Colin Coates believes Saturday’s titanic north Belfast showdown with Cliftonville is a ‘win or bust’ scenario for Crusaders.
The Crues require victory at Solitude to keep their title ambitions alive and kicking.
League leaders Cliftonville currently hold a seven-point advantage over their derby rivals – albeit having played a game more.
Linfield also lurk with intent, with the Blues six points ahead of Crusaders and just one point off the summit.
“We know this is a must-win game for us,” he said.
“Even though we will still have a game in hand after Saturday, we don’t want to be seven points adrift, or worse.
“Linfield are also six points ahead of us and have played the same number of games, so we are facing a massive challenge.”
“If we can get the win we need then we will have clawed back some vital ground – it would hand us a massive boost.”
Crusaders earned a 2-0 Premiership win over Cliftonville at Solitude back in October.
They returned to the same venue for last month’s League Cup final, losing out on penalties to Tommy Breslin’s side.
“We played really well back in October and deserved to win. Something similar would be great on Saturday,” Coates added.
“The League Cup final was a tight game, and the way we look at it is we didn’t concede over 120 minutes.
“We have only ‘lost’ once to Cliftonville this season, and that was on a penalty shootout. So we know we have it in us to win this game.
“We will go to Solitude full of confidence, and we will be going for the three points.”
Crusaders maintained their interest in the title race with a spirited 2-1 victory over Ballinamallard United in midweek.
Coates was suspended for the game, and admitted it was frustrating watching the match updates on social media.
“I kept up to date with the game on Twitter and other sites,” he added.
“It was pretty frustrating. It is never nice when you have to sit out a game, especially one as important as that.
“We also had Paul Leeman and Declan Caddell suspended, and Chris Morrow was injured, so I was just delighted the lads did the job.
“I think it proves we have the squad to achieve things this season. We had to make a lot of changes on Tuesday night, but the lads who came in performed superbly and got the win.
“It keeps us on track, and now we can look forward to Saturday’s game against Cliftonville.”