Belfast Telegraph

Crusaders aim to be cut above Cliftonville

By Graham Luney

After proving to be a thorn in Glentoran’s side last weekend, Crusaders’ Jordan Owens wants to burst Cliftonville’s bubble.

The Reds have been on fire this season and they are now the team to shoot down after claiming top spot in the Danske Bank Premiership.

Two points clear of second placed Coleraine, the Solitude faithful are starting to dream of a title triumph.

Linfield were expected to blow the opposition away this season after cruising to a sixth double in seven campaigns but, by their own standards, they have been unconvincing.

That has tantalisingly left the title door a little bit further ajar for the likes of Cliftonville, Coleraine and — whisper it quietly! — Ballinamallard United.

Crusaders’ age-old problem since they lifted the Gibson Cup in 1997 has been consistency but their 2-0 win over Glentoran, courtesy of Owens’ brace, was just what the doctor ordered to revive the patient.

That brings us to today’s ‘north Belfast clasico’ at Seaview, a contest that is usually feisty and not for the faint-hearted.

But leaving aside the bitter rivalry — and indeed considerable respect both sides have for each other — there is a healthy dose of potential match-winners on both sides.

For the visitors it could be Liam Boyce, already staking an early claim to be ‘Player of the Season’, while Joe Gormley’s (pictured) hat-trick in the |5-0 midweek demolition of Ballinamallard United in the Irn-Bru Cup underlined his hunger to hit the headlines.

Crusaders will have Gary McCutcheon — competing in his first north Belfast derby — while Owens, if given the ammunition, can certainly hit the target.

“Hopefully we can carry the good form from the Glentoran game into the Cliftonville one,” said Owens who was handed a Northern Ireland cap in the Carling Nations Cup tournament.

“We have a great forward line with Timmy (Adamson), Gary (McCutcheon), David (Rainey) and myself and we have all been doing well in training, giving Stephen (Baxter) a headache.

“He got the team right against the Glens but we are all hungry to show what we can do.

“We are working hard and it’s all about taking your chance when it comes. We battled hard in the games before the Glentoran one but in three out of four of them we got nothing.

“It’s been said before but any team can beat anyone else in this league and Ballinamallard beating Linfield was a reminder of that.

“You would expect the Blues as champions to be strong at home but we got a result there too.

“You have to work hard for your wins, not least against an in-form Cliftonville side and in a derby fixture which is always fiercely contested.”

Meanwhile, another Crues favourite accepts he will have to fight to force his way back into the side.

Paul Leeman and the fit-again Colin Coates might not feature in the heart of the backline after the impressive showing by David Magowan and Joshua Robinson against the Glens.

“The boys played really well against Glentoran and the manager might be tempted to stick with that side,” said Leeman who did play in the midweek Irn-Bru Cup win over Carrick Rangers.

“There needs to be strong competition for places and while I have played in midfield before I think we are well covered in that area.

“But the confidence gained from the win over the Glens — who were unbeaten and going really well — gives us something to build on now against Cliftonville.”

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Passionate Cliftonville fan Bill Rafferty would like to thank the club for the hospitality he has been shown while on a return visit to Belfast from Australia.

The 74-year-old, who lives just outside Sydney, is a Cliftonville Road man who used to play for the Olympic and Strollers side when he was a youngster.

Rafferty witnessed the wins over Portadown and Donegal Celtic and he will be cheering on the Reds at Seaview tomorrow.

“The players signed my autograph book and everyone made me feel very welcome,” said Bill.

“I keep in touch with their progress and it was a real thrill to see the team playing so well.

“Hopefully now I will see them beat the Crues!”

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