Plying your trade in the Danske Bank Premiership is one thing. Going about your business in the rarefied atmosphere of the European arena is, to coin a phrase, a whole new ball game. Just ask Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter. He’ll give you wise words in chapter and verse about the differences between the two disciplines.
It’s the latter with which he must concern himself tonight (Thursday, July 18) as his Crusaders side set about defending their 2-0 first-leg advantage over Faroe Islands outfit B36 Torshavn in the second leg of their Europa League first qualifying round meeting.
Yes, Baxter can point to goals from Chris Hegarty and Philip Lowry that handed the Crues a decent lead with which to go in to the second part of the tie. But he is fully aware of the perils of resting on your laurels in Europe and has warned his charges they must be on their mettle — pointing out that a team can score three goals “quite easily in European football so you have to be aware of that”.
Baxter, who played as striker and appeared for the Crusaders 166 times as well as earning a youth international cap with Northern Ireland Under-18s, added:
“If a team has quality then they can open you up with passing so you could be in trouble. We have to remember that it is only half-time in the tie and we don’t take anything for granted because they are a slick passing team.”
Baxter, who also enjoyed a decent playing record with clubs such as Glenavon, Ards and Linfield, is well aware that by overcoming the challenge of the hosts tonight there is a potential money-spinner ahead of them should they end up pitting their wits with Premier League outfit Wolverhampton Wanderers in the second qualifying round.
And he says that the tie tonight would have been done and dusted if his players had managed to take their chances in the first game at Seaview. He reflected:
“We are disappointed that we didn’t get more goals given the amount of pressure we put on them in the first leg — it is fair to say that we deserved more than a two-goal lead, perhaps three or four even.”
B36 Torshavn boss Jakub a Borg admits that his side will need to sum up a Herculean effort to turn around the tie, but he believes that it is entirely possible and he will be telling his charges as much. He wants the home side to be brave in how they approach the tie and although it will be a tough task retains a hope that his men can pull off a shock. He added:
“I want my players to display a bit more courage and be more tactical in how we try to stop Crusaders and their direct play. Of course, I know it will be difficult but we live in hope.”