KEITH Curle reckons this season's League Two promotion race will be one of the most exciting ever - and he's backing Chester City to stay the distance.
There could be up to 10 teams battling it out for a top-three place when the season enters its final straight in April, according to the Blues boss.
With this in mind, every point picked up along the way will be vital - and three more are up for grabs tomorrow when fifth-placed City go to reigning Nationwide Conference champions Barnet.
'I don't think anybody's going to do what the likes of Doncaster have done in previous seasons and win this league easily,' said Curle. 'It think it will go right to the wire because everybody can beat everybody.
'That's the exciting thing about this league. After about 25 or 30 games, nobody will know who is going to be champions.
'You might find there'll be 10 teams within about four or five points of each other come April. And you only need to play on a Saturday, Tuesday and a Saturday, and you could go from the bottom of that 10 to the top.'
Chester find themselves among the early-season front-runners despite being one of the bookies' favourites for the drop before the start of the campaign.
And Curle is adamant the Blues can maintain their challenge.
'My confidence in the players has never changed,' he said. 'Unfortunately some people might take it as arrogance, but more people are seeing what I'm seeing - that we're giving people a game.
'That's what I said we'd do at the start of the season. I said the team would go out and give everybody a game and we have done so far.'
Unbeaten on their League Two travels this season, City aim to preserve their record against a Barnet side finding wins hard to come by after a blistering start.
Curle feels it could be the right time to play them.
'You don't want to play a team that's just come up at the start of the season,' he said. 'Sometimes you find that momentum carries on into the early stages of the season. The best time to play them is after 14 or 15 games when they're settling into the division above.'
Defender Sean Hessey has recovered from a knee injury and returns to the City squad, but centre-back Dave Artell is doubtful due to an ankle ligament problem.
The 24-year-old limped out of last Friday's 3-2 defeat to Rochdale but was expected to return to training yesterday.
Leading scorer Gregg Blundell will be out for a minimum of two weeks after suffering a blow to the head just two minutes into the Dale match.
He is still experiencing dizzy spells but has not broken his cheekbone, as was first feared.
* The Blues begin their LDV Vans Trophy campaign on Tuesday with a first-round visit to Cambridge United.