There is no crisis at Linfield, says legend Glenn Ferguson
When is a crisis not a crisis? When it's a Linfield crisis, according to Blues scoring legend Glenn Ferguson.
Ferguson's Ballymena United play host to his old Northern Ireland pal David Healy's men in the first of four clashes in the space of a month between the Braidmen and the Blues.
There was some respite for Healy in midweek as his side booked their place against the Sky Blues in next month's Co Antrim Shield final but having slipped down the league to fourth, the jungle drums of discontent have been beating in south Belfast.
But Ferguson, and most of the other managers in the league, would gladly swap positions with Healy.
"Linfield's crisis and other teams' crises aren't on the same level," explained Ferguson.
"I think they're fourth in the league, they're in the final of the Co Antrim Shield - I'd love to be in a crisis like that.
"For Linfield it is different because their expectations are a lot, lot higher than some other teams.
"Our expectation is to go out and win every game but Linfield's is to go out and try and win every competition - that's the way the club is.
"It doesn't happen, but that's why it seems like a crisis for them because they're not doing it."
His own side have something of the Jekyll and Hyde about them, excelling in the knock-out competitions but as eighth position in the league suggests, lacking the consistency to take that next step in Ferguson's long-term plan.
Last weekend they made hard work of seeing off bottom of the table Warrenpoint Town, who almost grabbed a point having taken advantage of some cataclysmic defending, and Ferguson sounded a warning for his side today.
"I told the boys (last week) if they play like that and defend like that they will be on the back end of a five-goal defeat," he said.
"Linfield are better than Warrenpoint, there's no doubt about that, have better strikers in the likes of Andy Waterworth and Guy Bates who can score goals, and if play like that on Saturday we will get our backsides kicked.
"Linfield are always going to be Linfield. They're on a bad run but they will come out of it. Linfield have players that have character and strength that can win them games and we have to deal with that."
The Sky Blues will be without Willie Faulkner, who fractured his arm last week, and the suspended Gareth Rodger, while they await news on former Blues striker Matthew Tipton.
The first of the four-part series could have a big bearing on how the clash in the Irish Cup on January 9 and the Co Antrim Shield decider three days later could go.
"The law of averages say that if you play someone four times you won't lose them all or win them all. We want to go and win them all but the chances are that we won't," added Ferguson.
"As a manager we prepare for every game the exact same way. The good thing about playing somebody four times is that you will be able to see their strengths and weaknesses at close hand.
"We saw them on the first day of the season but they may set up differently now with David Healy in charge."
Allan Jenkins, who scored the first hat-trick of his 18-year career last weekend, knows his side have to tighten up at the other end.
"I think Warrenpoint are the only team that have conceded more than us," he explained.
"We need to address that if we want to climb up the table and get a run in the Irish Cup and the Shield final you can't expect to keep scoring two, three and four goals to win a game of football.
"We win as a team and lose as a team so we have to defend from the front and we're not pointing fingers at defenders.
"Consistency has always been our problem since I've been at Ballymena, putting a sustained run together.
"Last season we had a great run at the start of the season but apart from that runs have been few and far between.
"We don't go in with anything to fear, we've been to the home of the champions and beaten them, so on the day you have to outwork your opponent and hopefully our match-winners can come up with something."
Linfield have handed teenage striker Jonny Frazer his first professional contract.
Following the signing of Paul Smyth on pro terms last month, Frazer has been awarded an 18-month deal.
The 19-year-old, who had a spell on loan at Warrenpoint Town last season, made his second first-team appearance when he came on as a substitute in the Blues' County Antrim Shield semi-final win over Carrick Rangers on Tuesday night.