Belfast Telegraph

I am fully aware of what this means to the fans: David Jeffrey

Wise head: David Jeffrey has a wealth of experience when it comes to derby games
Wise head: David Jeffrey has a wealth of experience when it comes to derby games

By Billy Weir

In terms of Derby Day showdowns, there isn't much that David Jeffrey hasn't experienced as a player or manager.

No stranger to the Big Two clash, he also played in the now seemingly defunct north Down ding-dong and also faced a number of east Antrim foes while at Larne.

But for those north of Glengormley, the big match is Ballymena United up against their old foes from up the A26, Coleraine.

Added spice, if any was needed to an already tasty tussle, comes with the Sky Blues riding high at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership table in the midst of a 14-match winning streak.

Coleraine, on the other hand, are running hot and cold under Rodney McAree, who will be delighted to have returned to winning ways against his old club Dungannon Swifts.

But wily old fox Jeffrey knows all too well that form is no guide when it comes to parochial bragging rights.

"They are coming off the back of a great result after their disappointment against Glenavon, and I knew there would be a response with Rodney against his former side," he said.

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"In derby games, form really goes out the window, certainly in all the experience I have had in derby games, whether it's Linfield v Glentoran as a player and a manager, or when I played at Ards against Bangor, everything went out the window.

"It'll be a tough, tough game. Coming here, Coleraine will be looking to give their very best and I know our players will be looking to give their very best, and we'll see how it turns out on the day."

A bumper crowd is expected at Warden Street, and such has been the demand for tickets from fans of the unlikely title pace-setters that the authorities have allowed the 'away' stand to facilitate overflow home fans.

While the rivalry is intense, Jeffrey is confident that everything will pass off without incident.

"When we go to Coleraine, Coleraine and Ballymena supporters sit in the same stand. There is segregation, but they are in the same stand and I'm delighted that is the case," he explained.

"I have spoken to a number of Ballymena and Coleraine supporters who used to talk about sitting together in the good old days at Warden Street and it's tremendous that the ground can facilitate the number of people who want to be there.

"We're looking forward to a good provincial derby game. When I was out of management and working for the Sunday Life, I made a point of going to north Belfast to see Cliftonville against Crusaders because I wanted to experience that.

"The next one I had planned was to come and see the Coleraine v Ballymena one and, lo and behold, the first experience I had of it was as a manager.

"I think it would be very fair to say that our supporters have been most helpful in informing me in the most impressive way at how much the game means, and I have taken that on board, considered, digested and fully understand the message."

And talking of messages being received and understood, there was a strange moment in Saturday's 2-0 win over Ards as players argued who would take the Sky Blues' second penalty kick of the game.

James Knowles (below), who had an earlier effort saved by Sam Johnston, grabbed the ball as Jude Winchester looked to take the honours and it needed a barked order from the boss to sort things out.

Winchester went on to take the second spot-kick and, yes, you guessed it, Johnston saved again.

Jeffrey was only too happy to clarify what had happened.

"It's very simple and straightforward. Anthony Kane, who is our usual penalty taker, at the start of the season would have taken penalties, as would James, depending on who was on the pitch," he said.

"Anthony is away on his honeymoon and that's why he was unavailable, otherwise he would have been playing.

"James stepped up and took the first penalty and obviously Sam made a good save.

"At half-time I wanted more out of James and he thought, 'Well, I'm going to step up to the mark' and he was very brave and very courageous in wanting to take the second penalty, and there is no clarification needed - I was protecting him.

"If he's missed a second one it would have been harder on him, and Jude was chomping at the bit, and so it was a straightforward decision, I simply asked James to step aside and let Jude hit the penalty.

"I didn't think it was a poor penalty, it was a fantastic save by Sam Johnston and I've never experienced anything like it in my life.

"Rest assured we will have a think over who is going to take the next one."

Ballymena Utd v Coleraine

Danske Bank Premiership

Ballymena Showgrounds, Today, 3.00pm

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