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Crusaders not to go easy at The Cottage

last updated Thursday 21st July 2011, 11:06 AM

Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter Irish League teams simply aren't expected to get results at Premier League grounds and that's why Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter is considering a radical approach to the daunting test at Craven Cottage tonight (7.30pm).

The Crues will have to leave their attacking instinct in the dressing room and their manager joked: "We're going to adopt a new formation - we're going to play 10 at the back, with six centre-halves."

Fulham lead the Europa League second qualifying round contest |3-1 from the first leg but Martin Jol's side found the going tough on the minnows' artificial surface.

But for this challenge on the banks of the River Thames, the Crues are focused on keeping the floodgates shut.

As the old saying goes, it's not David v Goliath, it's Goliath v David's wee brother.

But while Baxter returned from holiday with an impressive tan in time to see his troops give the Cottagers a real scare, there was no danger of the former Linfield and Crues striker turning red with embarrassment.

In fact when debutant Timmy Adamson rattled the Fulham crossbar shortly after netting a stunning equaliser, it was the Premier League side on the ropes until two goals in the last 15 minutes saw them escape with their pride intact.

"The players are young and hungry and they are a great bunch," added Baxter.

"The first leg at Seaview was an occasion in which we could all say we are proud to be Crusaders people.

"We never let ourselves down at Seaview and that's the challenge again at Craven Cottage.

"We left Seaview with our heads held high and I'm very proud of them. Now we'll see who is available and go with a shape and work as hard as we worked in the first leg.

"The tie is over but we have to take as much out of this experience as we can. We don't expect to beat Fulham at their own ground but we do expect to give a good account of ourselves. It'll be good to get the players together so they can enjoy each other's company. It's all team building and we'll see where it takes us."

Irish League teams have won plenty of admirers this summer for their memorable performances on the European stage and those who thought the Crues players would be lambs to the slaughter against Aaron Hughes, Chris Baird and co. called it wrong.

Jol is likely to shuffle his pack for the rematch but there is no question the visitors will face an even more daunting challenge than a week ago.

But Baxter has a stronger squad at his disposal after strengthening his panel over the summer and new boys Paul Leeman, Adamson and keeper Sean O'Neill showed their class in the first leg.

"You look at a player like Paul Leeman who was a debutant and yet he is 33 - he never put a foot wrong in the first leg," added Baxter. "There was quality from us and Adamson's a handful.

"What a goal and that's what we need to compete - we need the quality players. Our new goalkeeper Sean O'Neill pulled off a few smart saves and gave a great account of himself. Ciaran Gargan also came on and looked handy for 25 minutes as well.

"It was a very encouraging performance, especially when you look at the players who weren't available to us (Colin Coates, Chris Morrow and Declan Caddell).

"We need strength in depth to see the season through. You need to push on, you can't stand still in this game. You have to work harder. We finished second in the Irish League, Irish Cup and County Antrim Shield last season and if you want to finish first you have to work harder."

Meanwhile, Aaron Hughes knows the Crues players will be rolling up their sleeves again tonight.

"They have nothing to lose and will love the experience of playing at Craven Cottage," said Hughes.

"They may trail 3-1 but they'll be up for this one."

John Arne Riise will make his Fulham debut.

Provisional squad: Schwarzer, Baird, Hangeland, Senderos, Hughes, JA Riise, Etuhu, Davies, Murphy, Sidwell, BH Riise, Trotta, Dalla Valle, Zamora, Johnson, Stockdale, Kelly, Donegan, Frei.

Source Graham Luney at Belfast Telegraph
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