Jeffrey under no illusions as pressure mounts at Windsor Park

Linfield's Mark McAllister and Ballymena United's Stephen McBride
Linfield's Mark McAllister and Ballymena United's Stephen McBride

Pressure lurks around every corner at Windsor Park – not that Linfield manager David Jeffrey needs reminding.

Saturday’s Irish Cup defeat to Ballymena United has cranked up the heat on the highly-decorated Blues boss.

It saw the South Belfast giants dumped out at the last-16 stage, while Ballymena march on to a quarter-final match-up with Dungannon Swifts.

It was the second defeat in a week for Linfield, following their Premiership jolt against title rivals Cliftonville seven days previous.

It is a graphic reminder of the powder keg atmosphere at Windsor, when the manager’s future comes under scrutiny with the team still challenging for two trophies.

They have a County Antrim Shield final with Crusaders to come next month, while they only trail Cliftonville by one point in the Premiership – and have a game in hand.

But even if the Blues lift the Shield on March 4, the general opinion is that Jeffrey’s future could hinge on whether the club reclaim the Gibson Cup following last season’s trophyless campaign.

Jeffrey has described the title as Linfield’s “bread and butter”, and insists the pressure on his tenure has not increased following their Irish Cup exit.

“The media will crank up the pressure,” he said.

“The fact we did six doubles in seven or eight years will add to that pressure.

“Last year we didn’t compete in anything. We were a major disappointment.

“This season we were put out of the League Cup on penalties in the semi-finals, we are in the final of the County Antrim Shield, and we are one point off the top of the table with a game in hand.

“If the last two performances were poor or below par, then you would see me ringing my hands.

“We have worked tirelessly to turn the team around, and we have worked hard and played well in the last two games. But individual errors have cost us dearly.”

Jeffrey insists he is under no illusions as far as his future is concerned at Linfield.

“I always put the pressure on myself, massively. Simply because I want to win and I am a winner – end of story,” he said.

“But in terms of outside of that, I never ask the question ‘if’?, it is only ever ‘when?’.

“I wait on the ‘when?’.

“The pressure remains the same. You need fortune in the cup, and they are the icing on the cake.

“But the league is the bread and butter at Linfield, and that is where you judge your season. It is nice having other trophies, but the pressure is no less or no greater at 5.20pm this evening, than it was before kick-off.”

Goals from Allan Jenkins and David Cushley earned Ballymena their win on Saturday.

Jenkins headed home Cushley’s corner in the 26th minute, only for Philip Lowry to equalise for the Blues before the break.

Cushley claimed the win with a superb finish in the 66th minute, the striker deftly guiding Darren Boyce’s cross past Jonny Tuffey.

Linfield could have snatched a replay late on but substitute Ivan Sproule’s shot was tipped onto the post by Aaron Shanahan.

“If the players don’t have belief after today, then they shouldn’t be in the game,” Ballymena boss Glenn Ferguson said.

“Nobody wants to play Linfield in the cup. When you are a senior team you don’t want to go to Windsor Park in the Irish Cup.

“But when the draw is made you have to prepare and believe you can win it. And we did that.

“Being in the cup keeps your season alive. We are trying to push for the top six as well, but it is always good to have the distraction of the cup as well.

“I keep saying to the players, cup football is so strange and you can win on any given day. When you get a decent draw, you have a chance of going all the way.

“We are happy of a home draw, and we have beaten Dungannon three times in the league this season.

“I am happy enough, but Dungannon had a great win against Coleraine today.

“So they will be up for it, but so will we.”