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Soper prepared for challenging derby as Bann face Braidmen

 

By Michael Sadlier

The league's occasional forays into Friday night games continue this evening when Ballymena and Banbridge come together at Eaton Park (kick-off 7.30).

And though the game directly clashes with Ulster's interprovincial with Connacht, the clubs are still going ahead with their own derby clash which will end their first four-game segment as the AIL breaks for the forthcoming European weekends.

Both sides arrive at tonight's meeting from markedly differing backdrops.

While hosts Ballymena have lost their last two games to find themselves in eighth spot in the table, newly promoted Banbridge are up in third and are unbeaten after two wins and a draw.

Not that Bann coach Dan Soper reckons that the form shown by both sides is of much consequence going into tonight's clash and the Kiwi reckons that the Braidmen will be well up for the game.

"Ballymena are a big physical side so it's going to be tough," said Soper.

"It's a chance for our guys to test themselves against a very good Ballymena pack," he added.

Bann have Ulster squad member Rob Lyttle available but Nick Timoney misses out due to an ankle injury.

"Our target for the first block of four games was 12 points, we've got that with another game to go so in that regard we have exceeded our expectations but we want to keep improving," he said.

"We have proved to ourselves in the first three games that we are capable of playing at this level," added Soper.

Ballymena coach Andy Graham has Clive Ross, Dave Shanahan, Brett Heron and Ross Kane, who is on the bench, all released from Ulster while Callum Patterson also starts in a strong-looking selection.

The Braidmen are under pressure to get back on track and the emphasis is on keeping their discipline after a spate of yellow cards in recent games.

"We could do with bouncing back after the last two weeks," said Graham.

"We have had three games and six yellow cards and we have to cut that out because it is killing us," he warned.

"We need to get ourselves functioning properly and working hard."

Fourth-placed Ballynahinch are chasing a third straight win when UL Bohemians, who are two places below them, visit Ballymacarn Park tomorrow.

Jonny 'Mo' Simpson returns after injury and Johnny McPhillips will again be at out-half for Brian McLaughlin's in-form squad.

Div 1B: Tonight (7.30): Ballymena v Banbridge, Old Belvo v Old Wesley; Tomorrow (2.30): Hinch v Bohs, Naas v UCC, Shannon v Dolphin

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