Belfast Telegraph

We can hurt Ballymena's title hopes: Rodney McAree

Relishing it: Rodney McAree is a man on a mission
Relishing it: Rodney McAree is a man on a mission

By Graham Luney

Coleraine boss Rodney McAree wants to be the ultimate party pooper this Christmas.

Ballymena United set a new club record of 17 games unbeaten with a win over Ards last Saturday and David Jeffrey's side are four points clear at the top of the table, but Bannsiders boss McAree is hoping to burst their bubble this afternoon.

The former Dungannon Swifts chief will savour the atmosphere of his first north west festive derby at the Ballymena Showgrounds and it promises to be another test of the Braidmen's title-winning credentials.

Jeffrey may have rightly banned title talk in the Sky Blues dressing room, but many feel the surprise league leaders could finish top of the pile come May.

That's a big ask but, then again, who expected Leicester City to win the Premier League title in 2016?

The 'one game at a time' mentality is the right approach for United, and they can expect few favours from Coleraine today.

"It's a great occasion, the Boxing Day game is special and everyone talks to me about the Coleraine-Ballymena derby," said McAree. "I'm really looking forward to this one. Ballymena have done extremely well and are riding the crest of a wave. We will be going there hoping to spoil a little bit of their party."

Coleraine fans are certainly craving a Christmas bonus. Oran Kearney's departure to St Mirren rattled the ship, and McAree hasn't enjoyed an easy start.

The supporters didn't expect the club to be sixth by this stage but they will be hoping a victory over their bitter rivals could be the springboard to a better second half of the campaign.

The 2-1 victory at home to McAree's old club Dungannon Swifts was needed following the shocking 4-0 loss at Glenavon.

"There was no more pressure on me because it was the Swifts," added McAree. "After the Glenavon game we were all so disappointed with the performance that we wanted the next game to come around. It just so happened to be Dungannon, but we wanted to make a few changes in the team and work extremely hard.

"It was never going to be easy because they are fighting for their lives.

"You have to give our players credit as they dug deep, threw themselves in front of everything and made a great block to run out with all three points."

McAree was also delighted to see James McLaughlin back on the scoresheet at the weekend.

"Since working with James, I've been watching the most natural finisher I've seen," he added.

"You know if he gets a chance it's going to end up in the goal. He's worked hard on his fitness and I'm delighted he's scoring again."

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