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Colin Millar

Knockbreda FC boss Colin McIlwrath confident young side can salvage survival

Knockbreda boss Colin McIlwrath remains upbeat that his young side can reverse their alarming run of reform and salvage survival this campaign.

The East Belfast side are without a win since 13 November – a run of 20 matches – and prop up the standings in the Championship, behind Queen’s on goal difference.

Yet McIlwrath exists that the club have a bright future and that is evidenced by their academy now producing first-team players and insists that he will continue to trust in youth.

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That paid off for both Breda and Linfield earlier this campaign, with striker Ethan Devine starring for the club in the early months of the campaign before securing a move to Windsor Park.

“He came to our game on Saturday to thank us for the opportunity we gave him this season,” McIlwrath told Match on Tuesday.

“It is great to see him doing really well and enjoying his time at Linfield.

“The big positive for the club is that we have an academy system that is bringing players directly into our team for the first time.

“What I tell every player at the club is that we will not hold them back if they have the opportunity to go onto bigger and better things, as Ethan did.

“Of course we would love to retain our top players but if players give their all for Knockbreda then they will get their rewards and the opportunities to sign for full-time clubs.”

As delighted as Breda are for Devine’s exploits, his exit left a massive gap in the club’s attack and coincided with two costly long-term injuries for the club.

“November was a turning point because the players that had been firing on all front all were taken out of the team,” McIlwrath added.

“Ethan got a red card and was ruled out through suspension at the same time that both Lee McGreevy and Lee Rea got long-term injuries.

“McGreevy has only played ten minutes and Rea has not come back – those were the players who were having such an impact for us in the opening months and their absences hurt.

“We strengthened the squad in January but it takes players time to adjust and when you are coming into the situation we are in, it is that bit tougher.

“Our formation was a 4-3-3 but when each of those front three players is missing – that changes everything.

“We were the leading scorers in the league in early November and also had the worst defensive record.”

Knockbreda were the story of the first round of Championship matches – they enjoyed a run of 15 matches in which they netted 33 goals, more than any other side in the division. But the player absences coupled with their quick-fire ‘surprise factor’ starts being taken away have damaged their results.

“We were three goals up inside 15 minutes the last time we went to Dundela and now it is a different story,” added McIlwrath, whose side were edged out by the Duns 1-0 on Saturday.

“In the first few months of the campaign we took teams by surprise because our players were not well-known in the league and teams did not know how to play against us.

“We had that surprise element in the first round of games against everyone and then if you look at the second time we played these teams – the outcomes were chalk and cheese.

“In November we were sitting fourth but then since then it feels like everything has gone wrong and we have been decimated by injuries.

“On Saturday we had three 17-year-olds playing in our midfielder and an 18-year-old, so it is tough for them but we are giving them the platform to show what they can do.”

As alarming as the club’s run of form has been, McIlwrath remains upbeat than they can beat the drop – and as they are behind Queen’s on goal difference only, all is not yet lost.

“As long as it is mathematically alive, we will keep going,” continued the Breda boss.

“There have been mistakes individually from the players and maybe us coaching staff too, but I cannot fault my players or anyone at the club – because they are giving it all they have.

“Sometimes I feel like I have let the board of the club down a bit because they have been perfect for me and for the club – we could not ask for more from them.

“The players have given me that all the time – they are giving their everything for the club but we have had a lot of setbacks.

“It is going to go down to the wire and the way it is shaping up it will be between us and Queen’s – one side will go down and one will go into the playoffs.

“Those are nine points up for grabs for each side and we feel like despite our results, the recent performances have been better and have encouraged me.”

Knockbreda travel to out-of-form Ballyclare tonight before finishing their campaign with a home clash against Ards and a trip to Institute.

Read more: Linfield boss David Healy has no issue with player's programme comments on game time

Read more: No real appetite in the Irish League for an all-Ireland league, says Linfield GM Pat Fenlon

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