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Jim Ervin's return is like a new buy for Sky Blues

By Billy Weir

At long last it is beginning to resemble a football club rather than Emergency Ward 10 at the Ballymena Showgrounds.

After a horrific spell of injuries the numbers of walking wounded are dwindling by the day with Jim Ervin and David Cushley the latest to return to action in last week's Irish Cup win over Crumlin Star.

Cushley, United's top scorer for the past two seasons, was out with a leg injury since November and came off the bench to set up a goal with his first touch last week, but it is the return of Ervin that has brought a smile to everyone's face.

Even the hardest of hearts couldn't have failed to spare a thought for the former Linfield man after he limped off during May's Irish Cup Final with what turned out to be a cruciate ligament injury.

It meant a long battle to return to fitness, a fight he has had to undertake before, but the warmth of the reception he was given by the Sky Blue faithful last week shows just how well he is thought of by everyone at the club.

And for former team-mate and now boss Glenn Ferguson he admits that having one of the classiest right-backs the local game has seen is like nabbing a new signing.

"It's good now we've got Jim back, Cush back, (Gary) McCutcheon and (Eamon) McAllister in so we've got competition for places now and for a while we didn't have that, so everybody knows they have to be on their toes to stay in the team," said Ferguson.

"It's brilliant to have him back. He's been through it before so he knew exactly the rehab he had to do to make sure he did it right and to be fair he has done that.

"He's probably four weeks ahead of schedule but he knows when he's ready because he's been through it before. He's played for the Reserves and last week was ideal to get him back in.

"It's like a new signing for us because he's been out for so long and it's another experienced, good footballer in the team. He's a good talker and a leader."

It was a good week for Ferguson, who also got Allan Jenkins, Stephen McBride and top scorer Matthew Tipton to pen new deals.

"I think the three of them have shown how important they are," added Ferguson. "I know we're always talking about getting young ones in and giving them their chance and we will, but it's really necessary to have experienced players in your team.

"Tippy has shown now, playing week-in, week-out, just how good he can be for us and Jenks and Steeky have just been steady for us more or less the whole season.

"Steeky is looking really fit and really sharp and his injury (a muscle tear in his stomach) has healed up now and it's certainly stopping him as he good up and down the pitch."

Next up for United is a trip to Portadown tomorrow and any thoughts of fielding a weakened side ahead of the following week's Wasp Solutions League Cup final against Cliftonville were dismissed out of hand

"The cup final won't even been mentioned this week, the important thing is to go and get three points," insisted Ferguson.

"The strongest team we have that we think will do a job will be there next Saturday and then we'll worry about the cup final from half five on Saturday night."

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