Ballymena boss Glenn Ferguson relishing Irish Cup acid test at Solitude

Marty Donnelly and Stevie McBride clash during last month's League Cup final
Marty Donnelly and Stevie McBride clash during last month's League Cup final

This time last season Ballymena United were facing up to the mammoth task of playing Linfield in the sixth round of the Irish Cup.

It was a seismic challenge for the Sky Blues at Windsor Park, one that many pundits labelled as mission impossible for the Braidmen.

But as history will reveal, Ballymena went on to claim a massive 2-1 victory over the Belfast giants courtesy of goals from Allan Jenkins and David Cushley.

Glenn Ferguson’s side went all the way to the final last year, only to be denied by Glenavon in the showpiece.

Determined boss Ferguson would love to go one better this term, but the sixth round draw has once again thrown up a daunting proposition for Ballymena.

On Saturday they will head to Solitude to face Premiership champions Cliftonville.

It is a draw Ferguson would have preferred to avoid at this juncture, but the former striker insists he is relishing another cup acid test.

“There are certainly easier games in the draw, but you have to beat the top teams at some stage,” he said.

“We drew Linfield at the same stage last season and nobody gave us a chance in hell.

“But we got the win at Windsor and almost got our hands on the cup at the end of the season.

“We know Saturday will be tough, but we know we are more than capable of getting a result and progressing to the quarter-finals.”

Ballymena endured the ignominy of a 7-0 thrashing the last time they travelled to Solitude in the Premiership.

It was an embarrassing malaise for Ferguson and his players in North Belfast.

They can draw some confidence, however, from last month’s League Cup final against the Reds, narrowly losing out in a 3-2 thriller.

“The players should take confidence from that final. We conceded a couple of poor goals which was disappointing, but we showed fight,” Ferguson added.

“On another day we would have won the trophy, but we didn’t and we have to learn from those mistakes.

“Cliftonville are a quality side so it will always be difficult going to Solitude. They are fourth in the table and have won two trophies already, yet people say they are in crisis.

“I also see they are targeting the Irish Cup as they feel they are out of the title race. Maybe that’s true, but I am sure they are still hoping to bounce back in the league.”

Meanwhile, new signing Tim Allen could make his debut in Saturday’s cup clash.

The goalkeeper signed this week and is eligible to play in the sixth round tie.

“Tim came highly recommended and he is a positive addition to the squad,” Ferguson said.

“It is no secret that we have been conceding too many goals this season, so the competition Tim will add can only benefit the team.

“We will look at every option before Saturday’s game. But we would have no fear throwing Tim into Saturday’s game if we need to.

“Hopefully we have a nearly fully fit squad to choose from. The only lads missing are the ones who are out long-term with injury.”