Cliftonville defender Marc Smyth admits defeat in Saturday’s North Belfast derby against Crusaders at Seaview will end his team’s title chances.
The Reds approach the showdown nine points adrift of runaway Danske Bank Premiership champions Crusaders.
And even though Gerard Lyttle’s team are buoyed by last weekend’s record-breaking League Cup success – their fourth on the bounce – Smyth warns it’s ‘win or burst’ on the Shore Road.
“It’s a must-win for us – that’s the bottom line,” said Smyth.
“If we lose, we’ll not win the league, it’s as simple as that. But we are confident going into every game.
“Defeat would leave us 12 points behind. No team should lose a lead like that. We’ll never give it up, but I feel it would be a bridge too far. We’ll be going there to win it – we want to put pressure on them. If we can can get the gap down to six points, then we’ll be in with a shout. We want to get back into the race – we want to make it competitive right to the end. I suppose a draw wouldn’t be the worst result in the world for us.”
The 33-year-old insists the Reds simply love the ‘big occasions’.
He added: “We face a massive few weeks, starting with Crusaders. Then in early March we face Linfield in the Irish Cup.
“Those are the games we want to play in.
“Since I’ve been here, we respond to the big games. There are not too many big matches in which we haven’t turned up.”
With new boys Darren Murrat and Daniel Hughes available again, Reds chief Lyttle will have a selection headache ahead of the game.
“We have the best squad of players in the league – in my opinion,” added Smyth. “We are capable of beating any team.
“There is no doubt that Crusaders are set up well – but that comes with being together for so long. They are good at what they do, but their squad is not better than ours.
“The boys we don’t have playing at the minute, to me they would be good enough to be in the top three in this league. I’m taking about the likes of Darren Murray, Daniel Hughes, Jude Winchester, George McMullan, Peter Burke, Eamon Seydak and Johnny Flynn. I could go on. That’s how strong we are.”
Smyth added: “This season has all about restructuring with a new manager and new players all brought in. We have a group of players here now that should ensure there are good times up ahead.
“Last week’s cup win could be just the start of it. To win trophies at my age is massive.”