Opinion: ‘Derby’ disappointment was written early on

Ballymena United were in dificulty in Saturday's game against Coleraine from the moment Dwayne Nelson was unable to keep out Neil McCafferty's fifth minute free kick. Picture: Press Eye.
Ballymena United were in dificulty in Saturday's game against Coleraine from the moment Dwayne Nelson was unable to keep out Neil McCafferty's fifth minute free kick. Picture: Press Eye.

If Glenn Ferguson had written a script for how he DIDN’T want Saturday’s match against Coleraine to pan out, there’s a good chance it would have borne a strong resemblance to what did unfold in front of his eyes.

Virtually all the elements were there for a ‘derby’ day disaster - a glorious golden opportunity missed early on, followed almost immediately by a totally avoidable goal conceded, with the loss of a key defender to a serious injury thrown in for good measure.

All that was missing was a red card out of frustration to put the tin hat on proceedings.

The reality is that Ballymena were well beaten - not in the same sense as last week’s drubbing at Glentoran where Dwayne Nelson stood between the Sky Blues and total humiliation.

But by the same token, there was very little suggestion on Saturday when United trailed 2-0 after 11 minutes, that they would claw something out of the games, as they had done in both of Coleraine’s visits to Warden Street last season.

United were undone by the slick passing and movement in midfield while, in comparison, Ballymena’s build-up play looked cumbersome and pedestrian, with Coleraine keeper Michael Doherty a virtual spectator.

Spare a thought for Dwayne Nelson who is in one of those runs where any slight mistake he makes seems to result in a goal.

As Coleraine manager Oran Kearney carried out post-match interviews in the same corridor as the dressing room, he did so against a backdrop of Ike and Tina Turner’s ‘Proud Mary’ blaring out of a happy visiting changing room at the sort of volume you might expect at Glastonbury.

But while the boul’ Tina was screeching about ‘big wheel keep on turning’, the wheels have come off entirely on Ballymena’s season.

The fact that United haven’t won in the league since that smash-and-grab win at Ballycastle Road in September, is enough cause for concern in itself.

Not even in the meltdown that followed the County Antrim Shield success in 2012/13 did the Sky Blues manage the sorry statistic of losing five straight games in all competitions that was chalked up after Saturday’s loss.

It has been a peculiar hallmark of Ferguson’s near three years at Ballymena that United have gone on several lengthy runs, both good and bad in nature.

It hasn’t been uncommon, as per this season, for a run of half a dozen games unbeaten to be followed by a run of maybe seven or eight games without a win just a few weeks later.

Ferguson has often talked about the importance of mental strength for his players - that will be tested to the full in the coming weeks, with fixtures which Ballymena really should be winning.

If tonight’s WASP Solutions League Cup quarter-final against Dungannon wasn’t already crucial, the events of the last few weeks have made United’s performance in knockout competitions even more important.

Then with league fixtures looming against Warrenpoint and Ballinamallard over the next two weekends, the Sky Blues urgently need to check their recent run of form in the championship and start moving upwards again.

Defeats in those two games and the rest of the campaign might well be spent in the company of those two clubs in a struggle near the foot of the table.

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