Ballymena players have a point to prove after Glentoran collapse, says Jeffrey
Ballymena Utd v Crusaders, BetMcLean League Cup Quarter-Final, Ballymena Showgrounds, Tonight, 7.45pm
Frustrated Ballymena United boss David Jeffrey is demanding a response from his team in tonight's BetMcLean League Cup quarter-final clash against Crusaders at the Warden Street Showgrounds.
It's not often that the big man struggles for words, but the Sky Blues' spineless second-half showing against Glentoran in Friday night's league game almost left Jeffrey speechless.
He has now challenged his boys to do their talking on the pitch in a tournament that has gleaned a certain degree of success of late for United.
They have reached the last three finals, their finest hour coming back in 2017 when they defeated Carrick Rangers at Seaview.
The Sky Blues, however, were beaten the following season by Dungannon Swifts before narrowly losing out to Linfield in last year's showpiece decider.
"It's a different competition and gives us the chance to play without the pressure of picking up league points," said Jeffrey.
"We have had a good run in this competition of late. In fact, it's the first trophy Bryan (McLoughlin) and I won when we came.
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"It's going to be another tough contest. The teams have met twice recently and the matches have been really tight.
"We know each other so well, we know what we are going to get and they know what they are going to get. There is not much between the teams."
Jeffrey admits he is still baffled by that inept second 45 minutes at The Oval.
"The boys have a point to prove after that display," he added.
"It's been a long time since I've not been able to work out an analysis of why we didn't respond after conceding an equaliser.
"Jude Winchester made a mistake that led to the goal, but we didn't respond to it - I can't work out exactly why.
"That was the disappointing aspect. Mistakes happen in games, you can do nothing about it. It's all about how you respond.
"I thought we were very much in control in the first half and deservedly went in 1-0 up at the break. We were disciplined and we played some quality football, but it all went downhill after that."
Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter is also looking for something better than what his boys served up at Mourneview Park on Saturday night when they had to rely on a last-gasp equaliser from Paul McElroy to salvage a face-saving draw against an under-strength Glenavon side.
"The Ballymena game is going to be another very tough match," he said.
"Games come thick and fast at this time of the year. I know our squad is stretched at the minute and we picked up another few little niggles on Saturday.
"I'm not complaining though. All the other squads face the same problems as we do, everyone is in the same boat.
"I'm really looking forward to the game. It gives us the chance to progress in another cup competition. I'm sure Ballymena will be thinking exactly the same.
"We'll give it our best shot, we'll see where it takes us."
On his team's offering in the late night shoot-out in Lurgan, Baxter went on: "It was a good, open game of football and both teams really went after it. There were a lot of chances at either end.
"The big turning point was early in the second half when we missed the chance to go 2-0 ahead.
"Paul Heatley had the ball squared back, but he totally mis-kicked when he looked a likely scorer. I'm thinking at that stage, 'Great, 2-0!'.
"They (Glenavon) then went straight down the pitch and equalised. It was a double whammy in many ways, so that was disappointing.
"That's the way football is. Glenavon played on the counter-attack really well.
"They started getting into little spaces behind us and worked a lovely move to score their goal to level. I thought there were one or two tired legs in our team to be honest.
"When the game began going away from us, we had to change our shape to a 4-4-2 to try and nick a goal to get back into it.
"We threw everything at it right at the death, so that was good. We are pleased to get something out of it."