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Heavyweights square up in big battle of the blues

I have found my feet and starting to show top quality: Knowles

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It’s a knockout: Ballymena United ace James Knowles and Linfield skipper Jamie Mulgrew hope to get their hands on the BetMcLean League Cup tonight

It’s a knockout: Ballymena United ace James Knowles and Linfield skipper Jamie Mulgrew hope to get their hands on the BetMcLean League Cup tonight

Matt Mackey/Presseye

It’s a knockout: Ballymena United ace James Knowles and Linfield skipper Jamie Mulgrew hope to get their hands on the BetMcLean League Cup tonight

James Knowles has admitted fans are finally seeing the best of him under the guidance of his manager, David Jeffrey.

The former Blackburn youngster is blossoming in the Sky Blues midfield alongside Leroy Millar and Jude Winchester.

The 25-year-old was a teenager when Jeffrey brought him to Linfield but he found it hard to thrive in the Windsor Park environment.

His confidence has reached a new level on Warden Street where United are aiming to keep the pressure on Linfield in the title race.

The two Premiership heavyweights will wrestle for the BetMcLean League Cup at Windsor Park tonight and Knowles is quietly confident his men can rise to the occasion.

"David signed me at Linfield and maybe I was too young, aged 19 and struggling for consistency in my game," said the former Cliftonville and Glentoran midfielder. "Over the last four or five years I have worked on that and gradually now people are seeing the form I want to produce week in, week out.

"I'm enjoying my football and we are winning games which helps. I'm loving it at the minute and long may it continue.

"Leroy and Jude are playing as a three with myself keeping the balance in there and they are two guys who like to go forward more, giving us an attacking threat. I can do a bit more dirty, unselfish work to allow them to express themselves which they have done, they have been unbelievable this year."

Knowles admitted his side will need to hit top gear to roll over the Blues on their own turf.

"It will be very tough," he added. "Linfield are a strong side with great attacking players. We know we will be underdogs but on our day we can beat anyone. It will take hard work. Hard work has got us here and it will need to continue."

United striker Adam Lecky has stood tall for his side this season and he's relishing the chance to make a big impact this evening.

"The experience Davy and Bryan (McLoughlin) have shows you they are natural winners and I was thinking it would take us a year to settle because of the turnover of players," said Lecky.

"It's been a good surprise to see us challenge for trophies. I'm loving every minute of it. I knew we had a good squad but it's hard to gauge what would happen. We've surprised a few other teams and long may it continue.

"This time last year I was doing a bit of pre-season with a club in Melbourne but I had no intentions of coming home at that stage. I was best man for a mate's wedding and then had the chance to speak with David and Bryan. Within a few hours I had signed a contract and was coming home. It was a big decision at the time and from a football perspective it has been 100% the right decision.

"If we turn up on the day and we click, we can turn anyone over. We are buzzing and it would be absolutely massive for the club."

Belfast Telegraph