Crues control but we must retain focus, warns Clarke
Crusaders midfielder Richard Clarke believes teams are now reluctant to go toe-to-toe with the Premiership champions. Even though Stephen Baxter's boys have roared seven points clear at the top of the table, they have been forced to grind out results of late - even against Championship side PSNI in the Toals County Antrim Shield semi-final in midweek.
Narrow 1-0 wins against Coleraine, Portadown, Ards and Dungannon Swifts have guaranteed the Crues remain ahead of the chasing pack - and Clarke admits they'll be ready for another battle when Gary Haveron brings his fast-improving Glentoran side to Seaview today.
"This will be another big test," said Clarke.
"Gary Haveron has got them really well drilled. He has made a huge difference since he was appointed. They'll be coming to Seaview following a good win over Ards, they will be up for it. We know Glentoran will throw everything at us.
"We have been grinding out results, which is so unlike Crusaders. Last minute goals have been bailing us out - but it doesn't matter whether it's the first or last minute, we have been picking up the points and that's the most important thing.
"We've talked about it (in the dressing room). We are not winning matches with the same style we did last year. There is no doubt teams are putting it up to us and setting up really well defensively. They are organised and it is proving difficult for us to break them down.
"But it also shows the character we have in our team. We know we have the players to win games - big Jordan (Owens), Gavin (Whyte), (Paul) Heatley and Cush (David Cushley), who has really proved his worth of late.
"Yes, we have been scraping home by the odd goal - much the same as Manchester United did in the Eric Cantona era when he scored a lot of winning goals.
"Perhaps, we will look back at the end of the season and then realise how important those results were."
Clarke insists that he doesn't pay much heed to the league table at this time of the season, even though he is happy to have a seven points cushion.
"We look for the results of other teams every week and I'm sure they do the same," he added. "It's tight and you can never write off Linfield and Cliftonville."
Glens boss Haveron, meanwhile, admits his is relishing the Seaview challenge.
"These are the games you want to be involved in," he said. "We'll be going there with no fear.
"We must strive to get the club back to where it belongs - challenging for every trophy."