Colin Coates insists Crusaders are under no illusions as they prepare for tonight’s NIFL League Cup semi-final showdown with Ballymena United.
The Crues to into the crunch clash on the back of a 23-game unbeaten run in all competitions.
Skipper Coates doesn’t need any reminding of their last defeat, however, as it came against tonight’s opponents way back on August 17.
Ballymena claimed a 2-1 Premiership win at Seaview that day, and will be determined to repeat the dose at the same Shore Road venue tonight.
But with another glamour showpiece final to fight for, Coates insists Crusaders are ready for the battle.
“We are under no illusions. We know this will be a very tough game,” he said.
“We know Ballymena have quality in their ranks, and they are in some decent form at the minute. They won a few in a row before losing to Portadown, but then they drew with Glenavon at the weekend.
“They have tightened up at the back, so we know it is going to be a tough night for us.”
Crusaders are targeting their third successive League Cup final.
Stephen Baxter’s side lifted the trophy in 2012 after defeating Coleraine, but last year they were outgunned by derby rivals Cliftonville 4-0.
Coates is hoping they can return to the winners’ enclosure this season.
“There is a cup final there and we want to reach it,” he said.
“We have some good memories of the final, and we also have some bad ones. Hopefully we can reach another final and try and win it.
“Last season was bitterly disappointing, but it has given us an extra incentive to try and put things right.
“But our focus is firmly on Tuesday night and trying to get past Ballymena United. They will be hungry to progress themselves.”
Coates is hoping to recover from a back strain to start tonight’s semi-final tie.
He played through the pain barrier in Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Glentoran – a result that saw Crusaders knocked off the top spot in the Premiership.
“We look at it as being two points dropped, but Glentoran are a good team so we can’t complain too much,” he added.
“There is a long way to go with a lot of big games, so it should be tight.”