Darren Boyce believes Crusaders are the team to beat in this season’s Danske Bank Premiership title race.
Dungannon Swifts striker Boyce is preparing for the visit of Stephen Baxter’s table-toppers to Stangmore Park on Saturday (3pm).
It is the latest instalment for the Crues who have gone a staggering 21 games unbeaten in all competitions.
You have to date back to August 17 to unearth their last loss – a 2-1 league reverse to Ballymena United.
Boyce has had first-hand experience of playing against all the main title protagonists this season.
And he believes the Shore Road men have been the standout side so far.
“I think they will win the title. From what I have seen and played against, they have been the best,” he said.
“They have always been knocking on the door, and you get the feeling they are ready to go all the way this time.
“They have the experience there, and they have a great squad as well. That strength in depth could see them go all the way.
“Linfield are quality, but they made a lot of changes over the summer and it might take them time to gel together.
“Cliftonville also can’t be discounted, but I think they will finish second.
“People talk about Portadown and Glentoran, but I can’t see them lasting the distance.”
Dungannon have also impressed this season, with Darren Murphy’s side having enjoyed a blistering start before tapering off during October.
But a three-game winning streak last month has boosted their Premiership position – currently they sit just outside the top six.
Boyce has been a central figure in their recent revival, the striker scoring seven goals during November as the Swifts earned victories against Linfield, Ards and Glenavon.
It was enough to earn the former Glentoran forward the BT Sport Northern Ireland Football Writers’ Association Player of the Month.
That stellar form has increased speculation over Boyce’s future, with Coleraine boss Oran Kearney this week admitting he may recall the striker in the New Year.
Ballymena United are also believed to be monitoring the player’s progress, while Dungannon will naturally be keen to retain his services.
Boyce believes his time at Stangmore has been beneficial to his career.
“I am not sure what will happen during January – but that can wait until the New Year,” he said.
“I just know I am loving my time here at Dungannon. The lads have been great, and Murph (Darren Murphy) has shown great faith in me by giving me regular game time.
“That has boosted my confidence and the goals have started to come.
“It would be a pity to disrupt that, but we will just have to wait and see what happens. For now I am concentrating on Saturday.”