HEAT GIVES WARM GLOW

Bax­ter: Paul has his mojo back, when he plays well it means we are play­ing well

Daily Mirror (Northern Ireland) - - LEINSTER CLUB SFC FINAL - BY DAR­REN FULLERTON

CRU­SADERS boss Stephen Bax­ter be­lieves Paul Heat­ley has got his mojo back af­ter help­ing fire the cham­pi­ons back into the ti­tle mix.

Heat­ley, who was yes­ter­day named NI Foot­ball Writ­ers’ player of the month for Novem­ber, has scored a pro­lific eight goals in his last seven games for the Shore Road men.

And it’s prob­a­bly no sur­prise the winger’s pur­ple patch has co­in­cided with a run of six wins and a draw in all com­pe­ti­tions for the Crues who now lie just seven points off the sum­mit.

Ahead of to­day’s high pro­file clash with Lin­field at Wind­sor Park, Bax­ter, in­set, said: “Paul is re­ally back to what we know and love.

“He was maybe strug­gling for a wee bit of form ear­lier in the sea­son, but the last few weeks he has been on fire.

“That’s the type of player he is. He scores spec­tac­u­lar goals and has re­ally lit things up in re­cent times, so I’m very pleased with his form.

“Some­times when he is play­ing well, it means we are play­ing well, but at the same time you can’t al­ways put it on one per­son.

“When the team is per­form­ing to a high level, it gives in­di­vid­ual play­ers the plat­form to pro­duce big per­for­mances.”

On the Crues’ re­cent run of form – they have lost just two of their last 14 in all com­pe­ti­tions – Bax­ter said: “We’ve had a bit of a pick-up and it’s pleas­ing. “We went through Novem­ber un­beaten and we’re off in run­ning into the fes­tive pe­riod, but the chal­lenge now is to keep that go­ing and see where we are come the end of Jan­uary.” While Lin­field have en­dured a mixed bag in re­cent weeks – three wins, one draw and two de­feats in their last six – Bax­ter ex­pects a tough af­ter­noon at Wind­sor.

The Blues, who beat Por­ta­d­own in the League Cup mid­week, are also look­ing to hit back from last week’s 2-1 de­feat at ta­ble-top­ping Bal­ly­mena.

“Lin­field have had a re­ally good start to the sea­son and they also beat us at Seav­iew ear­lier in the sea­son,” said Bax­ter.

“They have pro­duced some big re­sults and are very strong at Wind­sor Park. They turned Cliftonville over (4-2) there pretty re­cently and that was a big per­for­mance.

“These are al­ways big games, but they’re games you relish and look for­ward to.”

With just seven points sep­a­rat­ing the top four, Bax­ter ex­pects the ti­tle race to be “very open”.

“It’s a very in­ter­est­ing league,” he said. “It’s great to see the likes of Bal­ly­mena and Gle­navon do­ing well and you also have the Belfast clubs in the hunt.

“You could be sit­ting at the end of Jan­uary with three or four teams right up there.”

Cru­saders are with­out strike duo Jor­dan Owens and Rory Pat­ter­son, but de­fender Kyle Owens is avail­able af­ter the club ap­pealed his red card from last week’s fiery 2-2 draw at Glen­toran. last week’s dispir­it­ing 1-0 de­feat to Newry City at the Bal­ly­cas­tle Road Show­grounds.

The Bannsid­ers have gone three league games with­out a win, tak­ing just one point from nine in the process.

Boss Rod­ney Mca­ree said: “We ex­pected more out of re­cent games and against Newry, I didn’t feel the de­sire, com­mit­ment and en­ergy was there in our per­for­mance.

“It’s a col­lec­tive thing and ev­ery­one has to give their all to make sure we turn things around and start go­ing in the right di­rec­tion again.”

Else­where, tenth-placed Dun­gan­non Swifts host Newry City who lie just a point be­low them in the ta­ble.

LEAD­ING FROM FRONT Cru­saders striker Paul Heat­ley has scored eight goals in his last seven matches

WE NEED A RE­SPONSE Man­ager Rod­ney Mca­ree

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