Richard Clarke sure Crusaders will cross finishing line

Richard Clarke
Richard Clarke

Richard Clarke believes Crusaders have the character to get over the line in the Danske Premiership title race.

Following a shock defeat at Portadown in midweek -- a result that cut the Crues’ lead at the top of the table to six points -- Clarke knows there will be no margin for error in Saturday’s North Belfast derby with Cliftonville at Solitude.

“I think if you look at any title race in any league, if the leaders or chasing team drop points, a lot is made of it,” he said.

“Yes, we were nine points clear a prior to Tuesday, but if you had offered us a six point advantage with four games left, we would have bitten your hand off.

“People are saying we are in the driving seat, but while we know we’ve got ourselves into a good position, we know we still have a lot of work to do. We’re fully focused on that. The main characteristic of this team has been good attitude and how we have reacted to things. In training this week, we talked about Tuesday night and looked at where we went wrong.

“We’re fully focused on Cliftonville now and we’re determined to make amends.

“Character has a lot to do with it and we have that in the changing room. We will draw on each other and get on with the task in hand.”

Clarke has won everything on offer at Irish League level -- except for a championship medal. He desperately wants to put that right.

He added: “I’ve lifted the Irish Cup, League Cup and County Antrim Shield and it goes without saying I’d love to add the Gibson Cup to that list.

“It’s a big incentive personally. In our changing room Billy Joe Burns and Diarmuid O’Carroll have lifted the Gibson Cup and I’d love to do the same.

“To be crowned champions is a big incentive and I think to achieve it with Crusaders would be even bigger because of he size and nature of the club compared to others.

“It would be nice on a personal note, but collectively it would also be a big achievement.”

The influential Paul Heatley returns to boost the Crues chances at Solitude, but Clarke admits his absence was not an excuse for the midweek loss.

“There’s no doubt we probably missed Paul Heatley on Tuesday night, but collectively we have to take responsibility,” he added.

“We have four big games coming up and we have to deal with that, but we’ve been playing important games since the start of the year.

“Cliftonville will be tough, particularly after their defeat at Glenavon.

“Going to Solitude at any time is always tough. It doesn’t matter if they are going well or not going well, it is always a difficult game.

“It is a North Belfast derby and there is a lot at stake for both sides. It should make for a very interesting game.

“Cliftonville have been very unfortunate with injuries this year, but they have quality all over the pitch and in Joe Gormley they have a striker who is scoring goals for fun.

“They have major threats and they’re very dangerous opponents.”