Belfast Telegraph

Ballymena boss Jeffrey will be out to do old pal Kearney a big favour, warns Crusaders captain

By Steven Beacom

Crusaders skipper Colin Coates has warned that an old pals act will be out to scupper the Seaview outfit's bid for a third league title in four seasons.

On Saturday, the Crues will be champions if they win at the Ballymena Showgrounds and, while the Sky Blues have yet to score since the Danske Bank Premiership split, Coates expects a tough battle - especially because of the close relationship between United boss David Jeffrey and Coleraine counterpart Oran Kearney.

The Bannsiders, who are at Glenavon at the weekend, have the same number of points as the Crues, though a vastly inferior goal difference means they need to deliver a better result than the leaders on the final day.

In essence, Kearney requires his old Linfield manager Jeffrey to inspire a big performance from Ballymena and then for his Coleraine team to take advantage at Mourneview Park.

Inspirational Crusaders captain Coates said: "A win secures the title, but Ballymena are a tough team and big Davy is good friends with Oran Kearney and (Coleraine assistant boss) Winkie Murphy, so he'll be wanting to do them a favour.

"We know Ballymena will want to spoil the party. They'll not want us rolling in and rolling them over.

"We'd rather be in our position though. It's not as if the goal difference is close and it's not going to be made up, so we know what we have to do.

"We just need one more big performance. We've been creating chances so hopefully we can score a few goals and make it relatively pain free."

What has been pleasing in recent weeks is that no teams in the top six have downed tools waiting for the summer to arrive.

They have all been committed, as was evident last weekend when Linfield drew 2-2 with Coleraine and Joe Gormley's wonder goal for Cliftonville ensured Crusaders had to battle all the way for a 1-1 draw.

Ballymena and Glenavon will no doubt show the same desire against the title contenders.

"If we all go out and produce eight or nine out of 10 performances, in theory we should win, but strange things can happen in football," added Coates.

"Ballymena could score a wonder goal like Joe Gormley did against us or maybe a mistake could put us on the back foot.

"We have to ensure we don't have an off day and whatever Ballymena have planned is nothing to do with us. We're only focused on ourselves.

"Big Jordan Owens, Gavin Whyte and Paul Heatley have scored a bucket load of goals all season. We know how difficult Saturday will be but maybe Gavin or Paul can score one more brilliant goal to round the season off."

Coates did not feature at Ballymena on the penultimate weekend last season when the Crues lost 3-0 and handed the initiative to Linfield to become champions.

He insists no one at the north Belfast club sees the Showgrounds as a bogey stadium.

"We've won at the Showgrounds this season and lifted the County Antrim Shield there in January, so there'll be no issues," said the defender, who has been such a key part of the Crusaders success story over the last decade.

"It would be a big achievement for the club to win three titles in four years, but we still have 90 minutes of football to play and anything can still happen. We have to make sure that we're ready to go and win the game."

Belfast Telegraph

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