Albert clocks up 300th United appearance

ALBERT Watson will complete a memorable personal milestone as Ballymena United attempt to claim a place in the semi-finals of the Co-Operative Insurance Cup tonight (Tuesday).

The big defender will make his 300th appearance for the Sky Blues as they take on Crusaders in their much-delayed quarter-final clash at the Showgrounds (7.45pm).

In doing so, he will join Mark Carlisle and Nigel Boyd as the only players from the last 20 years to reach the 300 mark and Albert admits he is thrilled at the prospect.

"It's a great honour for me to play 300 games for one club and one I'm very proud of," Watson told Times Sport.

"Never did I think when I made my debut up at Institute as a 16-year-old that I would be talking about playing 300 games for Ballymena.

"But hopefully at the age of 25 I have a lot more games left in me yet!"

Watson has been one of the key figures in United's improved fortunes this season, consistently producing performances which made him one of the Carling Premiership's most sought-after young talents for several seasons.

"I'm pleased with my own form this season and I feel I'm playing as well as I have done at any time at Ballymena.

"I'm really glad I've put the injury problems that plagued me last season behind me - I would probably have about 20 more appearances under my belt by now but for those - and I'm pleased that I have played in every game this season.

"I've been doing a bit of extra training and looking after myself properly and I think I'm feeling the benefits of it.

"There have been occasions in the past where I admit my focus has been distracted a bit but I'm a bit older and wiser now.

"My only regret is that the only medal I have to show for nine years at Ballymena is a County Antrim Shield runners-up medal and I would love to change that this season.

"The Co-Operative Insurance Cup is a great chance for us to end that long spell without a trophy but it will be a really tough game against Crusaders because they have proved what a good team they are over the past few seasons, especially in cup competitions.

"We have to try and keep a clean sheet, something we haven't done enough of this season, and try to impose ourselves as the home team.

"We have Crusaders at home again on Saturday in the league and it's never easy playing back-to-back matches against the same team," added Watson, who has started contract negotiations with manager Roy Walker aimed at extending his stay into a tenth season.

The Showgrounds boss is also excited about the prospect of tonight's clash, with Lisburn Distillery awaiting the winners in the semi-final.

"It's great to have big game after big game, as we have at the minute - I say keep them coming," added Walker.stephen.alexander@jpress.co.uk