Clash with Ards gives Crusaders chance to get Linfield loss out of their system
IT IS a novel experience talking to Stephen Baxter these days after a Crusaders defeat.
The champions fell to just their second league reverse of the season when they were beaten 2-1 at home on Saturday by chief pursuers Linfield. The gap between the top two is now four points, which certainly lets David Healy's men back into the race.
Two first-half goals in the space of five minutes put Linfield, who had Healy and Jamie Mulgrew sent off with an hour gone, in command before Jordan Owens halved the deficit with 17 minutes to go with a trademark header from a Gavin Whyte cross.
From Baxter's point of view, although Aaron Burns' goal on 35 minutes was a smart finish, Andy Waterworth's on 39 was entirely avoidable, as a defensive mix-up between centre half Michael Gault and goalkeeper Sean O'Neill allowed the striker in.
"It was a marvellous occasion now - a big, big football match," said Baxter.
"[There was] big support in from both teams and the whole atmosphere was incredible. We started off very brightly and hit the crossbar. I thought in the first 10 or 15 minutes we were good, and then they got on top of us a little bit obviously with the two goals.
"The second one was horrendous - but that happens in football. You make an odd mistake and you can get punished for it. That’s sometimes how it works. But we rallied well in the second-half, I felt, and we put them under all sorts of pressure in the dying minutes to try and get that equaliser, but it just wasn’t to be. So, look we’ll congratulate them and say it was their day."
On the melee that resulted in the double sending off for their opponents, Baxter said that he felt it was "something out of nothing": "It was one of those things, and David came over after the game and apologised to me," he said.
"He stepped forward and he kicked the ball when it was still in live play, and he said: 'Look - it was just the way it transpired'. He said: 'Look Stephen, it was not over intentional or anything like that.' It was something out of nothing.
"He was close to the line and I think he thought the ball had gone out of play, but subsequently he was out of his technical area where he shouldn’t have been. But look, there was no malice in it and David’s a lovely lad - I have no issue with it at all."
Tuesday night gives the Crues an early chance to put the defeat right out of their minds when they travel to play Ards. For Baxter, the game can't come early enough, but he sounded a clear note of caution for both his players and supporters.
"Whenever you lose a game, a week’s a long time and you have to wait to get another go," he said.
"The opportunity to play is good and we’ll certainly be relishing another crack at it now on Tuesday night. I have to be honest and tell you - the two games against Ards - thus far, we’ve scored in the 92nd and the 93rd minute to win them one-nil. So Ards are a team who have came up and done exceptionally well this season in their second go back in the league of recent days.
"They beat Ballymena, who are the outstanding team of this season, along with Linfield and ourselves and Cliftonville - really to win as well as they have - they’ll not fear us, I’m sure of that."