Institute visit bottom side Dergview tonight
Institute manager Brian Donaghey wants his side to maintain their top six status as the second half of the season kicks into gear.
The Drumahoe club take on neighbours Dergview at Darragh Park tonight (KO 7.45pm) and Donaghey wants to get back to winning ways so they can attempt to close the gap on Ards and Warrenpoint Town.
The 'Stute boss wants his players to focus and use their opening 21 league matches as experience going into the second half of the campaign and look to ensure they keep their top six place going into the split.
"If we target a top six position then it shows massive improvement on last season," he insisted.
"Listen, that was our target from the start of the season and although we never publicly said what we wanted to do, between the staff, the players and the club we targeted top six.
"We knew that we would be in and around that mix if we got that bit of luck and we improved our performances, but we're still a very young emerging team. We brought in 10 new players and it takes a while. Some have settled quicker than others, but I have to say that the squad has done well.
"I keep on talking about the squad at the moment with the boys and it came to fruition over the last couple of weeks.
"We've had to use nearly every member of our squad and to be fair there's no real huffing about or things like that, everyone knows what we're all trying to do and I think they can see a bit of light at the end of the tunnel as well, because a lot of them were involved in that process last year and it wasn't nice. However, they're all enjoying things this season and we're getting the results and looking upwards."
Donaghey concedes that with Mark McFadden departing and Cathair Friel's loan from Coleraine coming to an end this month, he's hoping to strengthen his squad during the January transfer window.
"We're going to try and accumulate as many points as we can," he stated.
"We're at the half-way stage now and yeah I think everybody would agree we probably should be sitting with slightly more points, but it's a really, really tough league this season.
"There are some really good sides in it, Loughgall, Warrenpoint and Dundela, look there's no easy games and because we're a young team we'll have learned a lot in the first half of the season. We're learning all the time and I'm hoping the experiences of playing the opening 20/21 games will hold them in good stead.
"We'll go again after Christmas and in the New Year and hopefully we can add a wee bit of freshness to the squad as well, which is maybe much needed, but listen we're looking forward to the second half of the season.
"We're definitely looking up this season and we aren't looking behind us anymore. We've done well to create a bit of a gap and although it's never insurmountable and if we fall into a bad run of results you'll be dragged into again.”
Donaghey feels his squad should be challenging at the top end of the Lough 41 Championship table, but he also knows that Friday night’s opponents are going to be fighting for their lives.
Tommy Canning’s side currently sit at the bottom of the table, but they showed on St Stephen’s Day that they have a tremendous never-say-die attitude, as they came from 2-0 down at Ballinamallard to secure a point.
Second half goals from Bobby Deane and Mikhail Kennedy cancelled out BJ Banda’s first half brace and it was Kennedy’s stoppage time leveller that Donaghey will be warning his players to ensure they are ready for the battle for the 90 minutes.
"To be honest they’ve got a fantastic record against Ballinamallard and that result will probably mean they’ll come into our game with a spring in their step,” he added.
"We always get a really, really tough time up there and it’s a place that you have to be really at it from the first minute to the last minute and they’ve proved that after beating Loughgall and Annagh this season.
"They are in games right up until the last minute, they were very unlucky against the Welders twice and they obviously showed a lot of character to come back from 2-0 down on Boxing Day.”
Earlier in the season second half goals from Jamie Dunne (2) and Cormac Burke sealed a 3-0 win at Darragh Park and Donaghey would love a similar outcome this evening.
"The first half in September was a non-event, as both teams were struggling at the wrong end of the table, but the second half I felt we went up another level,” he added.
"Jamie came on and made a difference, scoring twice and Cormac scored the penalty and it then became comfortable enough, but that only happened late on thanks to Cormac’s penalty.
"To be honest I don’t remember winning too many times at Dergview, it’s always a tough place to go to and I know Friday night will be the same.”
The Waterside men will be without defender Rhys McDermott and they’re hoping Dylan King can finally return from suspension; an error on the comet system hasn’t registered him, despite having served his recent suspension.
"Rhys picked up his fifth booking against Warrenpoint on Boxing Day, so he’s out and at the minute Dylan King is probably going to be out again,” he said.
"I’m trying to sort out this suspension problem with Dylan. He got suspended for two games but he’s missed three games now and he still isn’t live on the comet system and we’re asking NIFL (Northern Ireland Football League) why that is the case, so we’ll wait and see what happens.”