Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter 'taking nothing for granted' as title race hots up

Eoin Bradley and Andy Mitchell
Glenavon's Eoin Bradley in action against Crusaders' Andy Mitchell

Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter has emphasised that he and his players will "take nothing for granted" as they go into a busy period of festive fixtures.

The champions lead nearest challengers Linfield by five points as they prepare to host Glenavon on Saturday.

"It's a tough time of the year as there are lots of games to play and crucial points at stake," said Baxter.

"I'm pleased with where we are at but there is such a long way to go in the campaign. We take one game at a time."

"We want to get a few of our players. like skipper Colin Coates, fit. Games against Glenavon have been hard fought in recent years and there is little between the teams. They have quality talented players," added the Crues boss.

Crusaders have won five of their last seven Premiership games by a 1-0 scoreline, while Glenavon lie sixth in the table and lost at home to Carrick Rangers in a League Cup semi-final in midweek.

Ex-Blues boss Jeffrey returns to Windsor Park

Meanwhile, it will be second against fourth at Windsor Park, as David Jeffrey returns to Windsor Park for the first time as a manager in the opposing dugout when his Ballymena United side take on Linfield.

The Sky Blues will be buoyant after clinching a place in February's League Cup decider but Jeffrey is keen to bring his charges back down to earth for the Premiership clash.

"Extra-time did not help us and we had some tired legs after the game on Tuesday night but we must patch ourselves up and give a good account of ourselves. the league is our bread and butter," said Jeffrey.

"I spent nearly 30 years of my life at Windsor Park in one capacity or another so I don't need to tell people how special the club is to me. I enjoyed tremendous times and success there.

"But, knowing me, they will also understand that I'll be going there as manager of Ballymena and I want to do my best for the club I'm serving now," he added.

David Jeffrey and David Healy
Ballymena manager David Jeffrey will pit his wits against Linfield boss David Healy at Windsor Park

Third-placed Cliftonville boast six wins and a draw from their last seven top-flight outings before their trip to Taylor's Avenue to face Carrick Rangers.

Ards will have new boss Colin Nixon in charge for the first time as they travel to play a Coleraine team, who have lost their last four matches in all competitions, failing to score in any of them.

The Bannsiders wait for news of the fitness of goalkeeper Chris Johns, who suffered an injury during the derby cup semi-final defeat by Ballymena.

Ballinamallard manager Gavin Dykes intends adding at least three players to his squad during the January transfer window and has called on his team to "bring the same attitude and intensity" to their game with Glentoran that they showed against Crusaders last week.

The Mallards have taken four points off Glentoran in their last two meetings but Glens boss Gary Haveron has yet to be beaten away from home since his appointment in late September.

First home game for Ports boss Currie

Niall Currie goes into his first fixture at Shamrock Park as Portadown manager without defender Ken Oman, who begins a six-match ban, Sam Simpson, who is unavailable, and Sean Mackle and Alan Byrne, who are sidelined because of injuries.

The Ports have won one of their previous 14 league outings, have tasted defeat in their last seven home games and have lost five in a row against Dungannon.

The Swifts are on a much better run of form, winning three of their last four in the league, with striker Andrew Mitchell instrumental in that sequence of results.

Mitchell is the league's top scorer with 14 and has found the net on four occasions in his last four games.

Irish Premiership - Saturday 17 December (15:00 GMT)
Coverage on Radio Ulster's Sportsound from 14:00 GMT
Ballinamallard UtdvGlentoran
Carrick RangersvCliftonville
LinfieldvBallymena Utd
PortadownDungannon Swifts

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