Ballymena United a knockout force now, says Glenn Ferguson
Glenn Ferguson is setting his sights on even more finals for Ballymena United having turned them into a knockout force.
In four years at the helm, the former Northern Ireland striker has guided Ballymena to FOUR finals, the latest this season's County Antrim Shield decider following Tuesday's thrilling last four success against Championship outfit Larne when David Cushley hit a last gasp extra-time winner to earn the Braidmen a 3-2 victory.
Back in 2012 Ferguson's side ended Ballymena's 23-year wait for a trophy by taking home the Shield after beating Linfield in a penalty shoot-out. Under Ferguson the Sky Blues have also reached Irish Cup and League Cup deciders.
It's little wonder they are gaining a reputation as specialists in knockout competitions.
"On our day we are capable of beating anyone and in recent years we have done well in cup competitions," said Ferguson, who has a strong backroom team in Lee Doherty, Norman Kelly and Wes Lamont.
"We are happy with how things are progressing. We have had some difficult times but we have now reached four finals in the four years.
"The board wanted to see the team back in finals and I believe we have done really well on that score. We want to continue delivering in the cup competitions because it gives our fans and the town of Ballymena a big lift."
Between now and the Shield decider on January 12 against Linfield or Carrick Rangers, the Ballymena boss, known throughout local football as Spike, wants to see more consistency from his team in the league.
"That is what we are striving for and given we have a big final in six weeks, that is an extra incentive for all the boys to produce big performances in the upcoming league games so they can make the team for the Shield decider," added Ferguson, who praised the character of his side in the aftermath of the semi-final against Larne.
In next year's final Linfield may be the opposition. Ferguson's old international team-mate David Healy, now Linfield boss, is having a tough time with the Blues losing their last four games.
Ex-Linfield hero Ferguson said: "This is David's first management job. He hasn't been helped by a tough fixture list lately.
"Linfield is a big, big club and the demands are high, but he will have known that when he took the role. He has a tough job on his hands but I'm certain he will strengthen the side in January and after that you will see him being able to put his stamp on the team much more. Remember he has only been the manager for a few weeks.
Always respected for his views, Ferguson, who won the title several times as a player, is emphatic when talking about who this season's champions will be.
"Crusaders will win it," he said.
"They are so strong in every department. They go long a lot to Jordan Owens and feed off him but they can also mix it up and go wide through players like Paul Heatley and Gavin Whyte, and as their captain Colin Coates says they know how to get the job done. They did that on Saturday beating us 3-2 in the league when they were awarded two fortunate penalties. With their finances I also believe they will strengthen in January."
One player the Crues are understood to be looking at is Ballymena's star striker Cushley. Ferguson has already resisted offers for him and will do all he can to keep the player until the end of the season.