David Rainey has a feeling in his bones that Cliftonville will win the Carling Premiership but he is not prepared to let go of the Crusaders’ dream just yet.
Two consecutive league defeats to Coleraine and Dungannon Swifts have brought a little gloom to Seaview after the superb County Antrim Shield triumph over Linfield at Windsor Park.
The Hatchetmen are now level on points with Glentoran ahead of their visit to the Oval tomorrow afternoon, though the champions now boast a game in hand.
With league leaders Cliftonville, as well as Linfield, Coleraine and Dungannon Swifts keeping up the chase, there is growing pressure on the teams at the top.
The Crues may have stumbled at the end of last month but ahead of their trip to east Belfast they should feel inspired by Rainey’s Oval winner back in October.
The former Glentoran marksman made his return from suspension against the Swifts but it was a day to forget for the home side as a dramatic late winner from Neil McCafferty sealed a 3-2 win.
“We didn’t play well enough and we got what we deserved,” admitted Rainey. “Had we got a point we would have stolen it. I think Cliftonville have given themselves a great chance of winning the league after going on an incredible run.
“I think they could do it. I know the Big Two can never be ruled out but the Reds are flying and themselves and Linfield will be the winners after our game at the Oval.
“One of us will lose or we will settle for a point. I know things have turned sour for us after we won the County Antrim Shield but that can happen. Football is about highs and lows.
“One of our highs was winning at the Oval when my shot took a deflection of Johnny Black but I don’t care how the ball crosses the line.
“We have made things very difficult for ourselves if we want to win the league but we know our performances have to improve.”
That 1-0 victory in October, which also saw the dismissal of Shane McCabe, was the product of hard work and plenty of sweat.
“I hadn’t scored against the Glens in a while but then that all changed,” added Rainey. “These
games are extra special and it will take a very good performance from every player to get a result.
“I may have scored the goal in the 1-0 win but the defence and midfield were superb.”
Crues boss Stephen Baxter will once again be banned from the touchline.
“It is an unfortunate situation but it’s what happens on the pitch and not in the dressing room that matters,” added Rainey. “The boys know we must perform.”