Belfast Telegraph

Ballymena fired up to complete a derby double

By David Mason

Ballymena United boss David Jeffrey believes revenge will be on the Boxing Day menu when Coleraine make the journey to the Warden Street Showgrounds.

The Sky Blues grabbed the derby bragging rights a fortnight ago when they won an intriguing League Cup semi-final showdown at the same venue.

Now the two teams will go head-to-head in a Danske Bank Premiership Christmas cracker in front of United's biggest crowd of the season.

"Coleraine will be out for revenge, there is no question about that," admitted Jeffrey.

"They'll still be smarting. I've got to say the League Cup semi-final was an absolutely fantastic occasion.

"The atmosphere was brilliant - they brought about 1,000 fans, we had 1,500.

"It was a great game and this one will be the same.

"I'm sure they'll be wanting to turn the tables, but we'll be up for it - we are looking forward to it."

Jeffrey will rely on the group of players that lost narrowly to Linfield at the weekend.

The big bonus is the fact that Johnny McMurray is now back after injury.

"Jonathan has came back a little bit sooner than expected, that's why his touch is still a little bit off," conceded Jeffrey.

"But his match fitness will improve.

"Unfortunately, we'll not have anyone else coming back - we still have quite a few out."

Although the Sky Blues lost out to a last gasp Mark Stafford goal at Windsor, Jeffrey was thrilled with his team's offering.

He added: "We are improving all the time - and that was evident at Windsor Park last week.

"I keep saying, baby steps, incremental strides.

"I was delighted with the effort and commitment of the players, especially as they had a tough 120 minutes in the League Cup semi-final against Coleraine a few days earlier.

"It was a mammoth effort. They are continuing to learn all the time.

"A number of them hadn't been to Windsor Park before. Cathair Friel had to ask 'where is the place?' It's the truth.

"That's the innocence and naivety of some of them.

"The biggest compliment for me was the reaction of the Linfield players at the finish.

"In 17 and a half years as manager at Linfield, I couldn't ever remember doing that against Ballymena."

Even though Jeffrey is happy with the progress his boys have made, he knows there is still a lot of hard work up ahead.

"It's a great journey we are on," he added.

"I was never going back to management. I loved going to games as a neutral.

"When I received a call to enter into informal talks with Ballymena, I still had to think long and hard about that. I hadn't contemplated returning.

"There has been an awful lot of hard work put in over recent months, but it has been thoroughly enjoyable.

"It's been fantastic. Bryan McLoughlin and I, along with Paul McAreavey and Damien Curran, who is heading up our Academy, work closely together," he said.

"It's been like we have been given a blank page and told, 'go ahead and paint your own picture'.

"When you consider we finished on 40 points last season and we are now sitting on 36 before Christmas, it has to go down as progress.

"We certainly don't intend to sit on our laurels.

"We've now got to kick on again.

"It's been good thus far, but there is lots more to do.

"Just last week, we sat down and carried out our own review of where we are at and what we need to do to not only keep it going, but also how to get to the next level.

"The work load is probably greater now than ever before, but it is incredibly enjoyable."

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