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