Tired Ballymena need to recharge batteries after 10 in a row, says Jeffrey
Crusaders v Ballymena Utd, BetMcLean League Cup Semi-Final, Seaview, Tonight, 7.45pm
David Jeffrey is anticipating one of the toughest games of the season for his rampant Ballymena United side tonight when they face Crusaders at Seaview in the BetMcLean League Cup semi-final.
And that's not just because the champions will be smarting after Saturday's humbling 4-1 league defeat against Linfield.
Jeffrey admits that after putting in a stirring display to win 4-2 at Warrenpoint Town at the weekend, making it 10 victories in a row for the Sky Blues, there was emotional and mental tiredness amongst his players in the dressing room.
How they respond will determine how they do against the Crues, who will be eager to bounce back following their mauling at Windsor Park.
Something has to give at Seaview because both Ballymena and Crusaders, along with Linfield who travel to Dungannon Swifts in the other semi, are the only teams still in every domestic competition available to them.
Crusaders looked as though they had eradicated their early season inconsistency and were ready to embark on a trademark winning run.
Then came a 2-2 draw at Glentoran and that heavy loss to the Blues, leaving them 10 points behind league leaders Ballymena, who have been scintillating and solid in equal measure during their club record heroics. No Ballymena team had ever won nine successive games.
The impressive 4-2 victory over an adventurous Warrenpoint in a thrilling encounter took the current side to 10, though Jeffrey says it came at a cost.
"We knew Warrenpoint would make it very difficult for us and we had to work extremely hard to get the result," said Jeffrey.
"We are carrying a number of knocks, and emotionally and mentally there was tiredness after the win. It will be a matter of seeing how we respond and how we regroup.
"The fact that the football was of such a high standard was a credit to both clubs and it was brilliant for us to get the victory. Ten wins in a row is a record for the club and I'm so proud of our players. I said to them after the game on Saturday this is a telling and exacting period and they have done fantastically well.
"It would be wrong to say Bryan McLoughlin (assistant manager) and myself aren't enjoying it, but we really are just taking it week by week and not getting carried away, and that means we now look to the League Cup match at Seaview.
"The semi-final is a massive game against the Crues who have such a fantastic strong squad.
"They could make seven, eight or nine changes and it wouldn't change the quality of the team. Our injury situation means we don't have that luxury, so we know how tough it is going to be."
Ballymena have beaten and drawn with the Crues in the league on the two occasions the sides have met this season, which will offer them comfort and confidence, but during his hugely successful time in charge of the north Belfast side, manager Stephen Baxter has made a habit of hitting back hard from headline defeats.
Jeffrey is well aware of that. Since the League Cup started this season, the Ballymena boss has stated his players have unfinished business with the competition after last term's disappointing loss to Dungannon Swifts in the final having won the trophy the previous year.
Crusaders have not lifted it since the 2011-12 campaign. Baxter will be keen to put that right and return to the winning trail.
Expect a cracker on the Shore Road.