Belfast Telegraph

Jeffrey calls on Ballymena United to stand up and face down Linfield

Ballymena v Linfield, Danske Bank Premiership: Showgrounds, Tuesday, 7.45pm

Old foes: David Jeffrey (pictured) looking for revenge after Linfield’s Joel Cooper scored against Ballymena earlier this season
Old foes: David Jeffrey (pictured) looking for revenge after Linfield’s Joel Cooper scored against Ballymena earlier this season
Joel Cooper

By Billy Weir

For the Ballymena United faithful, the visit of Linfield on Tuesday opens up old wounds that are far too fresh for their liking.

The Sky Blues pushed the Blues all the way in the race for last season's title, David Healy's men eventually lifting the Gibson Cup with seven points to spare.

They won three of the four league encounters between the sides and also won the BetMcLean League Cup with a 1-0 victory over the Braidmen in the Windsor Park decider.

And, if that wasn't enough salt in those wounds, they also prevailed in the semi-final of the Toal's Co Antrim Shield.

This season the run of single goal victories continued, with a Joel Cooper-inspired display earning Linfield the three points in south Belfast.

Ravaged by injury, the Sky Blues have failed to pick up three points since their defeat of Cliftonville back in September, but the Blues haven't been firing on all cylinders just yet either, sitting in fourth spot and losing last time out against Glenavon.

This is one of the champions' games in hand over the top three and Jeffrey was in the perfect place to run his eye over them on Friday night as an analyst on BBC NI's coverage of the game.

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"David (Healy) will be looking for a response from his players after their defeat at Glenavon, but regardless of that we know how tough it is," he reflected.

"Linfield are an absolutely quality team, they have so many good players.

"The league champions are coming here and they have strengthened from last year and they are a very, very good side, so we're going to have our work cut out for us.

"They have lots of talent, lots of ability, and the simple fact is if they take any one of their three chances in the first 15/20 minutes (against Glenavon) then it's a totally different game.

"That's why, when I was working at the game, I said you need all sorts of aspects in a game to sometimes get a victory, and you always need a wee bit of fortune, and on the night Glenavon got good fortune with Linfield missing chances.

"They got good fortune with the goal they scored but, in saying that, they played fantastically well and worked their socks off, but Linfield will come here very much wanting to get three points.

"For ourselves, we have got to stand up and be counted and give it a real crack."

United are gradually getting some players back from injury but there is no return in sight for key men such as Cathair Friel (collarbone) and Leroy Millar (metatarsal), while Jude Winchester is also a major doubt with a groin problem.

The likes of James Knowles, Reece Glendinning and Tony Kane are being eased back gently, while Adam Lecky's return to the frontline couldn't have come at a better time for Jeffrey.

"The reality is that whether it was this year at Windsor Park or last year they were always very close, but I am total realist and that while they were very close, we couldn't get the better of Linfield and that was down to simply the superior quality they have within their ranks," he added.

"We talk about thin lines and fine margins, and we're talking about one chance being taken or one tackle being made, so we know how good a team they are.

"I empathised with Gary (Hamilton) on Friday night because when we're doing well we need our best players to be playing at their best, and you need them available."

Fixtures to come

Tuesday: Ballymena United v Linfield, Glenavon v Institute (7.45pm) Saturday (3pm unless stated: Institute v Coleraine (1pm), Carrick Rangers v Glenavon, Cliftonville v Glentoran, Dungannon Swifts v Crusaders, Linfield v Larne, Warrenpoint Town v Ballymena United

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