Why Ballymena have got to get priorities in order, exlains David Jeffrey
David Jeffrey admits he faces an awkward juggling act over the second half of the season as he weighs up Ballymena United's priorities.
For a man who hates losing a game of conkers, having to prioritise is the harsh reality of where the Sky Blues find themselves this season.
Tomorrow's game at Dungannon Swifts is one that offers the chance for United to edge closer to the top six but, in the grand scheme of things, is not the Braidmen's top priority.
A crippling injury list, suspensions, loss of form and a much stronger Danske Bank Premiership means the remarkable runners-up spot of last season is but a distant memory.
Hence last weekend's Irish Cup victory over Crumlin Star was vital to keep the side's season alive, with the Co Antrim Shield final against Cliftonville later this month another highlight on the horizon.
"We said at the beginning of the season that the landscape has changed," Jeffrey explained.
"With Glentoran and their investment and Larne and their investment, Linfield with doing so well in Europe and their strength, Crusaders also, the re-emergence of Cliftonville with the quality of Joe Gormley and several others and the bounce back Coleraine got from Oran (Kearney), we knew it was going to be really, really tough.
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"Our task thus far has not been made easy because of player unavailability and that's not an excuse, it's a simple fact.
"You need people to be playing well and maybe at times we haven't, maybe because of the unavailability we've been asking the same players week in and week out. And I think it's also got to be said that some of the decisions have gone against us.
"We started off the Christmas period with three great wins, and then we went to Coleraine on Boxing Day and while we have to accept the appeal, it was very clear to anyone who watched our footage that it shouldn't have been a sending off.
"Again, we had a clear penalty against Larne, and at Glentoran I thought we were absolutely magnificent.
"There are fine lines and thin margins and others have just been able to get over the line.
"We weren't going to win the league and, given the new landscape, I couldn't see us getting second, so our only pathway to Europe is the Irish Cup.
"Obviously we want to remain a top-six team, albeit it doesn't get you a European play-off, so it's a matter now of trying to get people back fit and trying to get ourselves into Europe.
"I said last year, and people thought it was a false modesty, that we were punching above our weight.
"I can't fault the effort and commitment, that has been first class from everybody, but (the Cup win) was a big result."
The clash at Stangmore Park sees Jeffrey go head-to-head with former charge Kris Lindsay for the second time in five weeks, the Sky Blues edging it 3-2 at Warden Street.
As well as preparing his side, Jeffrey, like all managers, is also busy with the transfer window, although he admits he isn't a huge fan of it.
"The reality is our squad, because of its numbers, if we are going to bring in players, players have to go out, that's the situation we're in at the moment," he said.
"It's not a particularly good time of the year to do business, I'm not overly keen on it.
"It's useful if you are under pressure in a particular position but at other times it's not a good time to do business. I don't really like it, I'm not a fan of the window at this time of the year, I like it that you have it in the summer, you make your preparations, but a window now is disruptive."