Massive game for rivals at Windsor as Linfield and Ballymena United clash

Linfield manager David Healy
Linfield manager David Healy

It’s all to play for at the National Stadium at Windsor Park on Saturday as first takes on second in the Danske Bank Premiership.

League leaders Linfield - on a high after beating the Sky Blues 1-0 in the BetMcLean League Cup Final last weekend - face second placed United as both sides try to get the upper hand as the league title race hots-up.

The gap at present between the two is six points but United have a game in hand on their rivals so a positive result for the Sky Blues tomorrow afternoon will close the gap on David Healy’s Blues.

But Healy says he is taking it one game at a time - even though his side still have a treble in their sights.

“We are looking to beat Ballymena in the league. It’s an unfortunate cliché but we are not looking too ahead of ourselves yet.

“We won the final, we enjoyed it and we’ll assess it, then get together and make sure that we’re ready to go for another big game.

“Saturday is a massive game for us and with Crusaders obviously winning it brings them back into it.

“Us and Ballymena going head to head is going to bring somebody back in, whether we win or Ballymena win or if it’s a draw it’s going to open a door,” said Healy.

And the Linfield manager was pleased with the way his side dug in during last Saturday’s Final to get their hands on the League Cup as United bossed the second half of the encounter.

“We weren’t at our best but what we were was resilient, we showed a lot of character, we showed a lot of desire to put bodies on the line when we needed to and from 1 to 11 I thought the players gave me absolutely everything.

“In the second half especially we were bombarded by long throw-ins, long free-kicks, long balls into the box and the players stood up to it which was a credit to them professionally.

“I was very, very happy. Defensively, offensively and throughout the 90 minutes.

“People can make their own minds up who deserved to win. I’m sure people have differing opinions but we had the big moment in the game and we won.

“A lot of questions were asked defensively at the start of the season.

“Could we, would we and can we deal with different situations in a game and the players proved that they can put bodies on the line and make the correct decisions at the correct time,” he added.

And Ballymena manager David Jeffrey was proud of his players efforts in last weekend’s Final and hopes the Sky Blues take the hurt of that defeat into tomorrow’s encounter.

“This group are the most dedicated group of young men. They gave everything. They keep me going.

“We should have won the final, we didn’t. The stats will tell you that, but I’m proud. Very, very proud. It’s another step along the way on our journey.

“I’ve told the players to bank the emotion, bank how they feel, put it in the pit of your tummy and then let it come out when you need to.

“The final was going to be a mountain to climb but I really wanted a performance I could be proud of.

“You know how difficult I find defeat but I can tell you now that this was as hard a defeat to take as I’ve ever had.

“I am absolutely gutted that we didn’t win.

“I actually didn’t think we played as well as we could in the first half but in the second half we stepped up to the mark and we were absolutely excellent.

“My disappointment is managed by the fact that we played so fabulously well. We fought like absolute tigers.

“Our support was superb and I’ve got to thank them. They came out in massive numbers and it was tremendous to see the number of people there today, including the amount of families.

“We didn’t win the trophy but I am very proud. I can’t be anything else.”