Belfast Telegraph

We're in fine fettle after Wolves duels: Owens

Crusaders' Jordan Owens
Crusaders' Jordan Owens
Adrian Rutherford

By Adrian Rutherford

Jordan Owens believes Crusaders are ready to hit the ground running in the title chase following their European battle with Wolves.

The Crues bowed out of the Europa League on Thursday night after a 6-1 aggregate defeat to the Premier League side.

Now the focus turns to the domestic campaign, which kicks off next Saturday.

Crusaders, title winners in three of the last five seasons, open at home to newly-promoted Carrick Rangers.

And Owens believes their European journey has set them up perfectly for the months ahead.

"We will get a lot out of these two games," the striker said.

"The new season starts next weekend and that's our focus now. We were disappointed last year so we want to put that right.

Sign In

"These games against Wolves, they will help our fitness.

"Even from the last round, against the team from the Faroe Islands who are a full-time side, we've come on a lot.

"Against Wolves our fitness levels went right up, we enjoyed the two games but now we are ready to go again."

Owens insists Crusaders can take pride from their performances against Wolves.

They battled heroically in the first leg to leave Molineux with just a 2-0 defeat - the second goal coming with almost the last kick.

On Thursday night an own-goal from Ryan Bennett briefly halved the deficit and gave the Crues hope. But Wolves came charging back, with £30m Mexican Raul Jimenez scoring twice in a 4-1 win at Seaview.

Owens said: "It was tough - you are playing against a Premier League team who are very professional in terms of the way they go about things.

"But we gave a good account of ourselves over the two games.

"The 2-0 over there was an incredible result, maybe 4-1 flattered us a bit here. But we were up against multi-million pound players, and it was always going to be very difficult."

He added: "They are sharp players - you can't shut them down like you would in the Irish League.

"You have to set a shape up against them and try to limit the goals.

"But overall we're happy, and now we can move on and look to next week and a big game to start the league."

Wolves now face a 6,370-mile round trip to Armenia to play FC Pyunik in the Europa League third qualifying round.

Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter joked that, when Bennett's own-goal had gone in, he was briefly checking his passport.

And while it was not to be, it was still a special night for the Irish League side.

A capacity crowd of 3,000-plus was at Seaview for the game.

Baxter said: "It was a wonderful moment for the club here - to see a full house, against a Premier League team, and them playing their best team.

"Make no mistake about it, they were here with their best team trying to win, and they put everything in the tank into trying to do that.

"If you had heard the roar of their team going out of their dressing room and how they prepared for this evening, they were trying as if they were playing Liverpool.

"I think that's the biggest compliment they can pay us - the way they played this game of football. And for us to stand up to it, fantastic."

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph