Belfast Telegraph

David Jeffrey relishing 'ginormous' European shoot-out as Ballymena prepare to face Glenavon

Ballymena Utd 1 Coleraine 0

Derby strike: Leroy Millar is hailed by Steven McCullough
Derby strike: Leroy Millar is hailed by Steven McCullough

By Ian Callender

David Jeffrey is expecting a "humdinger" tomorrow night when Glenavon visit the Showgrounds trying to deny them the point that will guarantee European football for Ballymena United next season.

Their single goal victory over Coleraine kept them on course but Glenavon's stunning 4-0 win at Windsor Park was the first leg of a treble which Gary Hamilton's side need to give them a chance of leapfrogging Ballymena into second place.

"It's a 'ginormous' game on Tuesday," said the Ballymena supremo. "Football is such a topsy-turvy game, it is quite possible for us to be beaten by Glenavon and Crusaders (in the last game).

"Glenavon, after their great win, will be coming here looking for victory to take second spot from us. People say Crusaders will have one eye on the (Irish) Cup Final, but they said that about Warrenpoint before their semi-final with Ballinamallard. They came here and chinned us! Crusaders players will be trying to get into the final 18 or 11.

"Both games will be massively tough. We've kept ourselves in a good position, we've maintained the gap and that's where we're at.

"Imagine Glenavon going to the home of the champions and winning 4-0, I understand Linfield may not have been up for it, but to score four against the best defence in the league, it sends out a big message to us at Ballymena. We've got to be ready."

Leroy Millar was United's match-winner on Saturday, a superb curling right foot shot from the left side of the penalty area the highlight of a man of the match performance when he even tracked back to shepherd the ball out of play under pressure from Jamie Glackin. "He was formidable," was his manager's fair summation.

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But United created enough chances to have made the victory more convincing and although it was a nervy finale, Coleraine were ineffective in the final third and never threatened an equaliser in the closing stages.

Indeed, it was Coleraine keeper Chris Johns and skipper Stephen O'Donnell who had to make goal-line clearances in the second half to deny United a deserved second goal, but the three points were all that mattered in the end.

"To dig out a performance like that was most pleasing," added Jeffrey. "We are guaranteed third place (for the first time since 1981) which is brilliant and now can we improve that on Tuesday night?

"We've conceded less goals, scored more goals and won more points if the season stopped now. But there is still work to be done."

Opposite number Rodney McAree has to be satisfied with a sixth place finish, but he admitted he was disappointed by the side's performance, their first defeat at Ballymena since Boxing Day 2016.

More worryingly, Coleraine have won just one of their last seven games and have just two more to give them momentum going into the European play-offs.

"We did reasonably well in the first half but the quality was not good enough in the final third," said McAree.

"I'll be looking for a reaction coming off a derby defeat because it hurts. But we've got to go again on Tuesday night (against Crusaders) and anybody who doesn't want to pick themselves up again will not be part of it."

BALLYMENA: Ross Glendinning, Watson, Ervin, Addis, Balmer, McGrory, Millar, Kane, McCullough; Lecky, McMurray (Mayse, 71 mins). Unused subs: Williamson, Quigley, Whiteside, McGinty, Faulkner, Shevlin.

COLERAINE: Johns, Canning, Douglas, O'Donnell, Edgar (Bradley, 83 mins), Carson, Shiels, Doherty (McLaughlin, 71 mins), Parkhill, Glackin (Davidson, 61 mins), McGonigle. Unused subs: Doherty, Crown, Burke, King.

Referee: Steven Gregg

Man of the match: Leroy Millar

Match rating: 6/10

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