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