Belfast Telegraph

I'm aware of how dangerous Newry can be, says Ballymena's Jeffrey

 

Shouting the odds: David Jeffrey isn’t taking Newry lightly
Shouting the odds: David Jeffrey isn’t taking Newry lightly

By Billy Weir

It may have the look on paper of a 'home banker' but Ballymena United manager David Jeffrey will have his troops on red alert for the visit of Newry City this afternoon.

United currently hold a two-point lead over Linfield at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership table and are on an incredible 18-match unbeaten run, so the visit of the struggling Mournemen shouldn't hold much fear.

Whisper that quietly though around the Warden Street corridors as the Sky Blues had one of their toughest tests of the season against Darren Mullen's men, a hard-fought 2-1 win at the border club.

"It's a big game and very simply when we went down to Newry they will feel aggrieved that they didn't get a draw or even possibly a win," admitted Jeffrey.

"They played tremendously well that night and we know how tough it is going to be.

"We will probably look to freshen things up in terms of what we have but Newry will be a very tough game."

And those are coming thick and fast for the surprise table-toppers, who played out a pulsating six-goal thriller with derby foes Coleraine to grab a share of the spoils on Boxing Day.

"It's very hard when you play against 10 men and I thought we played tremendously well because we created chance after chance after chance," commented Jeffrey on that clash.

"The salient point of all this was that Chris Johns was remarkable."

Their last-gasp equaliser came from Johnny McMurray, a player who has been attracting considerable interest after being made available to other clubs after stalling on new deal talks at Ballymena, but Jeffrey once again stressed he would love to keep hold of the big striker.

"His attitude has been impeccable, his commitment has been first class and it has been hard for him not starting," he explained. "Part of that is down to Cathair Friel and Adam Lecky and the form they have displayed and part of it is to just try and protect Jonathan.

"We will be making every effort to keep Jonathan, if he goes we'll be bitterly disappointed but it is not in any way, shape or form Ballymena showing him the door, we'd much prefer to have the door closed shut.

"This is a team that is in another League Cup Final, it's in the semi-final of the Co Antrim Shield and it is the team that is, for this week, the best team in the league.

"We know the strength of Crusaders and the strength of Linfield and Glenavon, Cliftonville and Coleraine, so we're well aware of all of that, but our club are just quietly going about their business, players are very focused and giving their best."

A third game in seven days, and with a trip to champions Crusaders on New Year's Day to come, it is a tough ask for part-time players, so Jeffrey has made sure that they have been given ample down-time.

"We trusted them over the holiday period, where this is a time you spend with your family and there are things you have to do, we said make sure you take care of yourself, look after yourselves and I think it's important that we recognise that they need time.

"Other clubs were in on Christmas Eve but we chose to let our players do their own individual preparation under the watchword 'ownership' and I thought they were magnificent (against Coleraine)."

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