Baxter rallies Crusaders for Champions League adventure

Crusaders FC

Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter believes his side face a tough task when they bid to get past Bulgarian outfit Ludogorets in next month’s Champions League clash.

And the Crues coach reckons the challenge may be daunting but is seen very much as an “adventure” and one full of excitement for his charges.

Baxter’s men travel to Bulgaria for the opening leg in the first qualifying round on either July 10 or 11 with the Seaview return on July 17 or 18.

And the Cruse chief said:

“We will have a very, very tough challenge ahead of us against Ludogorets but it’s a great adventure, it’s a great journey and you want to play against top opposition in Europe so I’m excited about that.”

There is still a chance that Gavin Whyte will still be at the club for the matches despite a lot of interest in his recruitment from English clubs including Championship big guns Leeds United, League One side Peterborough and League Two outfit Crawley Town.

Whyte, who is aged 22. played a crucial role as the Crues secured qualification and it was his eye-catching displays last term that attracted the attention of a clutch of clubs all keen on his services.

Forward Whyte is currently enjoying a sun-kissed break after travelling with Northern Ireland on their jaunt to central America, where only an injury prevented him from making his international bow.

Following his holiday, he is set to report back to Seaview to be put through his paces with a gruelling pre-season schedule — unless he gets the move.

Whatever happens, Baxter says both parties are remaining calm over the situation, He added:

“I’m not anxious about it and Gavin isn’t either. The transfer window goes into August so he could end up playing the first three or four matches for us. Gavin is comfortable with the situation.

“He is still a Crusaders player and therefore he’ll be with us in Europe unless someone comes in over the next few days and weeks and starts talking business.”

If the Crues pull off an upset, they will play Dudelange (Luxembourg) or Videoton (Hungary) in the next round. If they lose, under new UEFA rules they will go into the Europa League.

Meanwhile, Crusaders have made two major signings ahead of the new campaign — one of whom is a familiar face for supporters.

Michael Ruddy returns to Seaview after leaving the club several years ago. The defender, who is aged 24, has signed a three-year deal and will go straight into the new professional set up Crusaders have launched. The tough-tackling defender has impressed this season and will certainly bring competition for selection to the back four.

Another new face is Ross Clarke, who joins on a three-year contract from Linfield. The winger, who is aged 25, can play on either flank.

A club spokesman said:

“He is a welcome addition to the squad and will fit perfectly into the new professional set up at the club. Good Luck to both players as they begin a new chapter in their lives and we will feature both in a few weeks ahead of our European games.”