The internal respect and rivalry within the Crusaders camp could prove key towards gaining an edge over the rivals for this season’s Danske Bank Premiership crown.
Crues goalkeeper Gerard Doherty cites that combination of competition for places built alongside a collective vision as a crucial component ahead of the club’s visit to Glentoran.
Doherty made his point in preparation for an Oval test in which Crusaders attempt to close the single-point gap on joint league leaders Linfield and Coleraine heading into the hectic holiday period.
Doherty and Sean O’Neill have each shared the number one jersey between the posts this season and the former feels the squad depth can only help drive forward everyone in Crusaders colours.
“We have good players in every position and we push each other on in training and games based on a mutual respect at watching how hard your team-mates work,” said Doherty. “Losing at our place to Ballymena knocked the stuffing out of us last week and now we face a Glentoran side that does not stop working for each other.
“In this league any team can take points off anyone else so it is hard to string those wins together in runs of three or four.
“But we’ve shown a togetherness as well and know the Christmas fixtures offer the chance to build momentum with games so close on the calendar.
“The league table only really falls into place after the New Year and we feel we have the quality within the squad to cope with the routine at this stage of basically playing games and recovering in between without the same training schedule.
“We’ve guys coming back and others fighting for places so it increases your options.
“The key at this period is to have the mental focus, it does not come down to the physical challenge but it is about staying switched on and just being able to knuckle down and roll with everything.”
Glentoran head coach Mick McDermott spent this week reflecting on the loss of a two-goal lead to Coleraine towards a 2-2 draw.
“Last week’s match at Coleraine was a real mixed bag for us,” said McDermott on the official club website. “We started brilliantly and were well worth our lead at half-time.
“Obviously, any time you’re 2-0 up but only take a point you’re disappointed.
“The three forwards did very well and I was pleased with how well Darren Murray took his chance back in the starting line-up.
“It would have been nice to have won because we know how challenging December is for all teams, but we still got a good draw at the team who were top of the league recently after an away win over another top team the previous week.
“But in football if you win your home games and take points on the road you won’t be far away by the end of the season.
“We’ve put in some very good performances in recent weeks and I believe we’re growing in stature and confidence week by week.
“On Saturday we know we’re playing a team we haven’t beaten since 2015.
“But we hadn’t a great recent record against Cliftonville or Coleraine recently so there’s no reason why we should feel any different going into this one.
“We don’t need to get ourselves up for the matches we have this month, these are the sort of matches anyone should want to play in.
“It’s important that these matches matter and that when we play the likes of Crusaders there’s something riding on it.
“That hasn’t been the case for the past few years, but it is the case now.”