Belfast Telegraph

Ballymena Utd v Coleraine: You haven't seen the best of Sky Blues yet, warns Ervin

League Cup semi-final: Ballymena Showgrounds, 7.45pm

By Graham Luney

The Ballymena Showgrounds will not be a place for the faint-hearted tonight. Much more than bragging rights in a derby are on the line.

The prize for the winners is a place in the League Cup final and the Ballymena United players can rely on their experienced and inspirational skipper Jim Ervin to lead the charge and keep a cool head in a red-hot atmosphere.

Coleraine's recent Danske Bank Premiership form - three defeats on the spin - has been disappointing, but the Bannsiders will still be confident of making the decider, and boss Oran Kearney has ghosts to exorcise in this competition after his side lost 1-0 to Crusaders in the 2012 final, and last season the north-west side threw away a 2-0 lead against Ards in the semi-final and lost on penalties.

Ervin lifted the League Cup in Linfield colours twice but now both he and former Blues supremo David Jeffrey want to pack a punch with the Braidmen.

Jeffrey's side have a spring in their step after staging a sensational comeback to rock Glentoran 3-2 at The Oval on Saturday but defender Ervin believes the Sky Blues have more gears to go through and a victory in tonight's semi-final (7.45pm) will add more weight to that argument.

"What has really pleased me about this squad is the character we have," said the former Boys' Model pupil. "There's been a lot of changes at the club with David (Jeffrey) coming in and about 12 in, 12 out on the playing side. It was going to take time for the players to develop an understanding but my thoughts are no one has seen the best of us yet.

"What we would like is more consistent performances and the results you get from that but we showed our never-say-die mentality again at The Oval on Saturday. Not too many teams will come from 2-0 down to beat the Glens there and it was a fully deserved win.

"Even though we lost 2-0 to Cliftonville, it was one of our better performances and I firmly believe there is a lot more to come from us in the coming months. It's about striving for that consistency we want but the performance on Saturday should give the boys added belief and confidence. They will be raring to go against Coleraine."

Ervin, who spent nine years at his boyhood club Linfield, won the lot at Windsor Park, but lifting the County Antrim Shield as Sky Blues skipper back in January under then boss Glenn Ferguson - and beating his old club at the international venue in the final - was a career highlight.

Now he could be tempted to start dreaming of lifting another trophy as United skipper but Ervin is too smart to fall into that trap. "It would be great to lift another trophy as Ballymena United captain but you can't start thinking like that because the moment you look far ahead in football is the moment the game bites you," he added. "I've learned that you focus only on the next game. Two or three weeks is a long time in football.

"But it's always nice to win a trophy and every player wants winner's medals on their CV. That's what you want to reflect on at the end of your career.

"It is a big occasion with two teams really going for it and giving it everything. Hopefully we can get over the line and make it to the final. How we get there isn't really important, semi-finals are all about getting the victory and keeping the dream alive.

"I don't think form matters in a game like this which is a derby and a cup final place is at stake. It's that old cliché about form going out the window and there will be a big crowd at the Showgrounds expecting to see two committed teams giving it everything.

"There was a lot of talk about us earlier in the season but the harsh reality was that Coleraine were above us in the league table and I'm sure they were happy that the spotlight fell on us rather than them.

"They have gone about their jobs quietly and effectively and Oran Kearney deserves a lot of credit for the work he is doing there and Coleraine are a very good young side.

"There's going to be a lot of noise and it's a big occasion. Whoever handles that occasion the better will more than likely win the game. Hopefully when the final whistle comes it's Ballymena United."

• Preston have signed out-of-contract pair Andy Boyle and Daryl Horgan from Dundalk on two-and-a-half-year contracts.

Both players' deals with the English Championship side begin on January 1.

They helped Dundalk to three League of Ireland titles and the group stages of this season's Europa League.

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