Crusaders need nerves of steel to keep hold of league crown, says Carvill
Crusaders midfielder Michael Carvill admits the Danske Bank Premiership title race is now down to a battle of nerves. The reigning champions' challenge has hit the buffers of late, which leaves them hanging on nervously to a one-point advantage at the top of the table.
Third-place Coleraine landed a blow a fortnight ago before David Healy's Linfield - looking for their first Gibson Cup success for five years - came in with an uppercut to leave Stephen Baxter's boys well and truly on the ropes last week.
Crusaders, however, still have the consolation of holding a one-point advantage over the Blues, but with only four games remaining, it's now make or break for both teams.
Rivals Cliftonville, who have yet to taste victory over their north Belfast neighbours this season, will be in no mood to hand out any favours when the Crues make the short trip up the road tomorrow.
"It's a north Belfast derby and there will be no love lost," admitted Carvill. "I'm sure Skin (Reds boss Gerard Lyttle) will have them running through doors to get out.
"We hold the bragging rights at the minute - they haven't beaten us this season, so they'll have a big incentive, especially after losing to Coleraine.
"Every match is now a cup final for us. It's now down to a battle of nerves."
Carvill stressed that last week's defeat at Windsor Park was particularly difficult to stomach. He said: "We were bitterly disappointed. I think the biggest disappointment was the way we played - our performance wasn't good enough.
"There was a lot of hurt in the dressing room afterwards. We've only been beaten three times this season, so we have set our standards high, but those standards were not met. We are only human, mistakes will be made."
Crusaders boss Baxter certainly pulled no punches in his post-match assessment, stating his boys "were not at it".
"The boss was frustrated because he has put a huge amount of trust in the players," said Carvill. "We've lost two games in a row and all of a sudden eyebrows are raised. I suppose that's a testament of the club's success.
"When you analyse it, we lost against the two form teams in the league. Coleraine are now on an unbeaten 16-game run, they are in third place in the table.
"And we lost against our nearest challengers. They were both close games - we haven't been duffed up by any side.
"There is no doubt the momentum is with Linfield, they are flying at the minute.
"But it's now down to who wants it most.
"I suppose it's a great finish for the neutral - and for NIFL officials."
Carvill, who spent seven years at Linfield before joining the Crues in June 2015, admits that he is becoming accustomed to pressure at this time of the season.
"I've had experience of this type of pressure before - I know anything can happen," he added.
"It reminds me of my Linfield days.
"Had we lost a couple, or even drawn a couple of games, it was a crisis. They were all wanting Big Davy (Jeffrey) out.
"We (the Crues) were back at training again on Tuesday night and the boys had smiles on their faces again. We know what is required - we've been here before. We know there is no more room for error.
"We don't have a safety net of points to rely on any more. We are a strong group, we have a squad of players with strong personalities.
"The league title is up for grabs and it's still in our own hands. We don't have to rely on any other team - we're not looking for any favours."