Ballymena United entertain Crusaders tomorrow in the first of a double-header that manager Roy Walker feels could define the Sky Blues’ season.
Stephen Baxter’s men come to the Showgrounds for a league clash before returning seven days later for the quarter-final of the Co-Operative League Cup and with United just five points behind the Crues it gives them a great chance to be breathing right down their neck.
However, with two one-goal defeats by his former side already this season he knows it will not be an easy task.
“The fact they were close games would give us encouragement, but we know how potent and determined they can be,” explained Walker.
“We have to raise our levels and if we can get a result we can be within touching distance.
“There’s a lot to play for in every game in this league.
“The week we lost at the Reds, Sunderland beat Chelsea, Rangers lost to Hibs and Crusaders beat Linfield after losing eight to them, so it just shows you you can’t take your eye off the ball or you’ll end up disappointed.
“Crusaders are up there and have individuals that can win matches yet they have had their own problems, mainly keeping 11 players on the pitch.”
However, the man who helped mould a previous generation of the ‘Hatchetmen’ feels that it is something that holds the visitors in good stead.
“That is a strength for me as people always knew they’d be in for a tough game and my thought would have been not to let them down!,” he added.
“I’m looking forward to both games and they should keep us well focused.
“Within our grasp is the chance to stay at the right end of the table and the following week an opportunity to progress in one of the three knock-out competitions.”
Definitely knocked out of the first encounter is striker Richard Gibson, while Ryan Berry and Maurice McDowell are injury worries for Walker.
He could pair up Andy Smith with Gary McCutcheon but may have a ‘wee surprise’ up his sleeve.
“I look at the chances we created and missed at Newry and it was incredible,” he continued.
“But it showed our bouncebackability after the defeat at Cliftonville and was a good test of the players’ psyche.”