Sky Blues face yet another tough Ards test
Doom and gloom merchants around the Braid would tell you that Ballymena United have been having a shaky start to the season, but whisper that quietly around top scorer Cathair Friel.
Despite the team's apparent struggles, Friel notched up his 12th goal of the campaign in last week's win over Ballinamallard United that took the Sky Blues to within a point of a cherished top six spot.
Throw in a Co Antrim Shield final against Crusaders to come on their home patch in the New Year and a meeting next week with Cliftonville, again at Warden Street, to reach the BetMcLean League Cup Final, and things are perhaps not just as bad as some would have you believe.
On a personal level, Friel, who had a magnificent first season at the club following his step up from Limavady United, admits that, while the goals have kept coming, his success has made him more of a marked man.
"Last year I didn't think I would do half as well but I seem to be doing alright," he said modestly.
"I am definitely finding it tougher. As Davy (Jeffrey) says, 'they know you now, the way you play', and it's definitely tougher but I'm enjoying it."
Today, weather permitting, it is yet another clash with Ards, the sides' fourth of the season so far, with United winning the previous three, and points are vital as they close in on the top six.
"We're a point behind the Glens now and with Dungannon losing that pushes us away from them, so we're sitting in seventh and we can push on now and get ahead of the Glens," added Friel.
"We've been hit badly by injuries, we just haven't had the luck, I think we have 10 players out at the minute and it's hard to get a full team out but I think we'll pull through okay.
"Top six is an absolute minimum for us. You'd probably have taken top six plus a cup final and hopefully we can beat Cliftonville and get to another one.
"We've played Ards three or four times now before Christmas and we beat them 3-0 last time but it wasn't as easy as it sounds as they're a hard team to play against, but hopefully we've got the beating of them.
"But they beat Linfield up at Windsor so you don't really know what to expect from them."
Manager David Jeffrey is also taking nothing for granted from his side's apparent superiority over their hosts.
"On the three occasions we have played, although we have come out as victors, not one of them was an easy game and Ballymena don't do things easily," he said.
"All I've got to remember is go back to this time last year and we got walloped, and I mean walloped. Ards spanked us, they battered us. We have a big week in terms of Ards and then Cliftonville. Ards will be tough".