Stephen Baxter’s Crusaders ‘buzzing again’ with win over ‘incredible’ Ballymena United

Howard Beverland hooks clear under pressure from Ballymena United's Shane McGinty during the weekend win for Crusaders. Pic by INPHO.
Howard Beverland hooks clear under pressure from Ballymena United's Shane McGinty during the weekend win for Crusaders. Pic by INPHO.

Stephen Baxter woke up this morning as a man at peace with himself and ready to move centre-stage once again.

The Crusaders boss has spent the past few weeks waiting in the wings for the Tennent’s Irish Cup final.

Some of the results in that time have been disappointing but Baxter was determined to get a win at Ballymena on Saturday and duly did.

“Both sides made lots of changes but we were excellent on the day,” insisted Baxter. “So that send us into this week’s Irish Cup preparations with everyone buzzing again.

“I have a pretty firm idea about what I am going to do and the plan this week is to go on and do it.

“I have been working with the guys in the squad five, six days a week for a year and I have a pretty good idea of where they are all at and what they are doing.

“You have to accept that sometimes in a week like this one things happen which you cannot control.

“For example, someone gets injured in training, or someone gets the ’flu or whatever, so we don’t get too far ahead of it all.

“We’ll get the squad in for training and prepare them in a professional way working towards that final.

“Mentally, we have thought about what we want to do but if things begin to change obviously we have shown we have options and we will change them as appropriate.

“We want to end off our season on a high by winning the Irish Cup.

“Our league form hasn’t been where we wanted it to be this season and that will only galvanise us to come back stronger next season.

“But there are four trophies for us to go for each season and this year Linfield have won two of them, the league and the League Cup, while we have won the other one, the County Antrim Shield.

“Next Saturday we have the opportunity to win the remaining one and if we can do that we will have won two of the four trophies, which in anybody’s book has to be a good season.”

Baxter’s Ballymena counterpart David Jeffrey knows a thing or two about winning silverware but despite no cups this year he has only one word to describe this season.

“Incredible,” beamed ‘Big Davy’ Jeffrey with a smile as wide as the Braid river. “When Bryan McLoughlin and myself came here we knew we had taken on a project.

“The objective in our first season was to steer the club away from relegation.

“Once that had been accomplished we wanted to build a club which the town, the council and the people of Ballymena could be proud of.

“We are all in this together now and we have a family club with players, the staff, the board, the supporters and the town all pulling together.

“This season our objective was to have a crack at Europe, we knew it would be difficult because we were settling a lot of new players into our club.

“But these young men have bought into what we do and got Ballymena United into Europe and achieved our first top-two finish in the league in 40-odd years.

“Not only have they got us into Europe but we qualified automatically without having to get involved in the play-offs.

“That’s why I say it has been incredible, an incredible achievement in an incredible season.”

BALLYMENA UNITED: Williamson, McGrory, Balmer, Watson, Quigley, Faulkner, Nolan (Beattie, 79), McGinty (McCullough, 23), Millar, Mayse (McMurray, 78), Shevlin.

Subs (not used): McCullough, McMurray, Beattie.

CRUSADERS: Doherty, Burns, Beverland, K.Owens, McChrystal, Clarke (Cushley, 46), Thompson, Snoddy, Rory Hale (Mathieson, 64), Ronan Hale, Patterson.

Subs (not used): Cushley, Mathieson.

Referee: Tim Marshall.