Ballymoney United manager Paul Gaston has targeted promotion next season after declaring that his side are a match for anyone.
United may have finished in ninth spot in Championship Two, but Gaston believes there is more to come from his squad.
An impressive Irish Cup run demonstrated United’s potential and Gaston hopes to build on that success in what would be his first full season. Gaston took over last year after the Toon endured a miserable start and believes they cannot afford a repeat of that early form next year.
The former Coleraine star says he will enjoy the summer break but will return with enthusiasm to fire his side back into Championship One.
On Saturday United were defeated 3-1 away to third-placed Knockbreda who narrowly missed out on promotion.
But it was another eye-catching performance by his side that emboldened Gaston to say he wants top spot next year.
He said: “If we start well, we’ll be up there by Christmas. I believe we can do it if we just keep everyone at the club.
“The target next year is to try and get up, we have a good side. The big teams still don’t play any better than us.
“It was just a pity that Ballymoney hadn’t got a good start, so it was hard to catch up. If you start off good, there is no catch-up.
“Then you’re up with a lot of points with you and you’re okay.”
On Saturday a weakened Ballymoney went behind after a stunning free kick was fired in from 25 yards after just three minutes.
United went on to create their own chances in the first half but had to wait until after the break for their equaliser.
Benny McGarry fired home on 60 minutes and the game became an end-to-end contest with both sides looking for a winner.
United had a great chance to take the lead when Mark Gillan played in Ian Christie for a one-on-one with the goalkeeper.
Christie shot the ball between the keeper’s legs but unluckily it bounced up off his backside and rolled past the post.
Substitute Conor Reid nearly made the headlines when he chipped the keeper but his effort went over the goal.
Then on 85 minutes Knockbreda took the lead from a bizarre OG after Daniel Laverty sliced the ball into his own net.
Ballymoney then searched for an equaliser but conceded gain in the 94th minute.
Gaston added: “It just shows us next year the type of teams we have to beat.
“The boys’ efforts were good and it was just a pity about the result.”