Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter full of praise for Larne and the league

Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter. Pic by INPHO.
Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter. Pic by INPHO.

Having fallen short of perfection by the final whistle on Saturday, Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter suggested the 2-2 draw with last season’s Championship champions Larne served as evidence of the senior division’s strength-in-depth.

Maximum points and a string of clean sheets from early-season encouters with Carrick Rangers, Warrenpoint Town and Cliftonville left Baxter’s Crues sitting pretty in top spot.

Goals from Philip Lowry and David Cushley to kick off and close the weekend scoring ensured Crusaders managed to retain the upper hand - alongside Dungannon Swifts but with a superior goal difference - despite the loss of points for the first time.

“We were obviously very, very disappointed by the manner in which we conceded two goals,” said Baxter. “The one before half-time came off no pressure whatsoever and Colin Coates just misses the header, which he normally doesn’t do.

“That changes the half-time talk for Larne and they came out looking to get straight back into it and I’m disappointed we let the lad run that distance for the second.

“So that’s not good from our viewpoint but in the game itself we played really well the first 15 or 20 minutes.

“We looked bright and didn’t let Larne settle so looked very much in control, then had to show something a little bit different so made some changes to get at them better.

“David Cushley gets a goal then to get us back on terms, with a draw probably a fair result.

“Larne have come into this league and worked out how to do it, brought players in of the calibre who can compete in the top four, classy players who have been there and done it.

“You don’t knock the ball about with that confidence if you don’t know what you are doing, they will be a force to be reckoned with I think.

“It’s a 38-game campaign with so many variables but you look at Larne’s performance today and, judging on what I’ve seen of how they do what they do, they are a very, very capable team.

“A lot of their players have come in used to that scenario of full-time training available at Larne.

“They will expect to do well and so they should given the players brought in.

“Looking at our set of fixtures over the first four games then you’ve got to be pleased to be top of the league.

“But I always want to win every single game I play, although I cannot be too disappointed overall.

“Teams will take points off each other, given so many capable teams.

“It’s great for our game to have so many good coaches and players, it’s a plus and everything’s improving.

“Dungannon Swifts may be a surprise package for some but not me, I know the capabilities they have and a manager in Kris Lindsay who is exceptional.”