Belfast Telegraph

Andy Mitchell can be ace in Crusaders pack, says Richard Clarke

By Graham Luney

Richard Clarke has backed Andy Mitchell to sparkle on the big stage for Crusaders this season.

Mitchell produced a man of the match performance in his first competitive appearance for the Hatchetmen as Levadia Tallinn were held to a scoreless draw at Seaview.

Stephen Baxter's side travel to Estonia for the return leg tomorrow (5pm) with genuine belief they can progress to the Champions League second qualifying round and a date with Albania's KS Skenderbeu.

Shutting out the Estonia giants was a major positive for the Crues but it could have been an even better outcome had Mitchell's powerful shot not been tipped onto the crossbar by goalkeeper Priit Pikker.

A score draw at the Kadriorg Stadium would be enough to see the Crues progress on the continent for the second year running and if they can grab an opening goal the hosts will be under considerable pressure.

Former Rangers starlet Mitchell has already made a big impression on his team-mates and Clarke says the 23-year-old from Glengormley is going to be a smash hit in the Irish League.

"The great thing about Andy Mitchell is he is so versatile," said Clarke.

"I don't think he can even tell you what his best position is and it's great to have a player who has confidence performing different roles for the team.

"I thought his performance was brilliant, especially when you consider it was his first competitive appearance for the team and although he's a young lad he obviously has a lot of experience to draw upon from his time at Rangers and everything that club has been through.

"There is obviously some know-how and professionalism about him as well as real quality.

"He's young and enthusiastic and hungry to make a good impression and he's made a fantastic start."

Crusaders missed several chances in the first leg and they will also be without skipper Colin Coates who is on holiday.

David Magowan should slot seemlessly into the centre-half position and there is no doubt the visitors will have enough attacking threat to carve out a few goal-scoring opportunities, even though last season's Young Player of the Year Gavin Whyte is ruled out with an ankle injury.

"I think it was stick or twist for us near the end as we didn't want to concede pushing for a winner at Seaview," added Clarke who as well as helping the Crues overcome Ekranas of Lithuania last year was part of the Glentoran side that defeated FK Renova in the Europa League in 2011 - and he scored at the Oval in a 2-1 victory which climaxed in a thrilling penalty shootout.

"We are still in there fighting and we have a lot to play for .

"We could have scored a few goals in the first leg and I don't think we should be fearing this team.

"The boys are still confident we can finish the job."

Clarke, like his team-mates, still has golden memories of their European journey last summer.

He added: "It was an unbelievable feeling to win last year because the club made history and it was special to be part of that.

"I think it was the time when the team really started to embrace a winning mentality and from a two-and-a-half hour meeting while on our travels in Europe last year it was determined what we were aiming for and the seeds were sown for what became a historic title win.

"The boys set out clear goals and we knew what we needed to do.

"Credit to everyone at the club for achieving it. Everyone brought their 'A' game and delivered.

"From the European adventure the team bonding and camaraderie was there and the rest is history. Hopefully we can do the same again."

Belfast Telegraph


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