Ballinamallard manager Harry McConkey believes Saturday’s Ferney Park clash with local rivals Dergview is the perfect fixture for his team as they continue their push for promotion from the Championship. The Mallards have taken 15 points from a possible 18 and closed the gap to the leaders to two points with Saturday’s victory over Newry City, and the boss reckons the challenge of a local derby is the ideal way to keep the players at the top of their game.

“It’s a perfect game for us because we are very conscious that in no way can we ever be complacent against our derby rivals,” he said.

“I have no doubt that the lads have had enough slaps from them and they do not want to have another one. The bottom line is that Dergview want to do everything they can to beat us and last year in this fixture they tore us apart in a 20 minute spell. When we went down to play them this year I thought we played very well but they beat us 2-0. No matter where Dergview are in the table it is always a very difficult fixture for us and we are going to have to be so focused on what we set out to do. We played well against them on their own patch on Boxing Day and we have played well against them on other occasions. It’s not a case of them being a bogey team but we always know we will have a tough game against them. It cuts out any danger of complacency. The players have seen it and felt it and they know that they have to give their very best. That is something they have been doing of late and I’m pleased with that.”

With both Loughgall and Portadown dropping points last Saturday, Ballinamallard reduced the gap to the top with an impressive victory over an in-form Newry team that had claimed the Premier League scalp of Glenavon in the League Cup during the week.

“We knew that Newry were on a real good climb,” said McConkey. “I had watched them in person on Wednesday night and I had a video sent to me and I got a feel of what they were about. One of the scouting reports given to me said that if anyone finished above Newry they would win the league, and I stressed to the players that we would make a strong statement if we could get the win, and that was there for all to see.

“It was quite clear that they were in a good place but I felt they could be vulnerable as well. They are so used to being on the front foot and used to scoring so many goals, and we thought if we could counter that early on in the game we could cause them problems, and that is exactly what we did with two great goals early on.

“While they came back, we stood strong and in the second half came out in a very positive manner. Yes we had to defend, but we were looking very dangerous on the counter attack and Rocket’s third goal was just what we deserved from the game. Even the Newry lads were saying we truly deserved it. They were very complimentary to us after the match and that was pleasing.”

The manager was especially pleased to have taken the win at the end of a week that saw the passing of former club committee member Bertie Elliott.

“In my pre match talk at The Armagh City Hotel I gave a tribute to a true gentleman friend and wonderful servant of Ballinamallard Utd FC, Bertie Elliott,” revealed Harry. “The players, staff and myself just hope we gave a little lift to the family in their time of great loss. They, better than anyone, will know Bertie would have approved of that performance and loved those three points.”

Dwayne McManus has established himself as a regular starter this season, but he suffered another injury on Saturday that will rule him out of the match against Dergview. Despite his absence the manager has expressed his delight at the quality of the squad that he has assembled for this campaign.

“I believe the depth of quality in the squad will be a vital element for teams who have ambition this season,” he said. “When the excellent Dwayne McManus got injured on Saturday I turned to look at my bench and saw John Currie and Sean McEvoy both biting at the bit to enter the fray. I knew we were in a much better place than this time last year, and wee John went on and was superb.

“Dwayne was exceptional for us on Saturday and we will miss him because he has strained a hamstring. While we hope it’s not too serious this week will be too early to take any risks with it. Aaron Arkinson will miss this one as well as he is a couple of weeks away with a knee problem, and Lee Frazer is a long term absence with a shoulder injury. Other than that we should have a clean bill of health. John Edgar who has been scoring and in great form was unavailable last week due to a family commitment but will be available for this Saturday. Alex Holder has returned to playing and is looking really good in our U20s as we build up his game time as part of his rehabilitation,” he concluded.