not just down to Shayne, though it was good to see him on the scoresheet at Warrenpoint. Andy is also more than capable. He has proved that for years in this league.

"You can't rely on Shayne and Andy to do it all the time because if they get injured it takes a bit of confidence out of the side.

"In recent weeks Chris Casement and Josh Robinson have scored big goals for us and it's important we have that."

Linfield's injury worries are starting to clear up with Daniel Kearns and Mark Haughey back.

Healy appreciates his players are about to embark on a crucial time in the season with a home match against Crusaders followed by trips to Glentoran and Coleraine to come in the space of a week.

If Linfield extend their winning run from four matches to seven, they will be in a strong position to retain the title they won last season.

As far as Baxter is concerned, the respect between the two bosses is mutual.

"David is a great guy - he works out his tactics brilliantly and he has a brilliant squad," said the Crues boss.

"They are so competitive and he's brought Linfield a long, long way. Indeed, we are all doing that.

"I always say at the start of the season we want to be playing our football in the top four. If you can then hang around the leaders you are always in the right spot.

"If you handed me a top-four position coming into this time of the year I would have broken your arm for it - we're delighted with where we are.

"The season is over 38 games. We had a seven-point lead at one stage so things can ebb and flow. There's lots of games over Christmas with squads stretched and tested."

Linfield vs Crusaders

Danske Bank Premiership:

Windsor Park, Today, 3pm

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