The top two in the Danske Bank Premiership go head-to-head on Tuesday night when Ballymena United entertain Linfield in the outstanding Toals Co Antrim Senior Shield semi-final.
Awaiting the winner are Crusaders, who recently helped topple Ballymena off the top of the table and send Linfield to the summit after winning 3-2 against David Jeffrey’s side.
That loss at The Oval ended a 19-run unbeaten run for Ballymena in all competitions and Linfield captain Jamie Mulgrew knows a huge challenge awaits his side.
“I have not been surprised at all by Ballymena’s impressive form,” he said.
“A lot of people looking in from the outside maybe have been, but it certainly hasn’t come as a shock to me.
“I had a conversation with David early in the season and he explained that they had changed their transfer policy.
“They have hungry, young players who want to prove a point, and that is working wonders for them.
“It is very difficult to find any weaknesses in their squad. They are conceding less goals and are scoring plenty - you don’t go unbeaten for as long as they did if you have weaknesses.”
However, Mulgrew is confident of reaching the final, but admits they will have to perform better than they did in Saturday’s 1-0 Irish Cup fifth round win over Championship side Ballyclare Comrades.
“The two matches between Linfield and Ballymena have been real nip and tuck affairs, with both sides no doubt feeling they could have won both games,” he continued.
“Ballymena have a lot of experience of finals recently, while we have been on a great run ourselves, so it has the recipe to be a great game.
“We know our performance against Ballyclare wasn’t great and that we will need to improve on that if we are going to win trophies, but we are very confident and know that if we play well we have a good chance of reaching the final.”
Tonight is the third attempt to play the tie, after two postponements.