Belfast Telegraph

Crues can take control of title race with another win

By Stuart McKinley

Richard Clarke has declared that it's what Crusaders do next that matters most. The Shore Road side claimed a superb 4-1 victory over Cliftonville in the north Belfast derby last weekend - a result that Clarke admits kept their title hopes alive - and he is determined not to waste that result by losing against Coleraine at Seaview tonight (7.45pm).

Instead he wants to pile the pressure on their rivals in the race for the Danske Bank Premiership title by banking three points and going two points clear at the top of the table - at least until 5pm tomorrow.

"It was a great win for us against Cliftonville," said Clarke.

"It wasn't really talked about in the dressing room, but I think that we all knew it was a must-win game because we would have been seven points behind Cliftonville if we'd lost and given the quality they have that would have been a lot of ground to make up.

"It was also important that we bounced back after losing to Bangor in the League Cup and by doing that in a really tough game we showed the character that is in the squad.

"Now we have to look forward to the next game instead of looking back.

"There is no point in putting in a performance like that and getting a really good result against another team that is close to you at the top of the league and then losing the next one.

"When you have built up a bit of momentum you don't want to lose it and it is important for us to go out and get another positive result against Coleraine."

The title race will hit its halfway point next weekend and at this stage any one of the top five can be considered as realistic contenders, with just four points between them.

And Clarke believes that after seeing the Crues falter in the latter stages of the title race on a number of occasions in recent years, they can lay those ghosts to rest this time around.

"You never want to shout too loudly about what you want to achieve or think you can achieve, but I think with the squad we have we are in good shape to mount a real challenge," he said.

"I think that Cliftonville, Linfield, Glenavon and Portadown are as equally well equipped and have ambitions of winning the league - if they say different they're lying.

"We are all clubs that have had success in recent years and when you get that you want more.

"I don't believe any of us will be happy to finish second."

Clarke will leave work in Omagh to make the journey to Seaview for tonight's game - just a slightly longer trip than those coming from Coleraine - before returning to his home in Castlederg around midnight.

He won't care about all that travelling if three points are in the bag when he leaves Belfast.

"The league is trying this out with the Friday night games and I think it's something that the teams playing in them have to take advantage of," he said.

"If we can win the game and go to the top of the league it could be a big thing psychologically.

"It will put the pressure on the other teams who aren't playing until Saturday and it will be up to them to win their games and try to overtake us.

"The league is so close and it's vital that we stay in the pack until January.

"I think it will start to open up at some stage, although it's hard to tell because teams are beating each other.

"If someone can go on a bit of a run and win four or five games in a row they could break away from the pack."

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