Draw with Ballymena was a fair result says Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter
Danske Bank Premiership: Ballymena United 1 Crusaders 1
CRUSADERS manager Stephen Baxter has denied Saturday's draw at Ballymena was a case of two points dropped in the Danske Bank Premiership title race.
The league leaders had taken the lead through a Jamie McGonigle penalty at the Showgrounds, but were pegged back by a Ryan Harpur header and had to settle for a point on a day when the chasing pack of Coleraine, Cliftonville and Linfield all picked up victories.
“When you take the game into consideration, when you look at the game overall, you'd probably say the draw was a fair result,” said Baxter.
“We'd a very, very good first-half – very strong, positive performance. In many ways, I think Ballymena finished the stronger probably, in the last 15 or 20 minutes. We picked up some injuries and we had to deal with it in many ways, but I think the game overall was well contested.
“Ballymena are a good side, so in terms of an away from home performance, a draw was a fair result, I think.”
Jordan Owens, Billy Joe Burns and Howard Beverland all hobbled off on Saturday and the Crusaders boss is hoping they won't be confined to the side-lines for too long.
“It didn't really help us in many ways because we had to make defensive changes,” Baxter added.
“So that disrupted us a little bit, but we had to deal with that and we had the personnel to do it, so there's no excuses around any of that.
“We hope they're not overly serious. They're muscle tears, if you like, and whenever you pull a wee hamstring or you pull a calf muscle I often say it depends on the severity of the pull and that can either result in a two-week, four-week or six-week lay-off, but I think we got the lads off quite quickly and you hope that the injuries don't develop into something longer term.”
Crusaders return to the Showgrounds tomorrow night for a County Antrim Shield quarter-final, while they were also drawn away to the Braid men in the last eight of the League Cup. With Coleraine next up in the league, Baxter is taking the challenges in his stride.
“We'll be fed up looking at each other, but these cup competitions can often throw up that type of thing,” he said.
“When you get to the latter stages of these competitions, you expect to play this type of opposition. I think about five seasons ago, we played Linfield seven or eight times. You expect that, you don't expect to have to play them three times away from home in such a short window, but that's how it's panned out.
“There's no doubt we'll make changes. We have to look at that in its entirety and we definitely have players that are ready to play and we need to give them game time and, obviously, think towards the Coleraine game also.”
Elsewhere on Saturday, a late Ryan Curran strike gave Cliftonville victory over Larne at Solitude, while second-placed Coleraine beat Warrenpoint 3-0. Linfield scored four at Stangmore Park for the second time in less than a week as they defeated Dungannon 4-1.
At the Oval, Glentoran beat struggling Carrick 3-1, while Glenavon exited the Scottish Challenge Cup at the fourth round in a 3-1 defeat to Raith Rovers.
League Cup quarter-final draw: Ballymena United v Crusaders, Dundela v Coleraine, Glenavon/Newry City v Institute, Linfield v Cliftonville
(Ties to be played on Tuesday, October 29)