Belfast Telegraph

Jeffrey wants Sky Blues to rise to the task in end-of-term clashes

By Alex Mills

Ballymena United boss David Jeffrey is demanding his boys stand up to the top six challenge.

Having battled into the upper half of the Danske Bank Premiership for the first time ever, the Sky Blues are still looking for their first win since the split.

Defeats by Glenavon and Linfield have blunted their progress but, with Gerard Lyttle's Cliftonville about to leave at calling card at the Showground tonight, Jeffrey wants his boys to now step up to the mark.

"It's the players who got us out of the bottom six and it's now a challenge to see how we can compete in the top six," he said.

"Yes, we've had a bad start, although I was happy with the effort and commitment of the players against Linfield.

"The previous display was unacceptable and I asked for a response and I got it to a certain degree.

"I was disappointed with the refereeing decision to award a free kick that led to the first goal but, overall, Linfield deserved the victory.

"It was fantastic to see a packed stadium at the weekend, with the Bluemen out in force. This time last season we were facing Warrenpoint Town and Ballinamallard United in front of two men and a dog, with all due respect to those teams.

"So this is where we want to be. It lets Bryan McLoughlin and I see if our players can compete against the top six sides. It's a learning curve for us and it's also a time for assessment and review.

"It lets us see who can step up to the mark because there is something to play for in every single game. Every week is an opportunity for the players - it's a challenge for them.

"That's how we manage the squad.

"We need to keep the momentum going into the European play-off games at the end of the season."

With the League Cup proudly sitting in the Ballymena Boardroom, coupled with the top six finish, it has been a successful season for the boys from the Braid.

"We are not finished yet," said Jeffrey.

"We still have a lot to play for and we want to rack up as many points as possible, so we'll be out to win every game. We also have the Euro qualifier to negotiate later on, but that will take care of itself."

Jeffrey's squad has been depleted by injury and suspension in recent times but, on the plus side, striker Cathair Friel is ready to make a return against the Reds.

"We are down to the bare bones, we only had 16 players available for the weekend game against Linfield," added Jeffrey.

"Gary Thompson and Willie Faulkner remain out, but I have made a point of not talking about injuries this season, so I'm not going to start now.

"Cathair will be available which is a little bonus, but Tony Kane must sit out the last of a three match ban.

"We have three massive game remaining, starting with Cliftonville.

"We than have Crusaders in our final home match of the season before we end the campaign at Coleraine.

"It's a fantastic way to end the league with games like that.

"We'll be out to put as many points as we can on on the board."

Belfast Telegraph


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