Our 2019/20 club profile series takes us north to Ballymena United. Having made a mark in Europe the sky blues are prepared for a challenge to rectify a season of near misses in their return to domestic football.
|Dungannon Swifts||Saturday August 10th||Away|
|Linfield||Tuesday August 13th||Home|
|Larne||Saturday August 17th||Away|
|Glentoran||Saturday August 24th||Home|
|Carrick Rangers||Saturday August 31st||Away|
|Warrenpoint Town||Saturday September 7th||Home|
Last season proved a case of so near yet so far for the Braidmen. Runners up in both the League and League Cup, manager David Jeffrey will be out to secure the club’s first trophy since 2016/17. Ballymena scored an unmatched 83 league goals in the previous campaign, while their defensive record was bettered only be eventual champions Linfield. Ballymena, a mature side that mounted a 19-game unbeaten run between October and December, will be eager to ensure silverware is delivered this season.
Compared to the pre-season of 2017/18, Ballymena’s Summer activity has been a tranquil affair. The single singing of Ross Lavery from Cliftonville is a stark contrast to Jeffrey’s activity last Summer- the club announced six new signings by the end of May 2018. With the club’s European exploits set conclude following their upcoming second-leg tie with Malmo, watch this space.
Rivalled only by Stephen Baxter as the best manager in the Irish League, Jeffrey enters this season with significant pedigree. “The Special One” of the Irish League took three seasons to secure his first championship at Linfield, the same stage of his career at Ballymena. The revitalised manager will be desperate to secure major honours and take the Gibson Cup out of Belfast for the first time since the 2001/02 season.
Significant progress has been made from each club in the top half of last season’s NIFL. Crusaders look set to provide a more sustained challenge for the country’s main prize while the addition of Larne to the League adds an extra dimension to this season’s campaign. Ballymena were head and shoulders ahead of the chasing pack last time out while still falling someway short of champions Linfield. It will be a significant challenge for Ballymena to close the gap while fending off significant competition from below. A strong top half finish and sustained challenges for the cup competitions on offer appears to be on the cards for Ballymena this season.
After a strong second-place finish last season, Ballymena are a huge 7/1 to lift the Gibson Cup this season. If they are to get that far, they will rely on another good season from Cathier Friel – he’s 20/1 to be this year’s top goalscorer. All odds are available in store or via our dial-a-bet service.
Check out all of our Irish League odds here, and join us again tomorrow for the next in our club profile series: Crusaders. Catch-up with our previous club profiles here: Warrenpoint Town, Institute, Carrick Rangers, Dungannon Swifts, Glenavon, Glentoran, Larne.