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Crusaders must use European momentum and fly from traps when League action resumes, says Ross Clarke


Ross Clarke is hoping to build on Crusaders' European journey

Ross Clarke is hoping to build on Crusaders' European journey

Ross Clarke is hoping to build on Crusaders' European journey

Crusaders winger Ross Clarke is targeting a fast start to the Premiership season after the club’s European heroics.

Stephen Baxter’s side will take on Linfield at Windsor Park this afternoon (3pm) as the Charity Shield makes a return in partnership with White Ribbon NI.

The clash between the four-in-a-row League champions and Irish Cup winners is a curtain raiser for the hotly anticipated return of competitive domestic action.

Linfield are still very much in the middle of their European odyssey while the Crues defeated Bruno’s Magpies in the Europa Conference League and put up a brave fight against Basel, losing 3-1 on aggregate after holding the Swiss giants 1-1 at Seaview.

Both clubs will be anxious to steer clear of injuries as the Blues have a return leg against Zurich on Thursday before beginning their title defence at home to Portadown on the Sunday.

Crusaders begin their title charge at home to Dungannon Swifts next Saturday.

Former Blues ace Clarke hopes the Shore Road aces can make the kind of swift start Top Gun’s Maverick Tom Cruise would be proud of.

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“The combination of the European games and friendlies has given players an opportunity to get minutes under their belt,” said Clarke, who is looking forward to becoming a father for the first time in around six weeks.

“Hopefully that game time will stand us in good stead for the start of the season. The Basel game was a great experience for everyone at the club, it’s not too often you get an opportunity to play these types of clubs. You have to enjoy them and we will learn a lot from them in terms of our shape and how teams try to break you down.

“I think it’s important now to start the season with the momentum in which we finished last season. The Irish Cup win was a great high for us all and the buzz from that is still with us and can drive us on.

“We’d like to get some early points on the board and see where it takes us. We finished the season strongly so that gives us encouragement.”

Linfield are the opposition in today’s Charity Shield clash at Windsor Park and it will shine an early light on how both clubs are shaping up as the Premiership campaign resumes next Friday.

“Firstly, it’s good to see any club in our League doing so well in Europe and we saw how the League was so tight with it going down to the wire,” added the Dundonald man.

“It’s brilliant for everyone involved and with the quality and standard improving all the time I would expect the title race to be very close again.

“Anyone can beat anyone else in the League on their day and that’s what makes it great viewing.

“From our perspective, the European performances have given us confidence but you can’t rule anyone out in the top six. Everyone is striving for consistency and our objectives are as always to win trophies and qualify for Europe again. The challenge is now for us to achieve those objectives.”

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