Crusaders aim to stay in title hunt as they face leaders Ballymena

Baxter and Crusaders celebrated a 1-0 win over Glentoran on Saturday
Baxter and Crusaders celebrated a 1-0 win over Glentoran on Saturday

Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter has said his side will take table-topping Ballymena United "in their stride" when they meet on Tuesday.

The Irish Premiership champions go into the New Year's Day clash at Seaview five points behind the league leaders, who have played a game less.

Baxter was full of praise for the Sky Blues, who are unbeaten in 19 matches, but stressed that his side are determined to stay in the title race.

"Their run is incredible," he said.

"They have beaten us twice already this year and when you are up there winning games of football week in, week out, that says that you are the best.

"They have worked hard to do that and the league table never lies. They have put themselves in that position and fair play to them.

"We know it will be a very tough match but we will take it in our stride. We have been in these positions before and we have to keep ourselves in the race."

Jeffrey commends Crusaders' resolve

Ballymena's win over Newry City meant they have gone 12 league games unbeaten
Ballymena's win over Newry City meant they have gone 12 league games unbeaten

Crusaders leapfrogged Glenavon into third place in the table on Saturday when a 91st-minute David Cushley penalty gave them a 1-0 win away to Glentoran.

Ballymena, meanwhile, maintained their two-point lead at the top with a 3-1 win at home to Newry City to finish the year 18 points better off than they were at the same stage of last season.

Manager David Jeffrey admitted that he and his players are enjoying being on top, but insisted that effective rest and recovery will be vital for his players ahead of the trip to north Belfast.

"We know it is going to be extremely difficult going to the home of the league champions who have shown a real resolve over the last few weeks," Jeffrey commented.

"They had an emphatic win over Cliftonville on Boxing Day and followed that up by winning against a Glentoran team who themselves would have been looking to respond after their loss to Linfield.

"While we are not getting carried away with where we are, at the same time we are not being churlish and we are not going to say we aren't enjoying being top of the pile.

"There's a long way to go but it's nice to know that, for this week at least, Ballymena are the best team in the league."

Linfield looking for first win over Ards

Jordan Stewart opened the scoring for Linfield against Cliftonville
Jordan Stewart opened the scoring for Linfield against Cliftonville

Second-placed Linfield stayed within two points of the Sky Blues with a 2-0 win away to Cliftonville on Saturday.

On Tuesday the Blues will be looking for their first victory of the season over basement side Ards, whose win over Dungannon Swifts on Saturday was their first victory since they beat David Healy's men 2-1 at the end of October.

Glenavon, who have dropped to fourth place after drawing their last three league outings, entertain Warrenpoint Town, who remain in ninth after defeat by Coleraine at the weekend.

The Bannsiders host Cliftonville, who travel to the Showgrounds on the back of conceding 11 goals in three consecutive league defeats.

Coleraine will have Ciaron Harkin in their panel for the final time before the midfielder returns for a second spell with Derry City.

The two promoted sides face each other with Newry City hosting Institute, while Glentoran will be looking to end their longest winless run in the league for 112 years when they welcome Dungannon Swifts to the Oval.

Danske Bank Irish Premiership - Tuesday, 1 January 15:00 GMT
ArdsvLinfield
ColerainevCliftonville
CrusadersvBallymena United
GlenavonvWarrenpoint Town
GlentoranvDungannon Swifts
Newry CityvInstitute

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