Belfast Telegraph

Playing against Linfield will be surreal, says Crues new boy Clarke

On target: Ross Clarke celebrates his goal against Ballymena United last weekend
On target: Ross Clarke celebrates his goal against Ballymena United last weekend

By Graham Luney

Crusaders new boy Ross Clarke has admitted it will feel "surreal" playing against his former team-mates tomorrow but he knows exactly what to expect from them.

Linfield will arrive at Seaview hungry to make a statement after failing to land a glove on the Crues last season.

The Blues' title defence faded in disappointing fashion, while Stephen Baxter's side went on to edge out Coleraine to the glittering prize.

Even though it's very early days in this Danske Bank Premiership campaign, the Windsor Park side are relishing the chance to send a message that they're back in business.

Clarke, who scored his first Premiership goal for the Crues in the 2-2 draw at home to Ballymena United last weekend, made 83 appearances for Linfield during a six-year spell at Windsor Park.

After spending the second half of last season on loan at Ards, winger Clarke agreed a three-year professional contract with the Crues in June.

The 25-year-old accepts boss David Healy will have his Linfield side fired up to rattle Crusaders' cage.

"David will have Linfield fired up and every player will be reminded about our games last season but, while that be additional motivation for them, we will want to win the game too, and just as we regrouped at half-time against Ballymena United we can have an impact," said Clarke.

"It will feel surreal playing against Linfield if selected, but I'll keep my head down and play as instructed.

"Linfield have done well in the transfer window and made good signings. I think they will offer something different than they did last season and that makes our game against them even more intriguing.

"We will just play to our strengths and see how the game pans out. When you have big Jordan (Owens) back in the squad it lifts everyone and hopefully that works in our favour next week.

"It's too early in the season to rule anyone out, and come Christmas we might have a better idea who's pushing for the title. We will see how the games pan out but we want to get back to winning ways.

"I think the title race is going to go right to the wire again this season.

"You have Cliftonville, ourselves, Coleraine and Linfield who might make up the top four, but other sides will not be far behind.

"Maybe Coleraine and Linfield are the teams we should be wary of but every side can hurt you."

Clarke says he's settled in well at Seaview, but the failure to pocket maximum points against Ballymena United was disappointing.

"The staff and the players have been brilliant since I've come in," he added.

"The fans have been fantastic too and I couldn't have asked for a better reception. Everyone has welcomed me with open arms. It's been brilliant in that respect.

"I think we created enough chances to take all three points. We are particularly disappointed with our first half performance.

"On another day we could have taken the chances and won the game. Overall, one point wasn't what we felt we deserved."

• Crusaders have been drawn away to Queen of the South while Coleraine will host Fortmartine United in the second round of the Scottish Challenge Cup.

The Crues reached the semi-finals of last year's competition which features clubs from Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Queen of the South lie eighth in the Scottish Championship and Fortmartine compete in the Highland League.

The ties will be played on the weekend of September 7-9.

Belfast Telegraph

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