Opinion: Defeat a horrible flashback to an era best forgotten

Ballymena United defender Stephen McBride holds his head in his hands as Glenavon's Kyle Neill wheels away in celebration after opening the scoring in today's Danske Bank Premiership game at the Showgrounds. Picture: Press Eye.

Ballymena United defender Stephen McBride holds his head in his hands as Glenavon's Kyle Neill wheels away in celebration after opening the scoring in today's Danske Bank Premiership game at the Showgrounds. Picture: Press Eye.

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I’ll bet Ballymena United players, management and supporters wished they could turn their clocks back much further than just an hour on Saturday night.

It wasn’t just British Summer Time that came to an end at the weekend - the last lingering remnants of United’s stunning start to the campaign disappeared into the ether along with it.

The only miniscule crumb of comfort I could derive from watching United’s weekend humbling at the hands of Glenavon came on a professional level.

For just about the first time in a match at the Showgrounds this season, there was no frantic, last-minute re-writing of introductions for match reports after some last-gasp drama, as has so often been the case.

When that’s the best you can come up with, then you know it hasn’t been a good day.

On a personal level, I could only watch on with the same pained expression as my fellow supporters as the Sky Blues were once again put to the sword by Glenavon.

It was a horrible throwback to the sort of performance that we hoped was a thing of the past under Glenn Ferguson’s leadership.

Very, very few Ballymena United supporters, in their heart if hearts, would have dared to suggest that Ballymena’s early-season stint among the leaders would have been little more than a fleeting one. Teams simply don’t make that sort of quantum leap from a lower-half-of-the-table outfit to sudden championship contenders.

But it’s the sharp decline in the Sky Blues’ fortunes in recent weeks which should be cause, if not for alarm, then certainly for concern. In a league as ultra-competitive as the Danske Bank Premiership, a run of two points from a possible 15 is freefall material.

It hasn’t happened overnight, either. Right back as far as far as early September, the warning signs were in place.

The daylight robbery victory at Coleraine was largely overlooked due to the significance of the result, while last-gasp equalisers against Glentoran and Cliftonville papered over some of the cracks in those games.

But in the last few weeks, Ballymena’s deficiencies - particularly defensively - have been cruelly exposed. No clean sheets in the last 12 - which have included two matches against Championship opposition - is a particularly damning statistic.

In short, Ballymena have become far too easy to score against. Teams aren’t having to work overly hard to breach the Sky Blues’ defence.

Both goals conceded in last week’s defeat at Portadown were dreadful but they paled into insignificance against what will surely rank as the worst moment of Dwayne Nelson’s Ballymena career on Saturday.

The goalkeeper’s performances have been under scrutiny in recent weeks and Saturday’s slip might be one mistake too many for manager Glenn Ferguson’s patience.

Given their current run of bad form, a trip to champions Cliftonville tonight (Tuesday) in the County Antrim Shield quarter-final wouldn’t be high on Ferguson’s wish-list but that is the task in front of United, before a crunch visit to Glentoran on Saturday, with Ballymena having slipped out of the top six in the league for the first time this season.

It was United’s Shield triumph in 2011 that marked the high point of Ferguson’s tenure to date - how United could do with another boost in the same competition tonight to kick-start their faltering campaign.

* Follow Ballymena Times Sports Editor Stephen Alexander on Twitter (@Stephen_Bmena).