Belfast Telegraph

We will be punished if we take our eye off ball, says Crusaders' Sean Ward

 

By Alex Mills

Crusaders defender Sean Ward insists his team can take nothing for granted ahead of next week's Europa League second-leg tie with FK Liepaja.

Stephen Baxter's boys will travel to Latvia with a two-goal advantage following Thursday night's 3-1 win at Seaview.

Goals from Philip Lowry, Michael Carvill and Jordan Owens have put the Irish League side in pole position and, even though the visitors pulled one back through striker Arturs Karasausks, the Crues will still fancy their chances of progressing to a second-round game against either Shakhtyor Soligorsk of Belarus or FK Sudova from Lithuania.

"It was a great win," beamed Ward, who was snapped up from Linfield over the summer. "We have only been back training slightly over a week and we were playing against a team that were 15 or 16 games into their league campaign. We were unlucky not to score a few more goals."

Ward, however, warned that Liepaja could be a different animal on their home ground. He said: "I think their fitness and quality showed in the latter stages of the game.

"It's far from over, but we have given ourselves a great opportunity to progress. We started off very well. We have a lot of players who are naturally lean and fit and take their football very seriously aside from their part-time jobs.

"We did tire after an hour or so. We fell asleep for their goal, especially myself as I should have gone and closed the guy down, but they certainly upped the gears. It gave us a fair warning of what to expect out there.

"They brought on (Marks Kurtiss) and he started finding pockets of space. Their rotation was very good and we found it tough.

"It was unfortunate to concede a goal, but we can take a massive plus from our overall performance.

"We certainly believe that we can finish the tie. When the boss brought on Gavin Whyte, his close control and pace began to cause them problems. It helped settle us a wee bit. At the end of the day, it was a positive result and it gives us a great opportunity. We are still hanging in there."

As debuts go, Ward hardly put a foot wrong, dovetailing superbly well with skipper Colin Coates, who was making his first appearance since February because of injury.

"I certainly enjoyed it," said the versatile Ward. "It's always great when you win. I've always admired Coatsie's game. It's different than how I would play as a centre-half - he's aggressive, a ball winner and a leader.

"He's so strong. He plays the game differently from me, but we can certainly complement each other with our different styles.

"It's entirely down to the boss where he wants to play me. There is a lot of competition for places in this squad and I'll be taking nothing for granted. We still have Howard Beverland to come in, he was probably Crusaders' best player last season.

"I enjoyed my debut and hopefully it's a sign of things to come."

Although the Crues could find themselves under the cosh at the Daugava Stadium on Thursday, Ward insists his new team-mates are capable of nicking an away goal.

"When you have a Jordan Owens in the side, you are also capable of scoring," added Ward. "I thought Jordan was outstanding on Thursday night. I always hated playing against him because he is just so big and physical, I just couldn't compete with him. He's so good at what he does.

"They (Liepaja) certainly struggled to cope with Jordan. He was up there on his own, so obviously he was going to tire, but he was tremendous.

"It was a great result, but we are still aware that the tie is still very much alive."

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