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Irish Premiership: Crusaders striker Adam Lecky enjoying prolific partnership with fit-again Ben Kennedy

Ben Kennedy and Adam Lecky have been in prolific form for Crusaders in recent games
Ben Kennedy and Adam Lecky have been in prolific form for Crusaders in recent games

Sports Direct Irish Premiership - Glentoran v Crusaders

Date: Tuesday, 29 August Venue: The Oval Kick-off: 19:45 BST

Coverage: Live on BBC iPlayer and the BBC Sport website and app from 19:30 BST; live text commentary with in-game clips on the BBC Sport website and app

Crusaders striker Adam Lecky says the return of fellow forward Ben Kennedy has played an important part in his side's impressive early league form.

Kennedy had to sit out last season with a knee injury but has marked his return to the Irish Premiership with five goals in the Crues' first four games.

Lecky has also been in prolific form, scoring four goals as Stephen Baxter's side racked up four successive wins.

"On his day Ben is one of the best players in the league," said Lecky.

Kennedy scored 15 goals and contributed 13 assists in his first campaign with the north Belfast outfit but missed last term after sustaining his injury against Glentoran 12 months ago.

"It's great to have a player of Ben's quality back in the team, people probably didn't realise how big a loss he was, it's like signing a new player," added the former Ballymena United player.

"He has been lighting it up, scoring goals out of nothing. Ben has those in his locker and as a strike partner you know he is going to create chances for you too."

Free-scoring Crusaders have found the net 17 times in winning their first four top flight fixtures, including a 9-0 defeat of Carrick Rangers, conceding just one.

Lecky credits the club's performances in the Europa Conference League, when they saw off FC Haka in the first qualifying round before being edged out by Rosenborg over two legs, with helping them on their way to promising results on the domestic front.

"Those four competitive games stand you in good stead, shake much of the rustiness off and sharpen the players up," reflected Lecky.

"We had a good competitive tie against Rosenborg, probably did better than most people expected, and we have carried that into our league campaign.

"We are playing well, not getting carried away, just enjoying our football, and there is a lot of confidence in the team."

'Biggest challenge so far'

Lecky acknowledges that the visit to the Oval to face Glentoran on Tuesday evening is likely to provide the Shore Road side with their stiffest test to date.

"They [Glentoran] have been on a decent run too and with respect to the other teams we have faced, they, as one of our likely rivals in the top six, will probably pose our biggest challenge so far.

"We're looking forward to it and the fact that we have kept three clean sheets now means the whole team are doing well.

"Jimmy Callacher has come in and made a big difference with his composure so hopefully the injury he suffered on Saturday turns out to be not too serious and he is back in action before too long.

"We probably all have our own personal targets but for us as a team to have a successful season we have to try and stay in the mix, stay in contact with the three full-time teams.

"They have proven they are the teams to beat and if you want to challenge, you have to stay in contention with those top sides."

Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter pictured with Jarlath O'Rourke
Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter pictured with Jarlath O'Rourke

'Hunger and desire immense'

Baxter last led Crusaders to the Premiership title in 2018, his squad having also tasted Irish League championship success in 2015 and 2016.

He has been at the helm with the Crues for 18 and a half years but his appetite for success remains undimmed.

"The love of the game keeps you going. When you have a hunger and desire among people in the dressing room to do well and play well, that's just immense and we have that in spades right now," said Baxter.

"There's a buzz in the dressing room around big games of football, trying to plot against another opposition, trying to win games.

"Challenging for silverware over the years and playing in European football. Things like that have been the driving force that keep you going and I'm still really enjoying it.

"We're doing pretty well at the moment, but it's only four games in and we're only getting started in this.

"The Oval has been a difficult place for us to go to in the last few seasons. We didn't pick up any points there last season so it's important we improve on that and get something from this game."