Devlin: Reds are simply the best
Conor Devlin has bullishly predicted that Cliftonville will overcome Crusaders and take the Irish League title away from their north Belfast rivals.
Defending champions Crusaders currently hold an eight-point lead at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership and Devlin is adamant that is the only way that the Crues are ahead of the Reds.
The Solitude shot-stopper is determined to turn that around and bring the Gibson Cup to the Cliftonville Road for the third time in four seasons, starting when the top two teams in the league meet in their traditional Boxing Day battle on Saturday, at Seaview.
If Cliftonville can cut the gap to five points it could allow Linfield to move within eight points of the Crues, provided they beat Big Two rivals Glentoran at The Oval.
And with the Blues and Crues then going head-to-head at Windsor Park on New Year's Day, 2016 could suddenly become very interesting.
"I don't think we are behind Crusaders at all," declared Devlin.
"The only place we are behind them is in the league table and while I know that is what matters I think we have the best squad, I think we have the best players and I think we have the best manager.
"And I think that come the end of the season that we should come out on top."
Devlin's belief that the Reds are still the top team in the country could be viewed by some as over-confidence, with Crusaders also boasting a goal ratio of almost two-and-a-half per game in the league, while Cliftonville's is only a little better than one-and-a-half, as well as having that eight-point advantage.
The 24-year-old former Manchester United trainee, however, has based his strong opinion on the high quality of the Cliftonville squad.
"I am confident - you have to have confidence in your own ability - but I you look around our changing room and I look at our bench every week and I see players who could be playing in any other team in the league," said Devlin.
"That's a credit to the club as a whole and how they have built squads over the past couple of years on top of the success that we have had in winning the league."
After having surgery early in the year Devlin returned to the Cliftonville line-up under a new manager after Gerard Lyttle replaced the departed Tommy Breslin, who led the Reds to their first back-to-back title triumphs in 2013 and 2014.
Last Saturday's 2-0 defeat at Glentoran was the first that Lyttle has suffered in the league, or indeed over 90 minutes in any competition, since he took the job in mid-September.
On the pitch, at least, the transition has been almost seamless at Solitude - as it should have been with Lyttle being on the coaching staff during Breslin's reign.
Off it there have been some small changes made by the new man in charge which Devlin believes have had a big impact on the squad. "The manager has changed, but the team is still doing really well," said Devlin.
"You can see the increased level of professionalism around the camp and it's for the best.
"That's not knocking Tommy Breslin, because he brought us massive success, but different managers approach things in different ways.
"We have to move on and look forward week by week, month by month and hopefully at the end of the season we come out on top."
Meanwhile, Cliftonville have been handed home advantage for February's JBE League Cup final.
The Reds will face current Championship 1 leaders Ards at Solitude on Saturday, February 13 with a 5.30pm kick-off.
Confirming the news, the Northern Ireland Football League said that the decision was taken "following a review of available venues".
Cliftonville also had home advantage when they beat Crusaders in the 2014 final.
Ards manager Niall Currie took to Twitter to respond to those asking how he feels about having to play the club's first senior final in over 20 years on the oppositions home ground.
He said: "Think it's best I don't comment on the final at Solitude question. Think that would be best for me. Mission impossible is now doubled."