Opinion: Early-season signs look promising for Sky Blues

Neal Gawley has been one of Ballymena United's stand-out performers in the early weeks of the season. Picture: Press Eye.
Neal Gawley has been one of Ballymena United's stand-out performers in the early weeks of the season. Picture: Press Eye.

Suggestions that sales of altitude sickness tablets have rocketed in Ballymena since the start of the football season might not be totally accurate.

But there’s no doubt that Ballymena United supporters are enjoying the dizzy heights of top spot in the Danske Bank Premiership.

First team to reach 10 points; first team to reach double figures of goals; least goals conceded - the platitudes are coming thick and fast for the Sky Blues at present.

It’s a pleasant change to the multitude of previous seasons I can remember where the optimism of pre-season had long since disappeared before the club’s younger supporters have even set foot back at school.

One of the most notable things about Ballymena’s three league wins to date is that they have all been totally comprehensive.

No such thing as nicking a 1-0 win or having to man the barricades to hold onto a slender lead.

In all three wins, the scoreline has flattered United’s opponents, with only wastefulness in front of goal preventing the Sky Blues from having victory wrapped up well before the final whistle.

There is plenty of encouragement to be taken from the manner in which Ferguson’s new-look formation has quickly knitted together. While the composition of the line-up might feature many familiar names from the past few seasons, the way in which they line up is producing positive results, with Matthew Tipton the fulcrum of it.

My suggestion that Ballymena being top of the league at the end of the striker’s first month might at the club might not have been in the script drew an icy glare from the Welshman after Saturday’s match.

“Not in YOUR script, maybe, but it was certainly in mine,” said Tipton, who will arguably be United’s key player in the campaign ahead.

The striker certainly took full advantage of the generosity afforded to him by Dungannon on Saturday.

Stangmore Park, which for so many years was an epicentre of failure for countless Ballymena managers, has suddenly become a happy hunting ground for United since Ferguson took over.

Think back a few years and a game against Dungannon would have meant coming up against two no-nonsense central defenders such as Adam McMinn and Johnny Montgomery, against whom a striker would generally get very little change.

Saturday’s game produced a very un-Dungannon-like defensive performance, with Ballymena exploiting Swifts’ one-paced, hesitant backline time after time.

While United fans are enjoying the quality they expected from the arrival of Tipton, Neal Gawley has been very much the surprise package of the early weeks.

Many fans expected the winger to be a squad player when he was re-signed in the summer but he has not only earned a starting spot, he has also kept the jersey after scoring one goal and having a hand in five others already.

His run and cross for Tipton’s game-settling diving header on Saturday was as good a passage of play as you’ll see anywhere this season.

SO can United maintain their stellar early-season form?

Who knows? The temptation, given so many years of failure at the Showgrounds is to say ‘no, but, as Matthew Tipton himself said after Saturday’s win, everyone at the club should be enjoying what is happening at present.

Given the lean times the club has endured, you’ll certainly not hear too many arguments from Ballymena supporters on that score.

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