Ballymena United and Crusaders will go head to head at the Showgrounds in the Danske Bank Premiership on Saturday with both sides eager to get their hands on three points.
Last Saturday the Sky Blues were held to a draw by bottom club Dungannon Swifts, while Stephen Baxter’s Crues lost 1-0 to Coleraine.
Both sides had wins in the County Antrim Shield during the week but United manager David Jeffrey knows his side face a huge challenge against the defending league champions.
“In my opinion they are the best team in the league. Because they have the strongest squad in the league.
“They have two or three players for every position and they all can play to a very high level.
“They have also great character and belief in their squad as we saw by the way they bounced back against Cliftonville in the County Antrim Shield during the week after losing to Coleraine in the league last weekend.
“They will come here as defending champions looking to close the gap on Linfield and Glenavon.
“This is going to be a very tough test for us and it will be another test for my young team,” said Jeffrey.
And the United manager believes injuries are starting to mount-up at the Showgrounds.
“We have a few players missing and Ryan Mayse is out after injuring himself against Ballyclare Comrades during the week. He is out of contention.
“But we will give of our best and see what we can get from the game but we are under no illusions. This is going to be very tough.”
And Crusaders boss Baxter knows that his side will have to perform if they want to come away from the Showgrounds with the three points.
“It’s always a big test at Ballymena. They beat us in both games up there the year before last. But we have good memories from winning the title up there in the final day of the campaign last season.
“David Jeffrey has really crafted a new team up there – he has good players, strong in their positions.
“He is a master tactician, so we always expect a tough game.
“We’ll go up and give it our best to see where it takes us.”
And Baxter was thrilled with Jamie Glackin’s performance against Cliftonville during the week and is sure there is more to come from the player.
“Jamie is a wonderful talent. He just needs to bring it to the party on a consistent basis.
“He knows my feelings. When he is on song, there is no one who can touch him.
“He showed great composure for his goal, that turned out to be the winner in midweek.
“Jamie is a really good footballer. He has desire, hunger and commitment and he showed those in abundance the other night.”
Although the Crues were depleted by injury against the Reds, Baxter hailed the lads who were drafted in. He added: “It was a great team effort. Michael Carvill was superb, as was Paul Heatley. I thought Declan Caddell and Philip Lowry were outstanding in the first hour.
“We had Rodney Brown playing at centre-back – he’s normally a left back.
“He was class at the back, along with Howard Beverland.
“So, even though we were missing quite a few, we were please with a number of things. The boys showed a lot of character.”