BETMcLEAN LEAGUE CUP FINAL: PREVIEW

It’s the biggest game of the NI Football League calendar as Ballymena United take on Linfield in the BetMcLean League Cup final, we look ahead to this mouth watering clash.

They’ve been the two stand out teams in the Danske Bank Premiership and have been battling it out at the top of the table for months with very little between the two sides.

Ballymena United manager David Jeffrey returns to Windsor Park to take on his former club, where he had universal success for a sustained period. Jeffrey was the last manager to win the League Cup with the Blues back in 2008 and will be hoping to repeat the success he had with the Sky Blues in 2017, when he led United to their first major silverware since 1989.

In the other dugout it is the only trophy that has eluded Linfield manager David Healy during his time at the club.

Linfield showed their title credentials last Saturday coming from two goals down to win at home to Coleraine in the league and extend their six point lead at the top of the table. In the same period, Ballymena have defeated both Institute in the Danske Bank Premiership and Portadown in the Irish Cup to keep their dreams of silverware alive on three fronts.

Who will miss out? For Linfield, arguably their biggest loss is veteran goalkeeper Roy Carroll – the former Northern Ireland international injured his cruciate in the recent league win over Crusaders and will miss the remainder of the season. Elsewhere David Healy will be sweating on the fitness of midfielders Andrew Mitchell and Stephen Fallon but has no suspension worries.

David Jeffrey will be without the services of cup-tied duo Ryan Harpur and Jordan Williamson who both joined the club in January. The man of the match in last season’s final, Ryan Mayse, is in a race to be fit for another attempt at the award as is Andrew Burns. Like their counterparts, there are no suspensions for Ballymena United.

History in the League Cup

Linfield may be the most successful club in the history of the League Cup, winning the trophy on nine separate occasions – but have not competed in the showpiece final since winning the 2008 edition. David Jeffrey was the manager last time the Blues won the League Cup and he has lifted the trophy five times (four with Linfield and once with the Sky Blues).

United may only have one cup final victory under their belts, but the Sky Blues have become a regular feature in the League Cup final in recent years. This is the Braidmen’s fourth final in five years, having won the 2017 final against Carrick Rangers, they lost in 2015 (to Cliftonville) and 2018 (to Dungannon Swifts).

Meetings this season

The three meetings between the sides have all been decided by one goal, but Linfield edge the encounters – winning two against United’s one. David Healy’s side drew first blood at home back in September as they came from behind to win 2-1 in the Danske Bank Premiership, but United chalked up a similar scoreline in the return fixture at Warden Street back in December, which sent the Sky Blues to the top of the league. In their last meeting it was Linfield again on top, winning 2-1 in the County Antrim Shield semi-final last month, with Andy Waterworth scoring twice.

Match Officials

Andrew Davey takes charge of the BetMcLean League Cup final for the first time, he will be assisted by Stephen Bell and Ken Ross on the line, with Steven Gregg as fourth official. Adam Jeffrey completes the officials’ team as reserve assistant referee.

Coverage

The final is live on Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Sports Football from 5.15pm, hosted by Graham Little with commentary provided by Paul Gilmour and Steve Lomas. BBC Radio Ulster will also be broadcasting the match live with BBC Sport NI also producing a special Irish League Show of the BetMcLean League Cup final.

Keep up to date throughout the matchday with the NI Football League’s social media coverage - available on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using the @OfficialNIFL handle.

Tickets

Tickets are still available on Ticketmaster – click here to buy now.

Tags:  Ballymena United  Linfield