Belfast Telegraph

Clarke is sure Crusaders can put sparkle back into their bid for trophy joy

By Graham Luney

Richard Clarke says Crusaders will lick their Irish Cup wounds and quickly flex their muscles again in the Danske Bank Premiership title race.

The Crues crashed out of the premier knockout tournament in domestic football when Linfield conquered them 2-0 at Seaview last weekend and it was another disappointing performance from Stephen Baxter's men in their 1-1 league draw at Portadown.

But the champions boast a seven-point lead in the title sprint and that could stretch to 10 points today as Linfield host Cliftonville in front of the Sky Sports cameras on Monday night. With eight games remaining and the top two meeting at Windsor Park after the split, the Blues aren't throwing in the towel and Crusaders will need to spring to life to overcome a Carrick Rangers side battling for Premiership survival at Seaview.

"There's certainly no panic," said the former Glentoran favourite. "We've had an interesting title race for the last few seasons and you learn not to get too excited when things go for you and not too anxious when they don't because football can bite you at any time.

"You learn how to manage things better and we have a lot of experience and that counts for something. You've got players there like Michael Gault, Billy Joe Burns, Philip Lowry and Michael Carvill who have so much title-winning experience and know what is required.

"There's no time to sit around and feel sorry for yourself in this game, you have to keep going and respond to setbacks. You just want to get that winning feeling again and I'm sure the boys will feel they have a point to prove and we know what we have to do to win another league title.

"We've got strong leaders and characters and we are still confident but we aren't looking beyond the challenge of Carrick."

The Irish Cup loss was a body blow for the Crues and the club's search for a first league and Cup double goes on. Clarke admits his side weren't in full flow and Linfield rose to the occasion.

"It's always disappointing when something like that happens," he added. "We knew it was going to be a difficult game but Linfield were the better team. We made a few mistakes that cost us.

"But we have set our own standards in the last few seasons and when we fall short it gets highlighted and people start questioning things. Unfortunately we will lose some matches but we are focused and will knuckle down and work hard. The games come thick and fast so we've an opportunity to start winning again against Carrick and it's very important that we take it.

"It's great that Sky are back covering the local game as it adds a bit of prestige. Hopefully we can make the gap 10 points but it'll be tough against Carrick as Aaron Callaghan has them well organised and playing well."

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