Linfield boss David Healy is demanding his players stand up and be counted in Saturday’s Danske Premiership blockbuster against Crusaders at Seaview.
Following Boxing Day’s disappointing draw rivals Glentoran, the Blues now trail the current title holders by a whopping seven points.
Should Stephen Baxter’s boys reel in another three points at their Shore Road headquarters, the red and black ribbons could well be prepared for the Gibson Cup for the third successive year.
“It certainly is a massive match,” said the Northern Ireland record goal scorer.
“Crusaders proved have proved they are a good side with their win over Cliftonville last week, so the one thing we do need is more people to stand up and be counted.”
Even though the Blues have failed on the big stage on so many occasions, Healy refused to deflect the blame.
He added: “I take responsibility for team selections, substitutions and anything else. I’m the manager.
“We prepare well and I can only hope that the players turn up for the crunch fixtures . . . the derby matches; games against Crusaders and Cliftonville. Over the past 14 months since I’ve been here (at the club), that hasn’t happened.
“I pick the team . . . I pick the players, so it’s my fault. I’m not getting it right. Until I start getting it right, we are going to fall short.”
Healy will again be without the influential Paul Smyth, although Mark Stafford and Ross Gaynor will return to the squad.
“We are down a few boys with injury and suspension,” added Healy. “We are unbeaten against Crusaders this season, but we need to go there and win there is no question about that.
“The expectation levels at this club is to win games, so we need to do that at Seaview.
“We’ll go there in a confident mood. We need a big performance to get three points.
“We need to show character, steel and fight. I didn’t see enough of that against Glentoran. Big games and big moments require, big players.
“It’s now all about how they respond.
“I want to be the best manager as I an possibly be and I want the players to be the best. Hopefully, somewhere along the line we can get a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel in terms of a little bit of success.”
Although the Crues have opened up a healthy points cushion, manager Stephen Baxter insists his boys’ feet will remain on the ground.
He said: “Our players will not get ahead of themselves -- they know how we operate a this club. We take one game at a time and the boys are told to look after themselves away from the club, especially over the Festive period.
“If you want to be serious title challengers, that’s what you have to do.”
Baxter also maintains that Linfield are still very much in the title race.
“Of course they are,” he added. “They are at great club, well managed. The teams have met twice this season which have both ended in draws.
“They are a quality side. Other people can speculate all they like, we’ll be focusing on this game, nothing else."