'I surprisingly felt really good' - Duke thrilled with first start in 11 months

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Mitch Duke Shimizu S-Pulse J2
Having recovered from a serious injury, the ex-Mariners striker played 90 minutes during the week and is targeting a big six months in the J.League


Australian striker Mitch Duke is confident he will get more of an opportunity at Shimizu S-Pulse after making his first start in over 11 months.

On Thursday, Duke earned his first start since suffering an anterior cruciate ligament injury in April 2016, with the 26-year-old completing 90 minutes in Shimizu's 1-0 loss to Kashiwa Reysol in the J.League Cup.

"I surprisingly felt really good," Duke told Goal.

"I've had a few training matches and stuff. Around a week-and-a-half ago I had about 80 minutes in a training match and I actually felt that I struggled with fitness there but in the game last night - I think it was maybe the adrenalin as well, just playing in the football atmosphere again - I got through it so well and ran hard to the last minute."

Duke targets breakout year in Japan

With just six months left on his contract at the J.League club, Duke has labelled this period as "the most important" of his career.

The former Central Coast Mariners striker believes he showed enough against Kashiwa to start getting more regular minutes in the J.League.

Mitch Duke Shimizu S-Pulse J2

Coach Shinji Kobayashi has named Duke on the bench in Shimizu's past two league games but only introduced the Australian in stoppage time of one fixture.

"At the moment, one of our main strikers is banging them away, so I've got to wait for my opportunity," he said.

"If it's off the bench, it's off the bench and then work my way back into the XI."

Lost in translation - Degenek learns harsh lesson on J.League debut

North Korea international Jong Tae-se has scored two of Shimizu's three goals in the J.League so far in 2017 as the promoted club have registered two wins and a loss from three matches.

Duke knows he must make an impact in the final third if he is to justify a starting position as an import striker.

"I actually had three heading opportunities [against Kashiwa] that two of them I probably should have actually scored," he said.

"So I was getting the opportunities and I'm hoping now with more game time that I'm able to punish [opposition sides] a bit more.

"Other than the goals, I played really well. I was happy with my touches, with my passing and my control."

Bozanic leaves Victory for J.League

Duke is one of four Australians in the J.League this year with the Sydney-born forward's ex-Mariners team-mate Oliver Bozanic joining Ventforet Kofu from Melbourne Victory this week.

Nathan Burns is on the books of FC Tokyo, while Milos Degenek plays for Yokohama F. Marinos.

With the likes of Billy Celeski and Mitch Nichols having previously struggled to make an impact as a midfielder in the J.League, Duke is hopeful Bozanic can have more success.

Oliver Bozanic Melbourne Victory v Sydney FC A-League 26012016

"He's [Bozanic] going to have his work cut out for him, for sure," Duke said.

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"There has been quite a few midfielders from Australia come to Japan and not really last out, so he's got a big test ahead of him.

"But with his quality - I've obviously played with him - he can definitely fit into any J.League team comfortably and show his ability and help a team out."

Shimizu host Kashima Antlers in the J.League on Saturday.