What a difference a season makes. Crusaders have come into this season like a new team. Not stronger but weaker, and worse than they have ever been. Blame the European adventure, injuries, or that the league is a long old haul. At the minute there is something wrong with this team, maybe even the club, but either way something is 100% not right.

Champions 2017/18

Crusaders capped off a wonderful 2017/18 season by pipping a great Coleraine team to the title on the last day of the season. The winning goal from substitute David Cushley won the game. On the other hand, it was a wonderful save from the commanding Brian Jensen that more or less won the title for the Crues. That was Jensen’s last game for the Crues and the powers that be at Seaview decided they didn’t need to replace him.

Questionable transfers

Crusaders were busy in the transfer window and this, for me, is where a lot of it went wrong. When teams around them were busy building a team to challenge them, the Crues in my eyes were playing with fire, running with more or less the same squad that ‘narrowly’ won the league.

Jensen had left, and Stephen Baxter brought in young Harry Doherty, who had just been relegated with Carrick Rangers. Sean O’Neill, again, got the number one jersey for the season.

The imminent release of Gavin Whyte was coming. Baxter went into the market to sign Ross Clarke, who was on loan last season at Ards from Linfield. Now, Clarke is an exceptional player, but pound for pound he is not a replacement for Whyte. Baxter himself went on record saying he had enough quality in his team to cover the loss of Whyte.

Kyle Owens was brought in from Ballymena, and there are still unanswered questions: ‘is he better than what was already there?’

Michael Ruddy was brought in from Ards. Again, another surprise signing. Sitting back watching, I wondered where the marquee signing was coming from.

Now watching how others were bringing in players like Conor Pepper, Joel Cooper and Daniel Kearns, it told everyone paying any attention that the season for Crusaders didn’t look bright.

An injury to Jordon Owens forced Baxter’s hand to panic sign. Trying to prize away Jamie McGonigle from Coleraine at such a late stage was just stupid, and quickly rejected. So, into the market they went and signed veteran forward Rory Patterson from Derry City. 38 years and counting, was this a panic signing? Totally not the type of striker that Baxter’s tactics need. Patterson will score goals when the opportunity arises.

European adventure

The European adventure was over before the flight had even left the airport. Seems it’s all about the European money nowadays, not putting in a positive effort. Players’ priorities were family holidays. Well, some! Imagine telling Sir Alex Ferguson you’re going to miss an important European game due to a two-week trip to Ibiza.

Yes, the Crues were handed a hard draw in the competition, but that’s what you want. To show off your talent and gain recognition on the big stage. Drawn against a proven Champions League team, Ludogorets of Bulgaria, the Crues came home on the end of a 7-0 battering. The second leg in Belfast was another defeat, 2-0. On the plus side, and one the club will be happy with, was the £250k (+) payout for being involved.

This year they got the added bonus of dropping down into the qualifying round for the Europa League, where they were drawn against Olympija of Slovenia. They were to come home defeated 5-1 from Slovenia and then drew 1-1 in the return leg. Yes, not ideal prep for the season but there are no complaints when the European bank transfer goes into the account every year.

Professional set up

The season started with the Crues announcing that they would try to get themselves into ‘some sort’ of full-time football. I am not going to delve into it, as I don’t know much about it, but it seems to have taken the team backwards.

They have modelled this on Dundalk after the success and money they have made through their European adventures. Baxter even gave up his own business to sign a contract which will keep him at Seaview for a number of years. This leaves the club in a bit of a predicament: if they felt the need to part company with him, how much would it cost them? They could probably not afford it.

Surely the club needs someone in the coaching or management side of life that has been involved in the full time set up to make it work. Otherwise, it’s a learning process that could take a few years. That seems to be something that is not needed as the club was doing its thing well, without having to start going backwards and reeducating.

2018/19 Season So Far

So… into December and the Crues sit in fifth position, 10 points behind leaders Ballymena. To date, the Crues have lost seven and won 10. The alarming thing about this? They have conceded 31 goals this season and scored 36. That problem right there that should have been sorted at the start of the season, not later.  Has the signing of Gerard Doherty from Derry City, been too little, too late? Only time will tell.  A hammering and at the hands of Linfield has shown that the current crop is not good enough to compete with the top teams this season.


  • The constant tinkering with the team. The back four have not been the same all season. Put it down to injuries or suspensions, but whatever excuse you make up the point is still the same… they have not been good.
  • The ‘problem’ left back position. It is a problem!
  • Not replacing Jensen, but now trying to fix it now. Big managerial mistake.
  • Putting players on the transfer list, when underachieving players are being selected week in and week out.
  • The Baxter full-time effect. Do they have two years for it to work?
  • Man management. Cushley has been sitting on the bench for two years. A key player that has repeatedly come off the bench to score important goals.
  • Too many excuses and not enough honest explanations.

I could go on and on, and undoubtedly some fans will have more to say than this. But just a few things that are not right or don’t add up, which cannot be helping the club be the force it should be. I will happily voice my opinion as there are too many fans at Seaview still dreaming of yesteryears.

This team should not be sitting where they are, and with the money that has gone through their accounts, it should not be like this! You let quality go, replace it with quality. The committee needs to be thinking more on the playing side of life instead of only thinking about the money. If they don’t qualify for Europe next year, what will be the outcome without the European money? Is there a businessman amongst them?  I am not sure. Hope they have got a decent and robust business plan in place to counter life without European competition money!