Irish Premiership: Baxter bullish for Blues encounter

Crues captain Colin Coates gets a nudge from Linfield forward Jordan Stewart
Crues captain Colin Coates gets a nudge from Linfield forward Jordan Stewart

Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter is confident his team can continue their superb form when they face champions Linfield on Saturday at Windsor Park.

The Crues have narrowed the gap to leaders Coleraine to four points thanks to a run of 10 victories and a draw in their last 11 league games.

Linfield are 15 points off the pace after losing to Glentoran on Tuesday.

"It will be tough but we've done well against Linfield in recent times and we have to continue that," said Baxter.

Blues manager David Healy admitted his team's hopes of retaining the Gibson Cup were over after the Oval defeat.

It's a different story for Crusaders, who beat north Belfast rivals Cliftonville on Boxing Day to stay well in the hunt for a third Premiership title in four seasons.

Sitting pretty

"At this moment we're tucked in a nice position but there's a lot of good teams around us," added Baxter.

"I always thought the four games in 10 days would be telling and we have to get as many points on the board as possible.

"I was pleased with our display against Cliftonville on Tuesday and I've been happy with our performances in the last two to three weeks.

"Linfield is always a big challenge for us - we just have to adapt to every game and hope we come out on the right side of it."

Coleraine were held to a 1-1 draw by Ballymena United in their Boxing Day derby and they make the trip to take on Cliftonville at Solitude.

The Reds have lost their last two but it followed a seven-match winning run in the league for Barry Gray's team.

Coleraine beat Cliftonville 2-1 when the sides met at Solitude in October
Coleraine beat Cliftonville 2-1 when the sides met at Solitude in October

"It's going to be very difficult - Cliftonville had a slow start to the season but you would expect that under a new manager," said Bannsiders boss Oran Kearney.

"They found their feet and they've plenty of firepower so we're under no illusion about how tough it's going to be on Saturday."

Third-placed Glenavon are still in the title mix, sitting 10 points behind Coleraine and with two games in hand.

Gary Hamilton's men take on Ballymena at the Showgrounds while Warrenpoint meet Ards at Milltown.

Glentoran will hope to build on their much-needed win over Linfield when they go up against Dungannon Swifts at Stangmore Park.

Danske Bank Irish Premiership - Saturday 30 December (15:00 GMT)
Radio Ulster coverage and live text commentary on the BBC Sport website
Ballymena UtdvGlenavon
CliftonvillevColeraine
Dungannon SwiftsvGlentoran
LinfieldvCrusaders
Warrenpoint TownvArds

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