Declan Caddell has admitted that Crusaders’ stuttering start to the season could come back to haunt them.
Stephen Baxter’s side have now lost their opening day Premiership fixture for the third year on the bounce.
A 1-0 defeat at Ballinamallard United and a red card to skipper Colin Coates rounded off a miserable afternoon in Fermanagh.
Crusaders will look to record their first win at home to Ballymena United today and Caddell is still haunted by last season’s miserable start. The race to the finishing line with Cliftonville might have been a little closer had the Hatchetmen not stumbled on a few banana skins early in the campaign.
There was an opening day defeat at Coleraine followed by a draw at home to Ballymena United. Three league wins on the spin steadied the ship but they lost three of their next four Premiership fixtures with Glenavon, Dungannon Swifts and Portadown inflicting the damage.
Caddell said: “I think we lost more points in our first eight games than we did for the rest of the season and that’s what set us back.
“Cliftonville were allowed to open up a nine-point lead come September and that’s what killed us.
“We don’t what that to happen again.”
Most of the ‘experts’ conclude that the Shore Road men will finish the campaign in third position. The players take a different view.
“People can call this a two-horse title race if they want — that suits us,” added the 25-year-old midfielder.
“There will be no pressure on us if everyone thinks it’s between Linfield and Cliftonville.
“We are happy with our squad and happy with the way we are playing. We have the quality to win the league. That suits us down to the ground.
“We didn’t win anything last season but I think the boys still believed that we performed better than in previous campaigns. There was improvement there.
“We came second in the league which was a tremendous achievement. Only Cliftonville were more consistent than us and we can take a lot of pride from that.
“Hats off to them, they deserved it. The thing I admired about Cliftonville was the contribution of their entire squad. It wasn’t just the starting eleven that played out of their skin every week.
“That’s what you need but it’s time for us to forget about that now and move on to future challenges.”