Glenn Ferguson is under no illusions as he prepares to take Ballymena United to Seaview on Saturday.
The Sky Blues face the challenge of Crusaders on the Shore Road, with the champions five points clear at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership table.
Ferguson admits Stephen Baxter’s side remain the team to beat this season.
“Crusaders have the strongest squad in the league, so they are the ones everyone else is trying to catch,” the Ballymena boss said.
“They are clear at the top of the table and will be very difficult to catch. But we are looking forward to Saturday.”
Ferguson will be looking for a repeat of the performance that saw Ballymena defeat the Crues in the County Antrim Shield.
Goals from David Cushley and Tony Kane earned a 2-0 win at Seaview.
“That is the kind of performance you need to beat Crusaders, so a repeat of that would be great,” Ferguson added.
“But that night we had Tony Kane and Gavin Taggart in central midfield, and both those players will be missing for Saturday’s game. So that is a blow.
“We are also without Michael Ruddy and Matthew Shevlin, so we will survey our options and take things from there.
“We want to try and build some momentum. We showed character last week against Portadown and we will need more of the same against Crusaders. It is a massive test, but one we are looking forward to.”