Don't even think of counting us out of title race: McCutcheon
Gary McCutcheon feels the critics are writing off Crusaders' title hopes too soon – and he believes the Hatchetmen deserve more credit for their pretty football last season.
In the twilight of his career at the age of 33, the talented Scot knows time is running out as he bids to grasp a championship medal for the first time.
McCutcheon and his team-mates looked on with envious eyes as their noisy neighbours Cliftonville romped to Gibson Cup glory.
It was a bitter pill to swallow for the Shore Road side who gave themselves a fighting chance of title glory by leaving Linfield trailing in their wake.
But unfortunately for Stephen Baxter and his men, Cliftonville were a class apart and their stunning display of consistency was the difference.
The Crues had an unsteady start to their campaign but recovered in emphatic fashion to make sure the Reds kept looking over their shoulder as the finishing line came into view.
But for all their impressive form, the men from Seaview finished with no medals to polish.
In the IRN-BRU League Cup final they were battered by Cliftonville and the Reds earned the bragging rights again in the semi-finals of the Irish Cup at the Oval.
A runner-up finish in the Premiership sealed European football again – and a reunion with Rosenborg in the Europa League – but the club's target now has to be a first league title since 1997.
McCutcheon believes that is mission possible.
"I thought we had a great squad last season and we played some great football," said the former Portadown and Ballymena United frontman.
"Obviously I'm based in Scotland rather than Northern Ireland but I'm hearing that people are writing us off for the title already and I find that hard to believe.
"They are saying this title race is going to be a two horse race. They can think that if they want but we won't be. We'll just go about our business and give it our best shot.
"We pushed Cliftonville last season and put up a fantastic effort. It was just unfortunate we didn't win a trophy but I don't think that should detract from how well we performed.
"Our league form and points tally was superb. The manager has added a few players to the squad and we'll be looking to challenge for the title again. Cliftonville were fantastic and took all the plaudits but I feel we deserve plenty of recognition too.
"I'm surprised people are overlooking us for the title but that will suit us. That will be our goal.
"We finished nearly 20 points above Linfield last season so there is no reason why we cannot finish above them again."
McCutcheon netted 17 goals last season, a tally he is reasonably content with given he was struck down by injury in January.
"I missed about three months with a hamstring injury," he added. "I started slowly but then got into my stride only for the injury but these things happen.
"But I'm 33 now and know that I need to win the title soon to get that medal. I'm enjoying my football too much to even think about hanging up the boots. I'll play for as long as I can."