CRUSADERS manager, Stephen Baxter paid tribute to Maiden City’s ‘incredible’ work ethic after watching his side end the Derry outfit’s memorable Irish Cup run on Saturday.
Baxter was voted NIFL Bet McLean ‘Manager of the Month’ for December after guiding the Shore Road men to the summit of the Danske Bank Irish Premiership over the Christmas period, and he claims he expected a tough challenge from the Intermediate League minnows.
They were well organised and I would expect that when you have John Cunningham and Paul Kee here, who are lifelong friends of mine and the same vintage as me - although they both look a lot older than me I have to say.Stephen Baxter
He certainly didn’t overlook the potential threat of Colm Cassidy’s side who boasted the services of experienced trio, Darren McCready, Ryan Semple and Aaron Walsh, as he fielded a strong starting XI at Seaview.
Despite the huge gulf between the two clubs, Baxter admits he was wary of a team which had his ‘lifelong friends’, Paul Kee and John Cunningham within its coaching ranks.
“We played a reasonably strong team here and they held us to two goals,” said the Crues boss. “I thought the keeper did exceptionally well and made two or three top drawer saves and they’ve worked hard all over the pitch.
“They were well organised and I would expect that when you have John Cunningham and Paul Kee here, who are lifelong friends of mine and the same vintage as me - although they both look a lot older than me I have to say,” he smiled.
“But they know the game inside out and I expected them to be well organised and they were and they’re a credit to their community and to themselves. I thought they were excellent.”
The Derry side got off to the worst possible start when Jordan Forsythe latched onto teenager, Michael O’Hara’s misplaced header and lobbed goalkeeper Conor Brady with 70 seconds on the clock.
The visiting support perhaps felt the floodgates would open after that but Maiden City deserve great credit for how they reacted and frustrated Crusaders in the remainder of the half. Second half Crusaders stepped it up a gear or two and rattled the woodwork four times while Brady produced several stunning saves before Declan Caddell put the tie to bed with four minutes to go.
“Second half we stepped it up a bit but I wasn’t really pleased with our first half performance, the tempo of the game wasn’t what we wanted and we needed the quality ball quicker,” added the Crues supremo.
“We got off to a dream start and didn’t build on that. I told them at half-time we needed to work the ball much quicker and I thought second half we stepped it up and ran out comfortable in the second half.
“Maiden City have come here and enjoyed their day and put up a good show, worked incredibly hard and it’s a great experience I’m sure them coming here.
“From my point of view we’re obviously looking to navigate this one with a view to try and rest some of our key players. We’ve had four games in 10 days and it was important to try and get the Whytes, Heatley, Owens, Coates and Beverland a bit of a break and we were able to do that.
“At the same time, the Irish Cup is a very important trophy and we didn’t want to take it lightly. In the League Cup and Co. Antrim Shield in recent years we’ve fielded nearly a whole reserve team, but it was never going to be like that today.”