Linfield chief David Healy says his charges are ready for the challenge when they go to Ballymena United on Friday night in front of the cameras for a game being screened live on BBC TV.
United are top of the table with a healthy gap of nine points between them and the home side and head into the clash putting the County Antrim Shield defeat against Crusaders behind them with back-to-back victories — one of which was a 5-0 hammering of Dungannon Swifts.
And Healy said: “It’s a big game. Ballymena have had a phenomenal season under a manager who is known for success in the league so we’ll go down there and we’re under no illusions as to how big a game it will be but we’ll look forward to the challenge.”
Ballymena boss David Jeffrey says he has his eye on helping his outfit to qualify for Europe with the visitors so clearly in the ascendency as far as league positions go. He explained: “I’ve said consistently all year that this was about getting into the top six and having a crack at Europe, that was our target.
“Obviously it’s nice to be up there and in the mix but our aim at the beginning of the season was top six and to try crack Europe, that’s what we are focusing on, and our focus has not changed in any way, shape or form.”
And he very much knows just what his side will be up against when the two sides go head to head, adding: “Against Dungannon they were mightily impressive, very good, very fluid, scored some great goals and Andrew Waterworth (who scored four goals in the game) is a finisher supreme.
“They’re an excellent side but I’ve known that all year. It’s ironic when I hear some of their players saying that they maybe haven’t been playing as well but my goodness gracious me they’ve kept those results going. So as for us, really the opposition is secondary, this is about us going out and giving our best and ‘can we get ourselves into Europe?’ That’s what we’re about and nothing more and if you stay focused on your goals then that’s the best thing to do. Others may like to dream, I live in the real world.”
Meanwhile, relegation rivals Newry and Ards also meet on Friday and the hosts’ boss Darren Mullen admitted: “We’re in a precarious position, we know it’s going to be difficult but we’re playing teams in and around us now, there’s no one else from the top six now so if we can’t beat the teams around us then we won’t deserve to stay in this division.
“We know what we need to do and starting with Ards we need to start picking up points and that’s just what we’ll focus on. It’s a game that we can’t get beaten in. If we get beaten it’s not looking too good for us at all but I have every faith that we can lift ourselves.”