Crues need to regain their goalscoring form: Owens
Crusaders defender Kyle Owens admits his side must start moving through the gears in the Danske Bank Premiership title sprint.
A 1-1 draw at home to Institute made it only three points out of a possible 12 for the 2015, 2016 and 2018 league winners.
Since the 1-0 home win over Linfield, the Crues have struggled to finish off teams and there's a little extra pressure on their shoulders ahead of tonight's Sky televised clash at Larne (7.45pm).
Stephen Baxter's side lacked a ruthless touch against Stute and it's crucial they stay in touch with the pacesetters going into the hectic Christmas and New Year period.
Injuries and suspensions will kick in but that will never be an excuse offered when, the reality is, players are not performing.
Owens accepts the Shore Road men must rediscover their magic touch in front of goal.
"I think we lacked a bit of quality up front," said the former Ballymena United ace.
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"Jordan (Owens) did well but we didn't take our chances. Had we taken them we could have run out comfortable winners.
"Fair play to Institute, they defended well and kept the scoreline down. I think every team goes through this run of form and it's up to us to pick ourselves up as we have big games coming up and it's important to return to winning ways.
"Larne will be another big test, they had a great win at Ballymena but if our attitude is right we have the quality to win the game."
Striker Jamie McGonigle produced a composed finish to earn a point against Stute but it was a frustrating afternoon as scoring opportunities were squandered.
"Boys were perhaps lacking a bit of confidence in front of goal or maybe we thought the goals would come but you've got to work hard for it," added Owens.
"Sometimes you can snatch at a chance and it's gone. We weren't clinical enough.
"We just have to get ourselves out of this sticky spell and it is important we don't let the top sides pull away from us. Coleraine and Cliftonville are strong but there are no easy games and the Institute match was one we were expected to win."
Baxter will now need to rally his troops as they cannot afford to lose further ground to the front runners.
"We were pushing hard for a winner and left ourselves open at the end, which could have cost us but we know we must play better," he said. "Institute played well, with Joe McCready a handful, but we didn't get what we needed and we must go again."