Belfast Telegraph

Competition for Crusaders' places driving Richard Clarke on to new heights

By Billy Weir

Crusaders midfielder Richard Clarke's fabulous start to the season is down to one key factor - fear.

Like his Seaview teammates a cursory look at the dug-out and even to the stands is all the incentive they need to turn on the style on the pitch.

One defeat in the Danske Bank Premiership is proof that the reigning champions certainly haven't taken their eye off the ball although they have hit something of a speed bump in the past fortnight, losing, albeit with a much-changed team to Institute in the JBE League Cup, and then needing a late Diarmuid O'Carroll goal to rescue a point against Ballinamallard United last weekend.

As is stands, they welcome Glenavon to Seaview tomorrow afternoon, two points behind leaders, Linfield, and with a tough run of fixtures to come. After the visit of Gary Hamilton's side they have dates with Portadown, the Blues and Glentoran in their next league encounters, with a Co Antrim Shield date with Ballymena United thrown in for good measure.

Stephen Baxter's squad will be tested to the full, but one of the first names on his team-sheet is determined to make it as hard as possible for the boss to drop him.

"I've been really happy since I moved here, Stephen has just given me a new lease of life and I'm really enjoying my football and have been for a long time now," he explained.

"The team is doing well and that's good and I just want to keep contributing to it and staying in it because when you look at the likes of the players we have coming back, Barry Molloy, Declan Caddell, Chris Morrow and Timmy Adamson, they're all players who can play in midfield so it's healthy competition. But if you're going to win leagues and cups we're going to need that squad. We are a team and a squad and we really appreciate each other.

"Stephen never lets complacency kick in. We won the league last season and we knew momentum would be key. I think we have a bit of momentum at the minute and winning is a great feeling."

That will be music to Baxter's ears and the mutual appreciation society is in full chorus with the manager lauding the efforts of the man who makes his midfield tick.

"He's a player I've admired since ever I saw him play," said Baxter. "Away back to his days at Newry, and then at Glentoran and his quality of passing, awareness - his brain is just ticking quicker than everybody else.

"He's a fabulous person off the football pitch and a great all-round guy. He slots in well, keeps us all moving, keeps the ball moving into the right areas.

"It's great having all of these guys. My great difficulty is sitting looking at a bench and going 'where can I find room for him, him and him?' The players have to earn their right and earn their place and keep playing well. Declan Caddell, Chris Morrow and Timmy Adamson are all back training and then you've got other guys all busting to play football matches."

Belfast Telegraph


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