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

Crusaders winger Ross Clarke is aiming for a quick start to the Premiership season following the club’s European exploits.

Tephen Baxter’s side will take on Linfield this afternoon (3pm) at Windsor Park when the Charity Shield returns in partnership with White Ribbon NI.

The clash between the four-time league champions in a row and the Irish Cup winners kicks off the much-anticipated return of domestic competition.

Linfield is still in the midst of their European odyssey while the Crues defeated Bruno’s Magpies in the Europa Conference League and put up a valiant fight against Basel, losing 3-1 on aggregate after beating the Swiss giants 1-1 at Seaview .

Both clubs will be keen to avoid injury as the Blues play a return leg against Zurich on Thursday before beginning their title defense at home against Portadown on Sunday.

Crusaders begin their title fight next Saturday at home against the Dungannon Swifts.

Former blues ace Clarke is hoping the Shore Road aces can get off to the fast start that Top Gun’s Maverick Tom Cruise would be proud of.

“The combination of European games and friendlies has given the players a chance to pick up minutes,” said Clarke, who is looking forward to becoming a father for the first time in about six weeks.

“Hopefully this season will be good for the start of the season. The Basel game was a great experience for everyone at the club, you don’t get the chance to play these kinds of clubs too often. You have to enjoy them and we will learn a lot from them in terms of our form and how teams try to break you.

“I think it’s important now to start the season with the momentum that we ended last season with. Winning the Irish Cup was a big highlight for all of us and the excitement of that is still with us and can spur us on.

“We would like to pick up points early and see where that takes us. We ended the season strong, that gives us courage.”

Linfield are opponents in today’s Charity Shield clash at Windsor Park and will shed an early light on how both clubs are faring when the Premiership campaign resumes next Friday.

“Firstly, it’s good to see any club in our league doing so well in Europe and we’ve seen how tight the league was going to the end,” added the Dundonald man.

“It’s great for everyone involved and with the quality and level 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 makes it a great viewer.

“From our point of view, our performances in Europe have given us confidence, but you can’t rule out anyone in the top six. Everyone is looking for consistency and our goals, as always, are to win trophies and qualify for Europe again. The challenge now is to achieve those goals.” Crusaders must use European momentum and fly from traps when League action resumes, says Ross Clarke

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