David Rainey believes Saturday’s bruising battle at Seaview should serve some warning to Danske Bank Premiership leaders Cliftonville.
Ten-man Crusaders came from behind to salvage a late draw against champions Linfield.
Rainey bagged a vital equaliser one minute from time to earn a share of the spoils on the Shore Road.
It was the grand finale to a pulsating clash which saw the Crues come from behind twice.
They also had Jordan Owens sent off in the 83rd minute following an off-the-ball incident with Albert Watson.
The late heroics from Rainey saw Cliftonville’s lead at the top cut to six points, but the Reds boast a game in hand after their weekend fixture with Donegal Celtic fell victim to the weather.
Next up for both clubs is a massive derby showdown on Boxing Day where the race for the Gibson Cup will be ramped up another notch or two.
Rainey admits the title is still firmly in Cliftonville’s grasp, but he believes there are one or two rivals lurking beneath who are ready to pounce.
“This draw with Linfield might play into Cliftonville’s hands,” Rainey said.
“They might be happy with the result, but I don’t think they will be happy with what they saw from both teams.
“There were two good teams out there today who will fight all the way this season. If I was a Cliftonville player I would be wary of some of what’s behind them.
“Linfield can go on a run, and we know we can do the same. So there is still a long way to go. We are still unbeaten here in the league and we are doing okay.
“Cliftonville are top and have a six-point advantage with a game in hand – the title is theirs to lose.
“I have been in that position myself, and it is not an easy one to be in. Everyone is coming to beat you and there is added expectation there.
“Fair play to them for being where they are. And good luck to them. But there is a long way to go.”
Linfield broke the deadlock in the 19th minute with a well-taken goal from Billy Joe Burns who dispatched a low shot into the net after Crusaders failed to clear Michael carvill’s corner.
Crusaders were level in first half injury time when Gary McCutcheon fired home from just inside the box.
Brian McCaul restored Linfield’s lead from the penalty spot in the 55th minute after Philip Lowry was adjudged to have been fouled inside the box by Craig McClean.
The home side were reduced to 10 men when Owens was cited for elbowing Linfield defender Watson in the 83rd minute.
But with time ebbing away, Rainey bagged a priceless point for Crusaders with a clinical close-range finish.
Gareth McKeown was the provider with a floated free-kick which was headed down by Timmy Adamson for Rainey to finish.
“That’s my first goal since the opening day of the season, so it is pleasing to get back on the scoresheet,” Rainey added.
“It is a big goal for the club. It was a four-yard tap-in, but they all count and is was important today as it helped us get a point.
“We were down to 10 men, and every points counts at this time of year. The games are coming thick and fast over Christmas so we want to pick up as many points as we can.
“Boxing Day is a massive game for both clubs. If there is a winner on the day, it could go a long way to dictating where the title goes.
“We want to try and reduce the gap to three points, and Cliftonville will want to extend the gap.”