Opinion: Last-gasp goal could take on extra significance later in season

Ballymena United manager Glenn Ferguson watches as captain Allan Jenkins is sent off in the opening minutes of Saturday's game against Glentoran.' Picture: Russell Pritchard / Presseye
Ballymena United manager Glenn Ferguson watches as captain Allan Jenkins is sent off in the opening minutes of Saturday's game against Glentoran.' Picture: Russell Pritchard / Presseye

There may yet be more significance to Gary Thompson’s injury time equaliser on Saturday than initially meets the eye.

In the short-term, it prevented Ballymena United from suffering back-to-back defeats for the first time since March, it also ensured the Sky Blues a joint share of the league leadership in another weird and wonderful weekend of results in the Danske Bank Premiership.

Let me dare to suggest that Ballymena might NOT maintain their lofty position as refreshing as it would be to see it.

If we cast our mind back to pre-season aspirations, finishing in the top six for the first time since the present league format was introduced would represent progress for the club.

In that context, the three pre-split games against Glentoran might well be very important in determining whether United achieve that target.

Given that Cliftonville, Linfield, Crusaders and Portadown are shoo-ins for top six given the depth of their squads, while Glenavon have invested in their panel following their Irish Cup win, that would have left Ballymena to battle it out for the other top six position with Glentoran and perhaps Coleraine in the pre-season predictions.

So it makes sense that if Ballymena can take as many points as possible in games against Glentoran, it also means that they are not giving up points to one of their anticipated main rivals for that top six place.

That mini-series of three games didn’t look to be getting off to a good start on Saturday as Ballymena fell behind with only three minutes left.

But you have to take your hat off to Glenn Ferguson’s players for their Herculean efforts in rescuing a point from a seemingly hopeless position. As the manager himself said afterwards, a comeback of that magnitude would have been unlikely even 12 months ago.

Spare a thought, though, for Allan Jenkins, whose pre-match warm-up lasted longer than his afternoon’s action.

His fifth minute red card was what I would call a ‘letter of the law’ dismissal - it wasn’t anything violent or dangerous but once referee Arnold Hunter awarded the penalty, there was an air of inevitability about what sanction would follow.

It was fairly ironic that it should happen on a day when the Scot was only playing after the additional games following his recent sending-off at Glenavon were rescinded, but all things told, it’s been a wretched couple of weeks for the United skipper.

For the first half hour Glentoran made a mockery of that questionable adage that ‘it’s more difficult to play against 10 men’ as they gave an object lesson in how to play with an extra man, repeatedly cutting United open.

Crucially, however, they rarely looked like adding to their score and when Johnny Taylor’s pinpoint diagonal ball set up Darren Boyce for one of the best goals you’ll see this season, it prompted a swing in momentum.

Alan Teggart had a rare failure from the penalty spot. It was interesting to note that the winger switched from the normal place he puts his penalties - perhaps he felt that, having done it so many times, opposing goalkeepers might be getting wise to his trick and decided to vary it.

The second half might have lacked the same manic action of the first but Taylor and the revitalised Gavin Taggart epitomised the spirit of United’s 10 men - a spirit which might have been sapped after Jordan Stewart’s 87th minute goal.

But United rallied again and more than deserved the late drama which came their way from Gary Thompson’s equaliser.

It was quite a story for the goalscorer, a tremendous high after the low of his dreadful Irish Cup final red card, but an object lesson once again that football goes in cycles of highs and lows.

It’s amazing to think that Saturday was only 34 days since the season started, yet in that time, almost one-quarter of the 33-game ‘regular’ season schedule has been completed, proving once again the importance of making a good start to the season.

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