Comrades gear up for tough month

Andy Simms has returned to Dixon Park after a spell with Larne
Andy Simms has returned to Dixon Park after a spell with Larne

BACK-to-back postponements against Killymoon Rangers and Knockbreda leave Ballyclare Comrades facing a massive backlog of Championship 2 fixtures.

In addition, matches against Armagh City, PSNI and Portstewart will also have to be fitted in along with 12 others before the end of April.

Ten of the remaining fixtures will be on the road, with only seven at Dixon Park. With all the leading teams involved, Eddie Hill’s lads face a daunting challenge in the second half of the season.

February’s programme could make or break the Reds’ season. Starting with a home game against Portstewart this weekend, Ballyclare then travel to Moyola Park and Annagh United, before entertaining Banbridge Town. Taking full points against these so-called lesser teams would really put the Comrades firmly in the promotion frame.

On the other hand, a couple of defeats would surely render the remaining fixtures almost meaningless.

Asked how many points he thinks would be required to clinch one of the two promotion spots on offer, Eddie said: “I have no total target in mind. I keep telling the players that we take it one game at a time, and I will always be going out seeking a win.

“That would have been the game plan against Knockbreda on Saturday, but unfortunately snow and then flooding resulted in the almost inevitable postponement.”

Regarding February fixtures, he said there are no weak opponents. “Banbridge and Annagh have recently appointed new managers, and have started to string together results, while Moyola and Portstewart have been our bogey teams in recent seasons.

“So February will be no easier than any other month. Fortunately, I now have a big squad, but having said that, every week several players are unavailable.

“For Saturday’s clash with Portstewart I already know that Simon McGowan will be out through suspension, and that Johnny McClurg will be unavailable, and I won’t be surprised if there is at least one other cry-off before I sit down to select a team.

“During the past week I have recruited Andy Simms who is returning to the fold after a few months with Larne. Last season Andy made the left-midfield position his own, but he knows he will face competition this season.

“When Andy became available I had no hesitation in snapping him up, and with midweek games looming in order to fulfil our programme, all our players will be needed.

“I can only select 11 players to start each game, so those on the fringes will be able to help out the Reserves who are on course to retain the Ballymena Junior League Division 1 title, so everyone will be kept match fit.

“In order to make sure we won’t be a little rusty following consecutive postponements, we had an extra training session on Saturday afternoon on a 3G surface, so I hope that the lads will be firing on all cylinders this weekend.

“Since our last outing four players have been recruited, so I appeal to all our fans to turn out to give the new look team much-appreciated vocal encouragement as we set out to climb up the table.”

Report by George Brown