IRISH LEAGUE: Crusaders must think like Rory to see off Carrick

Stephen Baxter
Stephen Baxter

If Crusaders are going to become masters of the Danske Bank Premiership again this season, they’re going to have to channel their inner Rory McIlroy.

Their quest for two major titles was ended last weekend when Linfield ousted the North Belfast side from the Irish Cup in their own back yard.

Now there’s just one left to play for and their place on top of the Premiership order of merit is anything but assured.

The Crues haven’t gone three domestic games without a win since August 2015. Should a below-par performance help Carrick earn a result at Seaview on Saturday, that run will be at an end and the title race could be declared open.

“Our lads have been in this position before and know how to move on quickly,” said boss Steven Baxter on dealing with their disappointing cup exit.

And now he wants his players to think like a golfer to make sure they return to winning ways: “It’s the sign of a professional team and these guys are seasoned professionals. It’s like a golfer making three bogeys then coming back and making four birdies in a row.

“It’s a test of our mentality. We just have to get on with it now. We chatted after the game on Saturday and again quickly on Tuesday night about putting it away now. Players are quick to do that.”

Crusaders are seven points clear of Linfield at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership with three games left until the split. Another title win and they would be the first team other than Linfield to win three consecutive league titles after the Second World War.

“We need to keep our momentum and our focus now,” said Baxter. “We have eight league games left and they are eight cup finals for us.

“Last week is long gone now. As soon as one game is over, you move on to the next one and prepare as well as you can. We have to bounce back from the defeat and show some resolve.”

The Crues welcome back Michael Carvill from suspension, which Baxter reckons will be a boost judging by the former Linfield player’s pleasing performances so far this season.

Saturday’s clash against Carrick comes 12 months after a 4-3 defeat to Rangers, who were struggling to survive the drop.

“That was a strange one,” recalled Baxter. “The game was put back because of their pitch and we had to wait a few months to get it played. Then it ended up being back to back games against them.

“We won pretty comfortably on the Saturday and then we just didn’t turn up that night.”

A year down the line and Carrick are again battling for their Premiership lives. Sitting 11 points ahead of basement side Portadown, it’s highly unlikely Aaron Callaghan’s side will go straight through the trapdoor.

However, there’s still the daunting prospect of a promotion-relegation play-off to be avoided. And if Carrick are to manage that, they’ll have to catch Ballinamallard United, who are a 11 points further on.

Carrick will be without suspended centre-back Paddy McNally for Saturday’s game.