CLIFTONVILLE skipper George McMullan believes it is imperative that the Reds stay ahead of champions Linfield in the title race.
The Solitude outfit have stolen a six-point march on the Blues following an impressive start to the season.
Tommy Breslin’s side sit top of the Danske Bank Premiership, and have already defeated the champions in their own back yard.
McMullan insists Linfield remain the team to beat this season, and he hopes Cliftonville can throw down a genuine challenge.
“We have to try and maintain that six-point gap over Linfield for as long as we can, but it is easier said that done,” McMullan said.
“We are top at this moment in time, but whoever finishes above Linfield will lift the Gibson Cup.
“I think this season will be tighter. Every team is capable of beating each other in this league. It is good for the neutral and nobody is running away with it.”
Cliftonville are seeking a first title success since 1998, but McMullan insists they are taking the season one game at a time.
“It’s nice to be top, but we can play a lot better,” the midfielder said.
“Truthfully, we haven’t played yet. We have scraped a few wins and I think we wore a mask the day we won 5-1 down at Coleraine.
“It has to be a positive though. We haven’t performed to our full potential yet, but we are still picking up results and in the mix at the top of the table.
“We need to kick on now. There are only seven points between first and sixth in the table, so a couple of poor results and you could be sitting mid-table.”