United boss seeking ‘derby’ payback

ROY Walker last night backed his Ballymena United players to right the biggest wrong of a rollercoaster season so far.

The thought of the 5-1 home defeat by bitter rivals Coleraine last month still gives Sky Blues supporters sleepless nights.

Now, as the sides prepare for the return fixture at the Ballycastle Road Showgrounds this Saturday (3pm), Walker insists that his players will do their utmost to exorcise the bitter memories of that crushing defeat.

“I told the boys to enjoy the win over Distillery at the weekend but I want their minds to go immediately to the Coleraine game,” said Walker.

“We need to set the record straight for ourselves because it was an abject performance the last time we played them.

“I could sum up our players by saying that the bulk of them are honest and that result did hurt them.

“I think the deficiency in the characteristic of a player who doesn’t live in the town is that they don’t understand how big this game is for the locals.

“I didn’t understand it myself, even though I had commentated on the fixture in the past but it was only when I came here that I realised how big it is for people - it’s a proper derby game.

“Players can be indifferent who don’t realise how big the game is so this week we’re going to impress upon them the importance of the game.

“I will be telling them, if you can put into yourself what it means to a fan, if it means that to you as player then you give yourself a chance.

“If we win, we will go above Coleraine in the table – what bigger incentive could there be?” added Walker.

The manager will yet again be forced to reshuffle his defensive line-up with centre-back Davy Munster serving a suspension following his red card in the weekend victory over Distillery.

“We will miss Davy because he’s the best leader and communicator we have in there. It has been no coincidence that our better defensive performances recently have come when Davy has got fit and in the team.

“He certainly misses this week and he’ll probably get two more games if his red card is deemed to be for violent conduct.”

Staying on the theme of central defenders, Walker hopes to have Liam Watson fit again after a hamstring strain, but Denver Gage faces a further spell on the sidelines.

“Denver has been struggling for three or four weeks. People don’t always know the reason why players aren’t in the squad or team. It turns out in Denver’s case it’s not a hernia as first thought but he’s going to be out for three or four more weeks.”

Walker is optimistic that a knock on the foot which forced top scorer Gary McCutcheon’s early withdrawal on Saturday is not serious, while the manager is delighted with the continued revival of winger Eamonn Murray, who made a blistering cameo appearance from the bench on Saturday.

“Eamonn has made more training sessions in the past three weeks than he did in the previous 10 and that has made a difference. He has pace, skill and fast feet – all great attributes in the Irish League,” added Walker.

Seven Towers Supporters’ Club transport to Saturday’s match leaves Henry Street car park at 2pm following a meeting at 1.30pm when the club’s Joker promotion will be drawn.