IT'S the battle of the champions at Solitude as Gibson Cup holders Cliftonville begin their defence against Championship 1 winners Ards.

Niall Currie's side are back in the top flight for the first time since the 2005/06 campaign - and the boss certainly intends to hit the ground running following a very active summer in the transfer market.

Currie has brought in almost a entirely new team with Ryan Henderson and David Armstrong arriving from Linfield, Steven Gordon from Glentoran, former Crusaders man David Gibson plus the Lisburn Distillery trio of Andy Hunter, Ryan McCann and Scott Davidson amongst others.

With so many new faces Ards have worked their way through a busy schedule of friendlies in order to implement some sort of cohesion amongst this new squad.

By contrast, Tommy Breslin has kept faith with the panel that impressed so many last season, bringing in only Chris Curran from Ballinamallard United and Portadown's Joe McNeill.

The Reds, of course, had their Champions League games with Celtic bolster their sharpness and they did enough, both at Solitude and Parkhead to suggest they will be the team to be again this season.

Match officials: Tim Marshall, David Anderson, Roy Beacom, Ross Dunlop