WALKING into Glenn Ferguson’s office at the Showgrounds recently, I half-expected to find myself ankle-deep in discarded calendar sheets as the manager counts down the days until January 1.
Ferguson has made no secret of his intention to strengthen his squad when the transfer window opens.
Last Saturday’s defeat at Glenavon, which put the tin hat on a disheartening sequence of recent results, will have done nothing to alter his thinking on that front.
A casual glance at the teamsheet before the game did little to allay any fears that four straight league defeats would become five.
Like many Danske Bank Premiership clubs outside of Linfield, Ballymena can cope if they have their strongest XI available. The problem, as most of the other clubs find, comes when their resources are depleted through injury or suspension.
Ballymena’s weakness in the attacking third of the field has been well documented. They have somehow muddled through to this stage of the season with teenagers Jamie Davidson and James McCabe getting more gametime than they could ever realistically have expected and showing plenty of promise, while James Costello, afflicted by injury for most of this campaign, has never been a prolific goalscorer.
But when you suddenly find that midfield – for once, Ballymena’s strongest suit after years of struggling for quality in that area – is also bereft, then there are all sorts of problems.
Opponents aren’t stupid either; Glenavon looked at Ballymena teamsheet and saw no Gary Thompson or Alan Davidson, along with Allan Jenkins who remains some way off full match sharpness after his long injury lay-off.
The plus side of that is that Jenkins hadn’t been expected to be back in action before the turn of the year so hopefully the benefits of his earlier-than-expected return will be seen in 2013.
With Aaron Stewart and Richard Vauls both occupying unaccustomed positions, Ballymena’s team looked disjointed and when you throw in the ingredient of Glenavon’s bustling striker Guy Bates being virtually unplayable on the day, it was a recipe for disaster.
A run of five straight defeats is United’s worst in some years and an away trip to Glentoran followed by a Boxing Day date with Coleraine wouldn’t be two fixtures you would hand-pick to end that sequence.
The really frustrating thing is that the current slump has undone United’s good work from the first half of the season where they had put themselves into a position where they had given themselves a realistic chance of making the top six since the post-season ‘split’ format came into operation.
It’s going to take a massive improvement to get something out of this Saturday’s trip to the Oval, notwithstanding Ballymena’s extraordinary recent record there.
I’ll bet Glenn Ferguson would trade any one of United’s plethora of wins of at the east Belfast ground in recent years for a win to kick-start his side’s faltering campaign this time around.
* Follow Ballymena Times Sports Editor Stephen Alexander on Twitter (@Stephen_Bmena)