IRISH LEAGUE: New Ballymena boss David Jeffrey calls on players to ‘stand up and be counted’ against Crusaders

David Jeffrey is relishing his return to the Irish League

David Jeffrey is relishing his return to the Irish League

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New Ballymena United boss David Jeffrey has urged his players to “stand up and be counted” at Seaview on Saturday.

Jeffrey’s first game at the Ballymena helm is a testing trip to the home of champions Crusaders.

The Crues sit seven points clear at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership – and can boast a game in hand over their nearest rivals.

Stephen Baxter’s side will be looking to maintain their title surge with their 21st league win of the season, while Jeffrey is determined to halt Ballymena’s recent slump.

The Sky Blues have lost their last five fixtures, edging them closer to the relegation places at the bottom of the table.

“We’re in this game to stand up and be counted and that’s what I’ll be asking of my players,” Jeffrey said.

“I’ll ask them to give of their very best and see where their best takes us.”

Jeffrey admits he is relishing his return to the dugout, some 23 months after calling time on a glorious 17-year reign at Linfield.

“I’m looking forward to it,” added the 53-year-old, who won 31 trophies during his time at Windsor Park.

“Once I made my mind up to return to management and accept the Ballymena post, I was 100 per cent committed to the challenges ahead.

“Crusaders is the first test and I’m under no illusions how tough it will be. I’ve covered them a number of times this season for Radio Ulster and there’s no doubt they have the most complete squad in the league. They are very impressive.

“They play really good football and are champions for a reason. I know them inside out and I also know Stephen Baxter very well. It’s going to be a ginormous game, but it’s one my players should look forward to.”

While Ballymena’s long-term ambition is to become a top-six force in the Premiership, Jeffrey admits the club’s primary focus is arresting their sudden Premiership slide.

“We have to be realistic with where we are at this moment in time,” he said.

“Sometimes, you can become consumed by the situation and a poor run of results, but it’s our job to turn things around and start registering points and wins again.”

Meanwhile, Linfield will look to stay on the coat tails of Crusaders by claiming victory over Glentoran at Windsor Park.

David Healy’s Blues sit second in the table, seven points behind the champions.

“We certainly haven’t given up hope of catching Crusaders,” Healy said.

“We will keep fighting and battling for every point, and if they slip-up then we have to be ready to pounce.”

Elsewhere, Cliftonville travel to Dungannon Swifts looking to keep their European hopes alive.

Gerard Lyttle’s side are three points adrift of Linfield as the race for an automatic qualification spot gathers pace.

Meanwhile, interim Portadown boss Pat McGibbon is hoping to give the club’s fans something to cheer when his side entertains Coleraine at Shamrock Park.

Legendary boss Ronnie McFall stepped down seven days ago following 29 years at the helm.

“We want a performance from the players that the fans can be proud of,” McGibbon said.

Also on Saturday Carrick Rangers play Ballinamallard United at Solitude, while Glenavon travel to basement club Warrenpoint Town.