Cliftonville boss Tommy Breslin expects this season’s title race to “go to the wire”.
The Reds currently hold a slender one-point lead over Linfield as the battle for the Gibson Cup intensifies.
The Blues hold a game in hand over the champions, as do Crusaders who have a seven-point deficit to make up on the leaders.
The Crues will look to eat into that gap on Saturday afternoon in north Belfast in a game captain Colin Coates has declared as “win or bust” for his side.
Despite Saturday’s derby showdown being ramped up, Breslin believes there will be “plenty more twists and turns” before the destination of the Gibson Cup is known.
“Saturday is a big game, but it won’t decide anyone’s fate. There are still a lot of big games to come, and we have the split approaching too,” he said.
“There will be plenty more twists and turns, and I think the title race could go down to the wire. It might not be decided to the last couple of fixtures.
“It has been nip and tuck all season, and we have seen teams throw away seven or eight-point leads already.
“Things can change dramatically in this league, so this Saturday’s game won’t be the be all and end all.”
Breslin admits his champions are facing a different challenge this season.
Cliftonville led from the front en route to claiming their first title in 15 years last season.
This term they face an almighty scrap from Linfield and Crusaders as they look to successfully defend their crown.
“This is a different test. We are top by just one point, and we are defending a title,” Breslin said.
“It has taken the lads a while to adjust to being champions, but I feel they are ready for the challenge that lies in wait now.
“I believe we are good enough, and we are strong enough mentally, to retain the title this season. That is our aim.”
Cliftonville will be without suspended duo Jamie McGovern and Ronan Scannell for today’s game.
Crusaders welcome back Colin Coates, Paul Leeman and Declan Caddell from suspension.