Belfast Telegraph

Ballymena won't look too far ahead in European quest: Jeffrey

Cliftonville 1-1 Ballymena United

Scrap: Scot Whiteside grapples with the Reds' Ryan Curran
Scrap: Scot Whiteside grapples with the Reds' Ryan Curran

By Conor McLaughlin

David Jeffrey has urged his Ballymena United players to maintain the one-game-at-a-time approach that has served them so well this season.

The Sky Blues' 1-1 draw with Cliftonville on Saturday means they could potentially book an automatic passport to Europe by getting the better of derby rivals Coleraine next time out and, though various permutations will come into play over these final few weeks of the campaign, Jeffrey insists his outlook will not change.

"Coleraine will give us a very tough match but we will go out and try to get the three points, regardless of what they might mean for us," he said.

"I'm not thinking about qualifying for Europe automatically, through the play-offs or anything else - we just want to make sure we get there.

"I'd be less than truthful if I said I hadn't thought about all the different possibilities but, when the mind wanders like that, I just keep reminding myself to bring it back to the same mantra - one game at a time.

"If we keep focusing on simply winning our next game, there's nothing else we can do."

Ballymena got off to a wretched start at Solitude, where Ryan Curran stroked the Reds in front with just two minutes on the clock.

United hit back through a well-taken Johnny McMurray strike which, unfortunately for all in attendance, proved the last real act of note in an otherwise unremarkable encounter.

Dismissed as "handbags" by Cliftonville boss Paddy McLaughlin, the most entertaining incident in the remainder of the contest was the brief flashpoint that ensued after he had physically restrained visiting skipper Jim Ervin from taking a quick throw-in.

The Solitude supremo admitted his side were far from their best in blustery conditions but was pleased to get another point on the board as the Reds seek home advantage when the European play-offs come about next month.

"We keep talking about momentum and form, in terms of performances and results, but we also want to make sure everyone's as sharp and as fit as possible for what will hopefully be two extra games at the end of the season," he explained.

"It's never been about just fulfilling fixtures or seeing the season out, we want to get as many points as we can to finish as high up the league as possible."

On his momentary interaction with Ervin - which earned a stern rebuke from both Jeffrey and referee Evan Boyce - McLaughlin added: "It was a bit of handbags because they were trying to speed the game up and I was trying to slow it down. I spoke to Jim afterwards so there's no problem there at all."

CLIFTONVILLE: Brush, Ives (McMenamin, 86 mins), Breen, Grace, Harney, C Curran, R Curran, R Donnelly, Bagnall, Gormley, Gorman. Unused subs: Neeson, McGovern, R Harkin, McConnell, Maguire, A Donnelly.

BALLYMENA: Ross Glendinning, Addis, Whiteside, McCullough, McGrory, Balmer, Ervin, Lecky, Millar, McMurray, Watson. Unused subs: Williamson, Kane, Quigley, Mayse, McGinty, Faulkner, Shevlin.

Referee: Evan Boyce (Ballygowan)

Man of the match: Leroy Millar

Match rating: 5/10

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