BILLY Clarke believes City’s season can begin to pick up pace if they keep bursting out the blocks.

Stuart McCall’s men have scored early goals in their last two league outings against Southend and Exeter as well as in the FA Cup romp at Tonbridge.

Clarke feels the faster starts have set the tone for much-improved performances since losing three in a row last month.

“That’s been the key in the last three games,” he said. “When we lost previously, we didn’t start too well.

“You’ve got to be on it mentally from the minute the whistle goes.

“We’ve been starting really quickly with high energy and scored in the first 10 minutes in all of them. That’s what we’ve been trying and it’s worked.

“We didn’t start well against Harrogate and they built momentum. We didn’t start well against Newport and they beat us.

“It’s been good for us to do it the last three games.”

Clarke is being used in a more attacking role to partner Clayton Donaldson and Saturday’s well-worked goal from Callum Cooke's break was his third in the last two appearances.

“I’m clever enough to play there. I made a good run in behind (the defence) for the goal but I wouldn’t say I’m off the shoulder.

“I come short most of the time. The last two games Pritch (Harry Pritchard) and I have built up an understanding that if I want to drop in, he makes the run in behind.

“My starting position is higher up but I can still mix it up.

“Clayts and I offer something completely different. He’s the big man up there who plays off the shoulder and when he runs in behind, he’s still as quick as anyone.

“It leaves a lot of space for me to drop in. It’s knowing when and how I’m going to do that, which I think that’s what I’ve been good at my whole career.”

Clarke is hopeful his hamstring will settle down during City’s free week after he came off before the end at the weekend.

The Irishman admits it is a chance to catch their breath with such a busy programme.

“It’s good just to mentally drop it down a level.

“We can get a good week’s training and get in the gym, which you don’t really do when you’re playing Saturday and Tuesday.

“It gets pretty intense again after this. I’m sure we’ll work on stuff on the training pitch and hopefully bring it in to play on Saturday.”

The squad have been boosted by the return of injury casualties Zeli Ismail and Gareth Evans as McCall focuses on ironing out the individual lapses behind both Exeter goals and becoming tougher to score against.

Clarke said: “The manager spoke about the desire of defending in our box, putting bodies on the line and blocking stuff.

“If you look at the last 20 years at this club, I'd say the best for doing that was Rory (McArdle).

“The boys have taken it on board. When it does come to defending, you’ve got to put everything on the line.

“It's just having that desire to defend your own box. Whether that’s me or a midfielder back there or a defender, you’ve got to think that nothing’s going to get past.

“I wouldn’t say we are there yet but it’s certainly better than we were four weeks back.”