Timmy Adamson fired up for the title charge with Crusaders
Striker feels Crusaders will never have a better chance to become champions
Timmy Adamson says he has never seen a Crusaders squad better equipped to maintain a title challenge.
The former Linfield striker has helped the Hatchetmen win the Setanta Cup and League Cup since his arrival in May 2011 but the biggest prize in domestic football has eluded the Crues since 1997.
However, six league wins on the spin has raised expectation levels on the Shore Road that 2015 could be Crusaders' year.
The last side to conquer Stephen Baxter's men in the Premiership were Portadown who won 3-2 at Seaview and the Ports return to the north Belfast venue this evening for a crucial top of the table showdown.
The Crues are four points clear of second placed Portadown and Linfield though the Blues have played a game less.
While the Hatchetmen have momentum and showed their mettle again in a hard fought win at Glentoran last weekend, the fans will stick to cautious optimism as they have watched this horse run out of steam in previous races.
However, Baxter has never had a stronger squad to select from with the new arrivals of Stephen O'Flynn and Barry Molloy adding a wealth of experience to the ranks.
And Adamson has sensed there is a real determination among the players to pull each other to glory this season.
"There's massive competition for places and it's the strongest squad we've had since I've been here," he said.
"The boys are pulling each other along and every player knows they have to perform and raise their game. Whoever is in the side will be back and we are all in this together.
"I don't think we've been right in the mix before, we have been chasing but we are in the mix this time. There is a long way to go and probably five teams can challenge for the title. Glentoran can't be dismissed either.
"It's one game at a time for us. It's always good when other teams drop points but we have to stay focused on ourselves. This Portadown game is another big one but they all are from here on in.
"When you play the lower sides there's always a danger players can be switched off but these big games against the top sides tend to concentrate the mind.
"But it's important to go into every game with the same intensity and the teams that can do that the most will get the most success and not take their eye off the ball."
Adamson, who drilled in his seventh goal of the season in the 2-1 win over Glentoran, reflected on that Oval triumph as a crucial win.
He added: "I took a bad knock on my hip and just jarred it. I was struggling to get going again but thankfully the ball just broke to me and I got a good connection on it. I was delighted to see it hit the back of the net.
"All I remember is Jordan (Owens) knocking it down and it bounced back for me to hit. I had time to hit it and just had to concentrate on the strike.
"It was a bit of an onslaught from the Glens and they dominated possession in the game and we were perhaps a bit more clinical up front.
"Paul's (Heatley) goal before half-time was key but we gave a cheap one away after the break. We really did have to dig in and see the game out because they did put us under the cosh at the end."
One man who has really rose to the challenge for Crusaders is midfielder Richard Clarke.
The former Glentoran man has blossomed into one of the most consistent performers in the top flight and he's now licking his lips at the prospect of the Crues finishing the season with a flourish.
"The manager (Baxter) has brought new boys including Barry Molloy in and I was quite excited to see that," said Clarke.
"Not looking at things from a selfish perspective, signing Barry Molloy is a no-brainer, he came and showed his experience and leadership skills.
"We have made two shrewd signings with Stephen O'Flynn on board too and gone for experience rather than youth."
Baxter is thrilled to see Clarke's class come to the surface, saying: "I said to Clarkey before the game in the last eight matches he has been the most consistent player, he has been awesome and showed us what a great talent he is.
"It's pleasing to see a player with that great touch and bags of ability show it, that's what you need."
The Ports have beaten the Crues twice this season but the hosts can welcome back defender Craig McClean from suspension.
Visiting boss Ronnie McFall will hope his defence can be more resolute after shipping five goals in the high scoring draw at home to Ballymena United last weekend.