Cliftonville boss Gerard Lyttle insists his players will need no added motivation when they step out at Seaview on Saturday.
The Boxing Day derby showdown with Crusaders is being touted as a make-or-break fixture for the Reds.
Last Saturday’s defeat to Glentoran has left Lyttle’s side eight points behind the champions.
Defeat in two days’ time will hammer another nail in their title hopes this season, and leave the Crues on course for back-to-back Gibson Cup successes.
“People are already saying Crusaders have won the league – saying it is over.
“We still have to play them a couple of times, including Boxing Day. It is more interesting now going into that game. We have to go there and try and win,” Lyttle said.
“But leagues aren’t won or lost at Christmas, it is right until the death. Stephen Baxter said it last week, until you are mathematically out of sight then the title is not won.
“Everyone is there and teams will beat each other. It is a hard game every week and next week will be the same.
“Boxing Day is a derby, so there is no extra motivation needed.
“Whether we won or not against Glentoran last week, Boxing Day is still a massive game. We look forward to it and it is another challenge for our boys.
“We have had a lot of challenges this season and this is another. We have seen Crusaders a lot of times and we know their strengths and weaknesses.
“We will go again and hopefully get a positive result on Boxing Day.”
Last Saturday’s 2-0 defeat to Glentoran was Lyttle’s first as Cliftonville manager since succeeding Tommy Breslin.
The former coach reacted in philosophical fashion to the reverse at The Oval – and insists the focus has now turned to Boxing Day.
“We had to lose sometime. I can’t fault my boys. Since I came in they have been brilliant,” he added.
“This team is capable, and one defeat won’t ruin us. We have a strong changing room, and we have leaders in the changing room. They will be hurting and want to improve.
“Not an awful lot went wrong against Glentoran. But we will look at the performance.
“We will worry about ourselves and go again. We will dust ourselves down and try and win our next game.
“Glentoran celebrated as if they won the league, so that says a lot about how far we have come.
“All games are must-wins. Every game we take part in we expect to win.
“That’s the mentality. Glentoran was a blip and we have to try and move on.”