Crusaders finally complete quest

Crusaders FC manager Stephen Baxter hailed his players as "history makers" after they progressed through a round in Europe for the first time in 14 attempts.

Stephen Baxter (left) celebrates with two-goal striker Paul Heatley
Stephen Baxter (left) celebrates with two-goal striker Paul Heatley ©Press Eye (Belfast)

Crusaders FC manager Stephen Baxter hailed his players as "history makers" after the Belfast side celebrated a club first in Lithuania.

Two goals from winger Paul Heatley secured a 2-1 second-leg win and 5-2 aggregate victory over FK Ekranas to ease the Crues through to the second qualifying round of the UEFA Europa League. It is the first time the Northern Irish club has progressed in Europe, the Seaview men having fallen at the first hurdle in UEFA competitions in 13 previous attempts.

"It's a fantastic result and an historic achievement for the club," said Baxter, whose side now play IF Brommapojkarna of Sweden, travelling to Stockholm next Thursday night. "It's a very proud moment for Crusaders and very special for everyone connected with the club.

"I've told the players they've written their names into club history and they deserve the utmost credit. We have had to wait a long time to progress in Europe and I'm just delighted we have been able to do it in style. The players deserve immense praise for the way they conducted themselves over the two legs. They stuck rigidly to the game-plan and got the result they deserved."

The Crues, who boasted a 3-1 lead from last week's first leg in Belfast, were ahead on 56 minutes through Heatley. Lukas Kochanauskas pulled one back for Ekranas, before Heatley put the tie to bed with his second goal of the game on 71 minutes.

"We knew what was at stake and we were determined to create a little piece of history for the club," said two-goal hero Heatley, 27. "It was very special to score twice in such an important game for the club, but like everyone else my full focus was on progressing. The most important thing was getting ourselves into the next round."

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