Belfast Telegraph

We need to be at the top of our game, admits Jim Ervin

Drought over: Jim Ervin hails his goal against Portadown, his first in three and a half years
Drought over: Jim Ervin hails his goal against Portadown, his first in three and a half years

By Graham Luney

Ballymena United captain Jim Ervin believes his side can't afford to carry passengers in their mission to bring the BetMcLean League Cup back to Warden Street.

David Jeffrey's side face a formidable test against Linfield in their own backyard and former Blues favourite Ervin believes every United player is going to have to rise to the occasion or wave farewell to their Cup dream.

Ervin was part of the Linfield team which clinched the League Cup in 2008 - the last time the Windsor Park men lifted the prize.

Skipper Jamie Mulgrew is the only survivor in the Blues squad from that day when a late double from Glenn Ferguson broke Crusaders hearts.

Ervin, who has won the League Cup twice with Linfield, knows how ruthless the Blues can be, particularly on familiar ground in a major final.

The Sky Blues, however, have also packed a big punch this season and the 33-year-old believes the Braidmen can spring a surprise.

"It's a massive challenge, they are huge favourites, playing a final in their own backyard in front of a massive crowd," said Ervin, who spent nine years at Linfield.

"I've been on the other side, been a Linfield player, and playing in your own surroundings gives you an advantage. It's a massive task but we have proved before that we are capable of doing it.

"Every player will need to pull their weight and be on their game. I think it will be a great spectacle, the top two teams in the league in terms of league positions playing in the first final. It's probably the game people want to see."

Ervin signed a one-year contract extension this month and it's easy to see why he's not willing to step off the Sky Blue rollercoaster.

Jeffrey shuffled his pack last year and his fresh faces have hit the ground running, embracing a new challenge with hunger and desire.

"So far we are very pleased with our progress," added Ervin.

"Our objective at the start of the season was top six and possible European football, but in terms of winning silverware we haven't achieved anything.

"It's up to us to keep the consistent form going until the end of the season.

"We have played Linfield three times this year, they have beaten us twice and we have won once. The scorelines have been 2-1 and there's been very little in the games. That makes it good for the neutral as they know it could be a tight game. We will prepare ourselves the right way and in Cup finals the team which settles quicker and handles the nerves better can win it.

"It's my third League Cup final with Ballymena and I've won one and lost one so I know what it feels like.

"We were disappointed last year and let ourselves down. We want to put that right this time round."

Linfield's mean defence has been a feature of their improved form this season and Ervin can appreciate how his old club have become a tough nut to crack.

"Linfield's defence has been crucial to them and it would be unfair to just mention the back four as you defend as a unit," he added.

"Roy Carroll has unfortunately suffered a cruciate injury and I wish him all the best, I hope he doesn't hang the gloves up yet.

"He has shown what he is capable of in the Irish League and Roy took a lot of pressure off the back four. Gareth Deane is another top keeper but Linfield have a strong squad including even the players who are left out. But we have good players too who are hungry to win silverware and ready to give it our all on Saturday night."

Ervin scored his first goal in three and a half years against Portadown in the Irish Cup on Monday night but rumours Jeffrey will ask him to lead the line on Saturday are greatly exaggerated.

"I think my last goal was Tommy Breslin's last game in charge of the Reds," he added.

"I can't see me being too far up the pitch again as I was on Monday night!

"It's been a long time, being a defender I don't get the chance to score too many and it felt good to score again.

"The most important thing was to put our name in the hat for the next round."

Belfast Telegraph

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