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Stephen Baxter slams critics' 'nonsense' after Crusaders battle back to earn derby draw with Cliftonville

Crusaders 2-2 Cliftonville

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Stephen Baxter (right) isn't happy with the reaction to his side's recent run.

Stephen Baxter (right) isn't happy with the reaction to his side's recent run.

Stephen Baxter (right) isn't happy with the reaction to his side's recent run.

Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter took a swipe at the club's critics after Philip Lowry's back-heel finish in the 87th minute salvaged a derby draw from the jaws of defeat.

Cliftonville had fought back from 1-0 down to storm 2-1 in front in an entertaining affair but the Crues picked themselves off the canvas and landed the final blow at Seaview.

Currently in a fight to retain their position in the top six, Baxter's side have been on the ropes many times this campaign but the former Linfield and Crues striker feels some of the negativity around the team's form has been unfair.

"The momentum of every team this season has been affected," said Baxter.

"I've heard so many comments about Crusaders being in poor form but if that's the case, everyone must be the same as only three or four points separates teams and yet I hear all this nonsense being talked about us being in poor form.

"Everyone is dropping points and it's purely down to no crowds, no atmosphere. These are like training matches and you are seeing shock results everywhere as it's football we aren't used to.

"I can remember when we won a League here, we lost three games in a year and now we have 12 defeats in a season, it is crazy, and until we return to some normality this will be the pattern.

"But our players are working extremely hard week in, week out and you are losing a bit of quality and picking up injuries due to the busy schedule. That's a factor in why we have been conceding more goals than we normally would.

"I've a tinge of disappointment after this game as we have shot ourselves in the foot.

"But we battled really hard, stuck to our task and had chances to win it."

Before the game, there was a respectfully observed minute's silence in memory of the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip.

The Reds, in their yellow and green away strip, came out of the blocks quicker and home goalkeeper Sean O'Neill needed to be alert to block efforts from Michael McCrudden and Daire O'Connor.

Aaron Donnelly aimed a free-kick over the crossbar for the visitors, who looked vibrant with O'Connor asking questions on the left flank.

On 24 minutes, the Crues burst into life when Paul Heatley stung the palms of Aaron McCarey after a slick move. There was power in the shot which was on target but the Cliftonville keeper produced a stylish stop.

The Reds were still finding room to launch attacks but it was the home side who edged in front on 29 minutes.

Jarlath O'Rourke's corner was whipped in with pace and power and Jordan Forsythe met it with a glancing header from close range.

Ryan Curran's drive sailed over the top as the hosts retained their slender advantage at the break.

Ten minutes into the second half, however, Cliftonville drew level with a devastating move. McCrudden's dangerous cross was powerfully headed into the back of the net by Ryan Curran.

In the 68th minute, the Reds struck again with a goal which pretty much summed up the Crues' season.

McCarey's long clearance bounced over Billy Joe Burns, McCrudden raced clear and poked the ball beyond a stunned O'Neill.

Lowry was unable to pull the trigger as the Crues' frustration grew and they had a let off when Burns was forced to clear Rory Hale's effort off the line.

Just when it appeared the home side's luck had run out, Cliftonville failed to clear their lines from a corner and the ball fell kindly to Lowry, who back-heeled it into the net.

Ryan Curran blasted a shot over the bar in a frantic finish and visiting boss Paddy McLaughlin cut a frustrated figure after seeing his men denied victory.

"It's definitely two points dropped," he said.

"I think the second-half performance was excellent. It was a complete turnaround. We dominated the game and chances but then conceded two soft goals from corners.

"We have to learn and improve on that. At 2-1, we had chances to put the game to bed and the referee, who had a decent game, failed to spot Daire O'Connor being taken out in a one-on-one.

"The officials said they didn't see it but I don't know how they missed it.

"We are bitterly disappointed at that because they would be down to 10 men and we could have taken advantage. It's another big call that has gone against us."

CRUSADERS: O'Neill 6, Burns 6, Wilson 6, Lowry 7, McGonigle 7, Caddell 6 (Thompson, 70 mins, 6), Forsythe 7, O'Rourke 8, Lecky 7, Heatley 7 (Brown, 80 mins, 6), Clarke 7 (Cushley, 71 mins, 6). Unused subs: Tuffey, Weir, Ruddy, Larmour.

CLIFTONVILLE: McCarey 6, O'Reilly 8, Harney 8, C Curran 7, O'Connor 7 (Kearns, 89 mins, 6), R Curran 8, McCrudden 7 (O'Neill, 83 mins, 6), Donnelly 7, Bagnall 6, Hale 7, Lowe 6. Unused subs: Dunne, Breen, Doherty, Casey, Coffey.

Referee: Ian McNabb (Newtownabbey) 6. The Reds were unhappy with a challenge on Daire O'Connor that Ian McNabb let go unpunished.

Man of the match: Ryan Curran deserved his goal and could have snatched a winner as Cliftonville went in search of a late goal.

Move of the match: Kris Lowe fed Michael McCrudden on the right and his high cross allowed Ryan Curran to score with a bullet header.


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