Crusaders and Cliftonville are set to fight it out for Ballymena United favourite Jude Winchester, though Sky Blues boss David Jeffrey insists the midfielder won’t be leaving in the January transfer window and they will do all they can to keep him at the Showgrounds beyond the summer.
Winchester’s contract is up at the end of the season and both the Crues and Reds are keen to sign the 28-year-old, who joined Ballymena from Cliftonville in 2018.
The former Kilmarnock ace, who didn’t play in Ballymena’s 1-0 league defeat at Linfield on Tuesday, has been a key figure during Jeffrey’s reign at United.
Asked about Winchester’s future, Jeffrey said: “Yes, we know of interest from other clubs but we are very determined to keep Jude and we will make every best effort to do that.
“Ultimately, it will be down to the player himself.
“He’s a wonderful player who wasn’t available against Linfield because of a chest infection and he will not be going anywhere in January.”
Jeffrey has seen other star turns leave Ballymena such as Shay McCartan moving to Glentoran. He added: “The frustrating thing for me is we build players to a point and then we are cherry picked.
“I think of the number of players we have had and if we had been able to retain those players.”
The players currently at the club delivered a disciplined performance at Windsor Park and but for Trai Hume’s fantastic clearance to deny Paul McElroy and Kenny Kane hitting the post, the visitors would have taken the lead before Christy Manzinga netted a late winner for the champions.
Jeffrey said: “We knew Linfield would be going out all guns blazing to get the three points, particularly prior to the big Boxing Day game with Glentoran, so we knew that would fuel their desire if it needs fuelled.
“Linfield dominated in terms of possession but we were very disciplined and defended very well and we attacked with purpose.
“I feared we may not get something out of the game after five minutes of the second half when we had one cleared off the line and a shot that hit the post.
“I won’t take away from the fact that our goalkeeper Jordan Williamson made excellent saves and that we defended heroically but it was never the Alamo. My team were controlled, disciplined and exceptional.
“One thing I emphasised to the players was that when some teams come to Windsor Park they maybe feel intimidated or second best, adding if they went out with that belief they would be panned.
“We were brave and at the end I felt we were hard done by in terms of the result.”