Belfast Telegraph

Crusaders are ready for challenge of taking on seven-goal Linfield, says Clarke

Crusaders 5 Glentoran 2

Full flight: Ross Clarke takes on Glentoran’s Robbie McDaid
Full flight: Ross Clarke takes on Glentoran’s Robbie McDaid

By Graham Luney

Crusaders hero Ross Clarke says his side are in great shape going into Friday night's showdown with Linfield in front of the BBC cameras.

The former Blues favourite scored one and claimed two assists as Stephen Baxter's men shrugged off the disappointment of last weekend's defeat at Coleraine by sweeping aside Glentoran.

The Crues haven't lost to the Glens in the league since 2011 and a sensational second-half performance from the hosts ensured that trend continued.

Jordan Owens headed the Seaview aces in front and a Paul Heatley smasher at the start of the second half made it 2-0.

Billy Joe Burns' penalty piled on the pain but John Herron's goal in the 65th minute hinted at a fightback.

But the league leaders turned on the power with Owens and Clarke hitting the target before Hrvoje Plum's free-kick in added time was too little, too late.

The stage is now set for a real classic between the two title rivals on Friday.

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"It was important to return to winning ways and regain momentum going into the Linfield game," admitted the 26-year-old winger. "We will focus on that while analysing this performance.

"The Linfield game will not be easy by any stretch of the imagination. They put out a statement by beating Glenavon 7-0 but hopefully it will be different on this pitch and we will ask a few questions of them.

"I feel we can always create chances and it's up to us to take them. Come Christmas we will see how the league is shaping up, it would be wrong to rule anyone out.

"Linfield and ourselves are looking strong, as well as Coleraine.

"The Blues are strong all over the park and are a big threat from set-pieces, their defenders can score goals and they have plenty of threats. It will be an interesting game and we will relish the challenge."

The Glens defence struggled to contain Clarke but they also had Owens and Heatley tying them in knots.

"At half-time we had a good chat and the boys came out firing on all cylinders," added Clarke.

"We knew Glentoran would try to close the gap to us but fortunately we stopped them doing that.

"It's probably fair to say our second-half performance against the Glens was the best we have played this season. The game opened up well which allowed us space to attack and players like Paul Heatley and Jordan Owens are ruthless.

"I've two assists and a goal so I would have taken that before the game. It's up to the strikers to find room so I can perhaps pick them out and Jordan did that. It was a good team effort overall and we are delighted. We made a few mistakes and were punished so it's also important to eliminate those mistakes."

Mick McDermott, the 10th Glens boss Crues chief Stephen Baxter has faced, felt it was a harsh lesson for his men.

"Crusaders have mixed up different styles well," he said.

"This is a disappointing defeat for us but we can get back into the mix in what is a tight league."

CRUSADERS: Doherty, Burns, Hegarty, Beverland, Lowry, Hale, Caddell (Thompson, 76 mins), Forsythe, J Owens (Cushley, 90 mins), Heatley (McGonigle, 86 mins), Clarke. Unused subs: O'Neill, Ward, K Owens, McElroy.

Glentoran: Antolovic, Kane, Herron, McDaid (Stewart, 72 mins), McClean, Pepper, Crowe (Murray, 55 mins), Gordon, O'Neill (Frazer, 55 mins), Plum, Van Overbeek. Unused subs: Morris, Garrett, Gallagher, Jallow.

Referee: Keith Kennedy (Lisburn)

Man of the match: Ross Clarke

Match rating: 7/10

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