James Knowles return is a timely boost for tough battles ahead, says Ballymena boss
The gradual easing of Ballymena United's injury list has given manager David Jeffrey some cause for optimism, even if it has yet to be matched by results.
While key players like Leroy Millar and Cathair Friel remain on the sidelines, Jeffrey has slowly seen his panel bolstered by the availability of long-term absentees Adam Lecky, Tony Kane and Reece Glendinning in recent weeks.
The latest returnee is stylish midfielder James Knowles, whose eight-minute cameo as a substitute in the midweek defeat by Linfield was his first action since sustaining a knee injury against the same opponents in last season's League Cup final.
"James is a great footballer and it has been hard for him, being out for nine months," said a more positive sounding Jeffrey.
"He has been busting to get back and working very hard - in fact, he was working so hard he pulled a hamstring which delayed his comeback - but we've got him back up to speed again and hopefully that's him back challenging."
Ballymena's resolve will be tested to the full in tomorrow's trip to a Warrenpoint Town side galvanised by the return of Barry Gray at the helm.
"Warrenpoint is going to be a massive test for us," said Jeffrey.
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"You only have to look at the game they had against Coleraine.
"They didn't just win the game, they won it very much deservedly - there was no fluke about it.
"We have never had it easy against Warrenpoint, particularly at Milltown. We won 4-0 at the Showgrounds earlier in the season and people maybe think it was a comfortable victory but it was far from it, particularly after we went down to 10 men.
"Barry Gray is back there now and he knows what he wants out of his players and he will drive them on.
"Every game is a tough, tough game so we need to prepare well, rest and recover from midweek and make sure we're ready."
Jeffrey is also backing rookie striker Kenny Kane to continue his progress after being plucked from junior football with Dervock.
"I haven't bigged him up but he was our only recognised out-and-out striker over these past number of weeks and he has carried that burden well," he said.
"The return of Adam Lecky has helped him but Kenny certainly hasn't looked like a junior footballer.
"You've got to be patient. We don't have the resources of other clubs so we either produce our own or go and identify young men who are looking for an opportunity and give them that opportunity.
"We watched Kenny for a long period and he trained with us from Christmas last year. We never put any pressure on him - he wanted to join of his own accord.
"He keeps his feet on the ground, keeps progressing and keeps learning, and the biggest compliment I can pay him is that he could be another Cathair Friel, in terms of where he came from."