Opinion: Jeffrey’s first day brings plenty of encouragement

David Jeffrey watches the play intently during his first game in charge of Ballymena United. Picture: Stephen Hamilton/Press Eye.
David Jeffrey watches the play intently during his first game in charge of Ballymena United. Picture: Stephen Hamilton/Press Eye.

If ever there was an unlikely scoreline in a match involving Ballymena United, then a scoreless draw would be high up on the list.

Before Saturday’s stalemate, it was almost two full years since the Sky Blues last had a competitive game that ended without a goal.

For that reason alone, David Jeffrey has already implemented change in his first week in charge at the Showgrounds.

You already knew that something a bit special was in the offing before a ball was even kicked.

On a day when the Belfast ‘Big Two’ were meeting across the city, there were as many media members who tried to get into the compact Seaview Press Box as there would be supporters at some Danske Bank Premiership games throughout the season.

The return of Jeffrey was a big deal for the media; the fact it was at the home of the champions and league leaders merely added to the intrigue.

While on paper it looked like as tough an assignment as you could imagine, in reality it was a good fixture for Jeffrey to return; a game in which United weren’t realistically expected to take anything and where any sort of positive result would be viewed as a bonus.

And how Ballymena’s players responded, with the type of gutsy performance that has been absent so often in recent times.

I predicted, even before Jeffrey’s appointment, that a new manager would result in enough improved individual performances to produce an improved team effort, which will ultimately take Ballymena clear of the relegation battle.

But Jeffrey’s input has already managed to cajole a few extra per cent out of players who failed previous manager Glenn Ferguson so badly this season - and it didn’t require widespread change.

It’s strange to think that a team doing the basics well and busting a gut for every ball should receive such high praise - you would imagine those type of attributes should be a given, but Saturday’s improvement only serves to illustrate how far below the mark Ballymena have fallen this season.

There was no great surprise that Jeffrey opted for about as experienced a starting line-up as he could. The big difference, though, was that Ballymena were much improved in the centre of the pitch - the mythical ‘spine’ of the team.

Alan Blayney’s confident handling and decision-making was a big plus, while Johnny Taylor and Kyle McVey vied for the man-of-the-match accolade, along with the industrious Gary Thompson in midfield, where Tony Kane and Gavin Taggart did the ugly side of the game so well.

It’s not overstating the case to suggest that Jeffrey, in the course of a week, has established more of a rapport with the fans than Ferguson did over four years.

His fist-pumping antics at the end of the game were lapped up by a Ballymena support who are already hanging on the new manager’s every word.

But, much more importantly, it will be performances like Saturday’s that will endear him to Ballymena fans even more quickly than anything the manager says.