David Jeffrey said he was “immensely, immensely proud” of his Ballymena United players after his first game in charge ended in a scoreless draw at Crusaders.
The new Sky Blues boss was full of praise for his players as they left Seaview after a precious Danske Bank Premiership point against the champions and title favourites.
“If we put it in context, they’re coming off a run of five defeats.
“All I asked of them today was to give of their best, to play with heart, to play with courage, to play with desire and they did that in abundance.
“We said let’s get ourselves to half-time and see where we’re at. I thought first half we did very well, it was even stevens and I thought perhaps we had more chances than Crusaders.
“In the second half, they are the best side in the league and there were occasions when they put us under pressure so we were probably counter-attacking more and I thought defensively, we were very sound.
“I think overall, if you look at chances created, probably a draw was a fair result but I’m really, really proud of the players.
“I actually shared with the players at half-time, the first 15-20 minutes we were a wee bit edgy and we made a few wee errors and that’s just down to nerves, and I said, let me confess, I’m as nervous as you are. It wasn’t apprehension, it was nerves, butterflies, because you want to do your best and after 20 minutes, it was alright.
“I’m really so pleased for the players because you always want to test yourself and you want to see if people will respond and they did that and I’m just so grateful to the players.
“Alan Blayney, you saw in the second half how good a goalkeeper he can be, his decision-making was right and he showed great courage.
“Kyle McVey and Johnny Taylor were absolutely immense - both of them have necks like ostriches, they won that many balls, they were tremendous.
“People have said that Stephen McBride and Jim Ervin have seen their best days - I thought they were pretty class and they stopped a lot of crosses coming in
“I have great praise for David Cushley - obviously he won’t be with us next year but he is being very faithful to the club and supporters and what a shift he put in one side and Gary Thompson on the other.
“Gavin Taggart and Tony Kane - my goodness gracious me they worked their socks off - every second ball, there were right there on the money. The only reason we took Gavin off was because we thought he was maybe at risk of walking.
“We put young Eoin Kane in there and he made a block tackle over in the corner which was the type of tackle that gets you points. Not everyone would see that but I praised him massively for it.
“Darren Henderson hasn’t had 90 minutes. He tells me he’s a confidence player - I told him I’ll give you the confidence by playing you, after that, it’s up to you. He was superb and he only came off because he was shattered and Allan Jenkins - what a pro.
“Young Jonny Frazer was berating himself at the end that he should have scored and he should have done but he was there, so we’re being positive.
“The supporters, before the game they were first class and I couldn’t believe them afterwards.
“I know in the cold light of day, people will say ‘what was he getting on like that for - they got a point and a clean sheet at the champions - big deal’ but if you contextualise it it’s a big deal for these players.
“For me, it was great to be back, wonderful to be in the company of such lovely people and to tell the truth, it’s absolutely flippin’ class!
It was enjoyable but those last 10 minutes - my goodness gracious me, I thought the bloomin’ watch had stopped!” laughed Jeffrey.