Sean Ward says he always expected Cliftonville to go on a title charge.
Some supporters will argue that a draw was a fair outcome but the hosts were reflecting on two points dropped after keeper Jonny Tuffey's error which allowed Jordan Owens to slot in the equaliser and Andy Waterworth failing to beat Crues number one Sean O'Neill when well placed to score on two occasions.
The Reds took full advantage by overcoming Ards with a double from goal machine Joe Gormley, taking his incredible tally for the season to 30.
Linfield have a game in hand against Glenavon but they are now feeling the hot breath of their north-Belfast rivals down their neck.
Former Glentoran defender Ward says no-one at Windsor Park is surprised by Cliftonville's stunning revival.
"Cliftonville were deserved winners of the league last season and I always thought they had too much quality not to fall away in the title race," said Ward.
"A team with that much talent is not going to struggle for results for long. They were always going to turn their season around and put us under pressure.
"We expect Cliftonville and Crusaders to be challenging for the title in the months ahead and even Glentoran have signed well in bringing in Curtis Allen and they are looking much stronger.
"Teams are capable of taking points off each other so you cannot expect to win all the matches. When we play Glenavon, that will be a tough test as they are also a quality side. We are staying confident and positive and I'm not expecting any complacency to affect us – if it did, the manager would put a stop to that quickly."
Centre-back Ward fully appreciates the sharp-shooting skills of the Reds' twin terrors Gormley and Liam Boyce.
"Thirty goals for this season is a phenomenal statistic," added Ward.
"He's a real goal poacher and him and Liam complement each other. I think Liam is the outstanding talent in the league and probably more creative while Joe is the natural finisher.
"You always expect Cliftonville to be challenging for league titles and cups given the quality they have."
Linfield, who visit Ballymena United on Saturday, are still where they want to be – top of the Premiership.
In January, teams who aspire to win the title come May should at the very least be in a position from which they can make a challenge.
"In a number of matches we have shown tremendous character, particularly in the Warrenpoint game when we fought back from two down to win it," added Ward.
"That's the type of team we are. New players have come into the team and some outstanding players have been left out of the side but you need a healthy squad to win a championship.
"We are disappointed not to win against Crusaders but Jonny (Tuffey) is like the rest of us, he will make the odd mistake. We are all prone to errors but what a fantastic save he made to deny Andy Smith. Thankfully he did because we never would have heard the end of it!"