He has been at Crusaders for 15 years, both as a player and a manager so there is perhaps no bigger fan of the club than boss Stephen Baxter. Yet even he won’t dare back his players when they are next in action — and the fact that they are up against Premier League outfit Wolves has everything to do with his stance.
After all, Crusaders and their boss know their place after they finished fourth in the Danske Bank Premiership last season, although it was a decent enough position to ensure they have the chance to take on Nuno Espirito Santo’s side at Molineux on Thursday in the first round of an enticing Europa League second qualifying round clash.
But the point here is that Baxter, in no way, shape or form, expects his side to beat Wolves — but that doesn’t mean that the two legs won’t be of huge importance. To play on the same stage as players who dazzled in the top-flight last season, in front of 32,000 fans, will be of massive significance to Baxter and his team. The manager’s plan is to keep the score down to as little as possible in the first leg so as not to render the tie at Seaview a bit of a wet blanket. It is, by all accounts, a tall order. Baxter explained:
“It will be a fabulous experience for everyone. Playing at a Premier League ground is the stuff of dreams. But it’s important to make sure that we don’t get sucked into the feeling that we are tourists walking into their ground. The test for us is staying in this game as long as we can.”
Baxter has a game plan even though he isn’t so sure it will be able to withstand the Wolves pressure. He says going one or two goals behind won’t be disastrous but he wants to avoid being “thrashed” – obviously! He added that for the time being the preparation is all ensuring his players are mentally prepared.
Meanwhile, another side contemplating handling the mental pressure is Linfield, who last night (Tuesday) drew 2-2 with Faroe Islands side HB Torshavn. It’s now all to play for back at Windsor Park next week and with home advantage the Blues will be in confident mood of progressing. David Healy’s men went 1-0 ahead when Andy Waterworth notched on two minutes, but the home outfit pulled level through Adrian Justinussen’s 37th-minute penalty. Then Waterworth gave the visitors the lead once more with a well-taken penalty with two minutes left. The crucial away day victory very much looked like it was in the bag for Linfield but within a minute Paetur Petersen had struck to make it 2-2. The European dream is still alive for the Blues, however.