Comrades gear up to face top two

Ballyclare manager Eddie Hill. Photo: Presseye
Ballyclare manager Eddie Hill. Photo: Presseye

BALLYCLARE Comrades face a challenging programme this weekend when they clash with their two main promotion rivals, Knockbreda and Armagh City.

"These are the big games that every player wants to be involved in," said manager Eddie Hill, "but I will be emphasising that we must focus fully on travelling to Knockbreda on Saturday, and only then will we turn our attention to Tuesday evening's home battle with Armagh.

"Knockbreda have been sitting at the top of the table all season, but we beat them at Dixon Park away back in September. That was a real battle with Adam Gray netting the winner with almost the last kick of the game, so this one shouldn't be any different.

"Since then we have strengthened our team significantly, but I suppose they have too, and we won't forget that they gave this year’s Irish Cup finalists, Glentoran, a run for their money in an earlier round.

"We have four doubts: Gary Brown had to come off at half time following a robust Queen's tackle; Evan Forsythe had a groin problem plus a broken nose from a clash with Paddy Flood in the Banbridge game; Simon McGowan has been out with an ankle injury, and on Saturday Ricky Higgins limped out with a hamstring problem.

"Coaches Gary Bell and Stuart McClean do a marvellous job at training on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so they will monitor the lads.

"We had to battle all the way to secure the points against Queen's, but the change in the weather was a significant factor.

"Conditions worsened in the second half when it started to rain, and backed by a near gale force wind, it was sweeping down the pitch in our faces.

"Thankfully the lads produced the fighting spirit that has been evident throughout the season, and we held on to get the three points.

"The wind was so strong that Paddy Flood did well if he hit the goal kicks more than 25 yards, and sometimes high balls out of defence curled back towards our goal. Conditions were horrendous.

"Chris Shimmon continues to perform, and when he blasted us into a two-goal lead in the first 10 minutes or so I thought that we might have an easy win, but in the end we were glad to hear the final whistle," he said.

Shimmon has been a revelation since coming to Ballyclare. Ironically, his last game for Bangor was at Dixon Park, when he was taken off at half time in an Irish Cup tie.

His prolific scoring feats have endeared him to the fans, and with six doubles since January he is now hot favourite to land the Top Scorer's award with 15 goals, but is being tracked by Johnny McClurg who is on 11. The Player of the Year trophy will also be on his radar.

For the Knockbreda match Comrades are likely to select from: Flood, Monteith, Doyle, Getty, Buckley, Forsythe, Reid, Brown, McClurg, McAlea, McGowan, McAvoy, Gray, Simms, Shimmon, Higgins, Wilkinson.