Belfast Telegraph

Ballymena United are punching above our weight, insists Jeffrey

 

By Steven Beacom

Ballymena United manager David Jeffrey has insisted that the Sky Blues are punching above their weight this season ahead of tonight's eagerly awaited County Antrim Shield semi-final against Linfield.

The Showgrounds showdown was postponed twice due to the weather before the new year serving to only increase the anticipation of a clash between the league's top two with Crusaders already in the decider scheduled for January 22.

There is always an expectancy at Linfield to challenge for trophies with Jeffrey knowing that better than anyone having won 31 of them as manager of the club. For Ballymena the aims have not been so ambitious down the years but right now Jeffrey's men and David Healy's side are the only two still in with a chance of winning all four domestic competitions.

Something has to give tonight. Jeffrey's intriguing pre-match comments make it clear who he believes should be favourites.

"Linfield are flying at present. They are top of the league and playing tremendously well," he said.

"For me we are punching well above our weight when you compare our budget and resources to that of Linfield and Crusaders.

"Every time we go up against one of the bigger, established, better-resourced clubs it is a challenge and you want to see how our players respond to that challenge.

"We have certainly done superbly well this season and I've no doubt our players will relish taking on Linfield in such a big game in the semi-final."

With a League Cup final between Ballymena and Linfield set for next month and only one point separating them at the top of the table, Jeffrey was asked if the outcome of this evening's encounter could have a bearing on the rest of the season.

"The games have been so tight between us this season I think we have actually gone past gaining a psychological edge from winning against each other," said Jeffrey, referring to 2-1 victories for each side in the league this term. "It's a similar scenario with Crusaders. We defeated them twice and drew once in our opening three games with them this season then they beat us on New Year's Day. Just because they got one back we are not feeling psychologically damaged because we should have got a point in the last game.

"The match with Linfield will be tough. Thankfully we have got ourselves to one final and would desperately like to get ourselves to another.

"There were a lot of tired legs in our dressing room after the Irish Cup win over Dundela on Saturday but we are certainly not bemoaning the amount of games we are playing because it's because we are doing ever so well."

The influential Adam Lecky is suspended tonight but canny striker Cathair Friel is back. There may also be a return for classy midfielder James Knowles.

"James is recovering from mumps. He did a really tough training session ahead of the Dundela match and it will all depend how he feels on game day because mumps really takes it out of you especially if you are an adult," explained Jeffrey.

"James is keen to be involved but we continue to take medical care and advice on his situation.

"Leroy Millar is still suffering from a lower back problem which isn't clearing up as quickly as we would like. It's frustrating for him and us. He has had an outstanding season and hopefully he won't be out for too much longer."

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