Belfast Telegraph

Tackling Wolves at Seaview is the biggest game of our lives: Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter

 

Homecoming: Stephen Baxter
Homecoming: Stephen Baxter

By Graham Luney

Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter has predicted Seaview will "come alive" tonight in the biggest game at the Shore Road ground since September 28, 1976 when Liverpool won 5-0 in a European Cup tie.

Wolves, who finished seventh in the Premier League last season, will defend a 2-0 lead in the Europa League second round qualifier in front of 3,000 fans.

Goals from Diogo Jota and Ruben Vinagre burst Crusaders' brave resistance at Molineux and the stage is set for another thriller at Seaview.

"This is the biggest day in our football lives since Liverpool came here," said Baxter. "We haven't had a special night like this in decades.

"I have small memories of being pulled out of school to go the Liverpool game with my dad. It was my first trip to Seaview.

"The achievements of this football club in the last 15 years, from relegation to league titles and Europe, leave me immensely proud.

"When we beat B36 Torshavn I felt we won the Europa League that night because it gave us the opportunity to play Wolves.

"This wee stadium will come alive. It's the biggest moment in our careers."

Skipper Colin Coates has rejoined the Crues squad for the second leg.

Baxter added: “The players stood up to the test last week and they must do so again.

“When you’ve done something once there’s no reason why you can’t do it again, but we are under no illusions, we are playing against world stars.

“This team is leagues above us and we need another game plan. They have the ability to slaughter you so it’s important we stay in the game.

“We prepare for any game to try and win it.

“Can we put them under pressure? I hope we can ask them a few questions but you have to be aware they can break up the pitch and score in a flash.”

Wolves didn’t double their lead in the tie until Ruben Vinagre poked home in injury-time and Baxter admitted he was surprised by his players’ resilience.

“Before the game we heard about Walsall losing to Aston Villa 5-0 and I was thinking our game could be 10-0!” he added.

“Nuno put out his best team so they weren’t taking it lightly. The game will stand out in my memory for the rest of my life. For the wee Crues to play the way they did at that ground was special. Friends texted me and said we defended better than some Premier League teams did last season.

“That is gone now and we have a proper game of football ahead of us. You just never know in football.”

Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo said: “The first leg was a tough game. Crusaders showed they are well organised and they were difficult to break down.

“We know this will be another difficult game. We can’t play this game like we think we have already won.

“We will have to play well, respect Crusaders and have the mindset that the game is 0-0.”

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