Pressure on Cliftonville to deliver
Curtis Allen says the pressure is on Cliftonville going into today's blockbuster battle at The Oval.
Glentoran aren't involved in the race for the Gibson Cup but they could have a massive say in its destination with the Reds visiting east Belfast this afternoon and Eddie Patterson's side awaiting a Big Two battle at Windsor Park next month.
With the champions only two points behind league leaders Linfield, the anxiety levels are rising.
The Blues are expecting a tough assignment at Coleraine but they will be hoping their old enemy can do them a huge favour by sinking the Reds.
Former Blues hitman Allen knows the heat is on Cliftonville, who realise a defeat could leave them a massive five points adrift of Linfield. The Glens have integrated several young players into their squad and are building for the future.
But they can still grasp European football and it's a goal that would bring a welcome financial boost to the club.
Earlier this season the Solitude men were held to a 1-1 draw at the Oval and the Glens will also be hungry to give their supporters something to shout about after their Irish Cup defence fizzled out.
"With a chance to qualify for European football we will not be taking our foot off the gas," warned Allen.
"There is definitely pressure on the Reds to retain the championship, which is a huge challenge. They always say it is tough to win it but even tougher to retain it.
"There is more pressure on the sides chasing the title than on us. They know they have to win and any defeat could really hurt them.
"Cliftonville had an easier time of it this time last season but the circumstances are different now and Linfield are giving them a challenge.
"The good thing about the league split is that the top sides are playing each other so the title chasers know their opponents will not roll over."
Cliftonville will be banking on Glentoran's home form continuing to falter.
Amazingly, the Glens have only won four of their 17 Premiership outings on Mersey Street this season.
"That's something we need to rectify in the future if we want to be successful," added Allen.
"We have struggled to put our finger on the reason for it but it's clear we have lacked consistency and hopefully we can put it right, starting now and going into pre-season.
"Going out of the Irish Cup was a massive disappointment but in cup football if you let your standards slip you can be knocked out, as we learned.
"We played well in the first half but the second half was a disaster. They (Glenavon) were pressing towards the end and got the goals they needed to go through.
"It is a big learning curve for the squad, many of whom are young players and it will take time for them to gain experience and fulfil their potential.
"I can understand the fans' desire to see their team win every week – they aren't looking ahead and that's natural but we have lost a few experienced players.
"I arrived at the club after a spell out injured and I have only played 10 games after being out for six months.
"I still need more games to be fitter and sharper. Whether you are a big name player signing on or a youngster coming through the ranks it takes time for you to get to know your team-mates and for the team to gel.
"Players have strengths and weaknesses and we have to accept that and work together as a team. I think the majority of the supporters can see that we are building for the future and it's a step by step progression."
As for the title race, former Windsor Park sharp-shooter Allen admits it's "too close to call."
"It's fiercely competitive and intriguing for the fans," he added.
"They have to go for the win and their opponents know it.
"Cliftonville players have the experience of winning it last season but this time they are a bit behind.
"We haven't had a close title race in a while so it's certainly nerve-wracking for the players and entertaining for the rest of us."
* Tickets for Cliftonville's Danske Bank Premiership fixture with Linfield at Windsor Park next Saturday are on general sale.
Reds fans will be situated in the Upper Tier of the North Stand with tickets which are strictly limited to four per person, including a maximum of one concession – available during standard Social Club opening hours on a daily basis as well as from The Reds Shop next Thursday.