Steven Douglas is refusing to view Glentoran as Linfield’s biggest rivals in the title race.
Traditionally, the Blues and Glens have been able to turn the race for the Gibson Cup into a two-horse sprint because of their firepower and financial resources, but Crusaders and Glenavon want a share of the spotlight.
The two biggest supported clubs in the country find themselves sitting outside the top two in the Carling Premiership and there are signs that the rest of the league are not prepared to be bullied into submission.
But it is difficult to escape the feeling that it is Linfield and Glentoran who will be chasing the big prizes at the end of the campaign.
Crusaders performed heroics to lift the Irish Cup in May, but winning the championship is a whole different ball game.
The Blues are still hurting after Glentoran pipped them to the title last season and the fans’ frustration was compounded by the fact David Jeffrey’s men failed to get their hands on any silverware.
After an unsteady start to the campaign, the south-Belfast giants appear to be flexing their muscles and their demolition job of Crusaders last weekend has set the bar very high.
Glentoran will today arrive at Windsor Park for the first time since they became league champions, but centre-back Douglas does not view their fiercest opponents as the only threat to their title ambitions.
“I know the rivalry with Glentoran is there, but as far as I am concerned any team that is above Linfield in the table are our biggest threat,” said the Ballymena-man who has been a rock at the back for Jeffrey’s side.
“At the moment that is Crusaders and Glenavon as well as the Glens and they are the teams to catch. Any team in that position is there on merit and if we want to win the title they have to be caught.
“They have more points than us and that means we need to raise our game and go on a winning run. You only get three points for a win in each game and I’m reluctant to look past the next challenge as every week you are faced with an enormous test. The Crusaders result is now forgotten and Glentoran will be tough to beat.
“Keith Gillespie is coming back to Windsor Park, but that may be more a problem for the full-backs — I’ll have enough to worry about with Gary Hamilton on the pitch.
“All the games are very important though we all realise the significance of the Big Two games. It gets the big crowd and the big atmosphere and bragging rights for the winners.
“Of course, winning the title is more important than winning games against Glentoran, but a win would lift us over them in the table and that is another huge incentive for us.”
After two battles at the Oval this season, Linfield remain unbeaten against the Glens, but the east-Belfast side looked more of a menacing threat in their 1-0 win over Portadown last weekend.
Jeffrey, though, will be confident his players can do the business after crushing the Crues.
“The boys are feeling confident and determined to keep the momentum going,” added Douglas.
“Things can change very quickly. A few defeats could really hurt you. There can never be any complacency.
“Crusaders defeated us at Windsor and Portadown held us to a draw so the players will be up for it.”