Dungannon Swifts boss Rod McAree is bracing himself for a backlash from wounded Crusaders when the teams meet at Seaview on Saturday.
The champions fell to a shock 4-3 defeat to basement battlers Carrick Rangers on Tuesday night.
It was the latest title slip-up from the Crues, who have won just two of their last six Danske Bank Premiership fixtures.
In contrast, Dungannon’s fortunes have been on the rise in recent weeks, with just one defeat in their last seven league outings seeing the Stangmore Park side climb into seventh spot in the table.
McAree hopes his players can carry their confidence into tomorrow’s trip to Seaview.
“We know Saturday is going to be a massive test, but in many respects it is a free one for us,” McAree said.
“We won’t be expected to beat Crusaders, so the pressure is off. We just have to go there and play with freedom and confidence and see where it takes us.
“Crusaders will be smarting from Tuesday’s defeat to Carrick. It was certainly a shock, especially after they beat Carrick 4-0 four days previous.
“So we are certainly expecting a backlash from them, and we have to be ready for that.
“The Carrick win probably wasn’t great for us, because it saw them draw closer to the teams above them, including Dungannon.
“But that is the nature of the Premiership, the bottom six are all picking up points, and it is so tight from seventh to 12th.
“If you had a table based on recent form, you would find one or two teams from the bottom six up near the top of that league.
“So we are certainly not getting carried away with our position.”
Dungannon earned a late 1-0 win against Coleraine last week to boost their survival hopes.
A seventh-placed finish would also earn the club a place in the new end-of-season Europa League play-offs, but the club does not possess the required UEFA licence to compete in Europe.
“Sadly we won’t be able to take part in the play-offs if we finish seventh,” McAree said.
“When the application process began we were nowhere near seventh spot and not even considering Europe or anything like that.
“I also still have to work towards my Pro Licence.
“I have no regrets. We are just focused on trying to finish seventh. That would be a great result for Dungannon Swifts, so we just have to try and pick up as many points as we can from now to the end of the season.
“We have Crusaders and Portadown before the split, and then five games against the teams in the bottom half.
“There is a lot of football to be played this season, and the way the league is unfolding I would expect a rollercoaster ride.”
McAree will be without the suspended Andrew Mitchell for tomorrow’s trip to Seaview.
Mitchell was sent off in last week’s win over Coleraine. Paul McElroy is also a long-term injury absentee, while Sean McCashin continues his recovery from injury.