Pres­sure is on us and we must show our met­tle: Bax­ter

Belfast Telegraph - - SPORT - BY GRA­HAM LUNEY BY ALEX MILLS

DANSKE BANK PRE­MIER­SHIP ONE of the most sur­pris­ing fea­tures of this Danske Bank Pre­mier­ship sea­son is just how far away from the lead­ers Cru­saders are.

The cham­pi­ons’ ti­tle de­fence, rather than go­ing swim­mingly, re­mains in dan­ger of fall­ing off the cliff be­fore Christ­mas.

Sit­ing in fifth spot, nine points be­hind lead­ers Gle­navon — who have played a game less — the Hatch­et­men can­not af­ford too many more slip-ups.

There may be a lit­tle light vis­i­ble at the end of the tun­nel fol­low­ing the 3-0 win at Newry City last week but a de­fence which has con­ceded too many goals will con­tinue to fall un­der the spot­light.

The Crues need to raise their game if they want to get back in the ti­tle hunt and, ahead of to­day’s clash with Ards at the Ban­gor Fu­els Arena, man­ager Stephen Bax­ter will call on his men to keep fresh mo­men­tum go­ing.

Tenth placed Ards have marginally a bet­ter de­fen­sive record than the Crues and Colin Nixon’s side can take heart from their win at home to Lin­field last month.

“Noth­ing is easy in foot­ball and some­times there’s a lot of pres­sure on you,” ad­mit­ted Bax­ter.

“Cru­saders have lost a cou­ple of games of foot­ball and the whole world is talk­ing about us los­ing and that’s just be­cause we’ve been so suc­cess­ful in the last three sea­sons. It comes with the ter­ri­tory and I’m happy with that.

“We’ve no di­vine right any­where we go and teams are up to try and chal­lenge us and beat us. It’s a big scalp for them when they take it and we have to live with that.

“We’ve got to work harder than other teams to get the chances in games and over the 90 min­utes at Newry, we’ve taken the early punches like a boxer, but we knew we would start to find our feet and our rhythm and find the key mo­ments in the game to get the big goals and we did that.”

A Rory Pat­ter­son penalty and a Paul Heat­ley (be­low) dou­ble se­cured a much-needed three points.

“The first 15 or 20 min­utes, you thought it was a pack of strangers play­ing out there and some­times I think that can be down to a lack of con­fi­dence,” added Bax­ter.

“We lost 3-0 the pre­vi­ous week and 1-0 the week be­fore and some­times you get a lack of con­fi­dence from that.

“I said to them at half-time, get on the ball and every­body start pass­ing the ball the way you do in train­ing and take the chances. I thought we did that re­ally well.”

“The con­di­tions were wet and windy and dif­fi­cult to work in.

“The first 30 min­utes, I thought we were av­er­age to say the least and I thought Newry passed it way bet­ter.

“They were open­ing up good op­por­tu­ni­ties to pen­e­trate, but their shots were from dis­tance which pleased me.

“We took the chances when they ap­peared, so to con­cede no goals, which has been a prob­lem for us, and to score three away from home has to be pleas­ing. The sec­ond half per­for­mance pleased me a lot.

“These games are played over 90 min­utes and you don’t just ex­pect to turn it on and score two or three goals in the first 15 or 20 min­utes.

“Newry had a good shape about them and I like a lot of their play­ers.

“They have a lot of lads who drop in, re­ceive it, turn, pass, work it and they’ll be pleased with their night’s work.

“But it takes lots of things to win foot­ball matches and you can some­times play pretty foot­ball for 20 min­utes, and if you don’t

Noth­ing easy: Cru­saders boss Stephen Bax­ter ac­cepts they are

a big scalp

pen­e­trate and don’t score a goal in that pe­riod, a team is go­ing to come back at you.

“We were pleased with the 15 min­utes be­fore half-time and I re­ally sensed that we could go on and start get­ting at them a lit­tle bit, as we did.”

Ards have three play­ers sus­pended for this match and one in­el­i­gi­ble.

Kyle Cherry’s red card last week­end rules him out and the book­ings of Cal­lum By­ers and Johnny Tay­lor were the fifth of the sea­son for each player, mean­ing they also sit out the game.

Michael Kerr is un­able to play as he is on loan from Cru­saders but it is hoped that David Ele­bert will be fit to re­turn.

The Crues have lost six of their 14 league games. DE­FENDER Johnny Tay­lor be­lieves Ards have the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of match­ing any side in the league — and aim to prove it against ti­tle hold­ers Cru­saders at the Ban­gor Fu­els Arena to­day.

Colin Nixon’s boys have plum­meted down the stand­ings of late and cur­rently sit 10th in the Danske Bank Pre­mier­ship ta­ble, only two points ahead of base­ment clubs Dun­gan­non Swifts and Newry Town.

But they’ve al­ready knocked Lin­field off the sum­mit by claim­ing an im­pres­sive 2-1 home win — cour­tesy of a dou­ble hit from Mark Kelly — last month, which backs up Tay­lor’s the­ory of be­ing able to live with the best!

How­ever, they were brought crash­ing down to earth when dumped out of the County Antrim Shield by Larne be­fore crash­ing to a 4-0 loss against Glen­toran at the Oval.

“The Lin­field re­sult proved we can grind out points against the big teams,” said Tay­lor who looks set to have to sit out to­day’s game through sus­pen­sion.

“Un­for­tu­nately, we never kicked on from that. We lost to Larne a few days later... the boys were a bit leggy go­ing into that game be­cause we put so much into the Lin­field match.

“Un­for­tu­nately, with the amount of in­juries we’ve had, we haven’t had a lot of op­tions in terms of chang­ing the team. The Glen­toran re­sult was then a big dis­ap­point­ment. We didn’t play well at all.”

With most of the walk­ing wounded on the way back, Tay­lor reck­ons they’ll give the cham­pi­ons plenty to think about.

He added: “It’s a big game, they don’t come much more dif­fi­cult.

“We know we can match the best — our prob­lem is do­ing it on a con­sis­tent ba­sis. It would be fair to say, Cru­saders have been blow­ing hot and cold, a bit like our­selves.

“So, it’s down to us and how we ap­proach the game. We’ ll be look­ing to take three points, es­pe­cially as we are at home.

“We are grad­u­ally get­ting play­ers back. Ea­mon McAl­lis­ter is still strug­gling, he’s maybe an­other week away from re­turn­ing, but hav­ing Jonny Frazer avail­able again is a big plus. He’ll give 100 per cent in ev­ery game and likes to get at full backs and de­fend­ers.”

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