Opinion: Sky Blues must quickly put Solitude surrender behind them

Neal Gawley's reaction sums up Ballymena United's afternoon at Solitude. Picture: Pacemaker Press.
Neal Gawley's reaction sums up Ballymena United's afternoon at Solitude. Picture: Pacemaker Press.

If there’s one thing you can safely say about watching Ballymena United, it’s that you can never claim that you’ve seen everything.

It seems there’s always some sort of surprise waiting around the corner - quite often of the unpleasant variety.

Even with more than a quarter-of-a-century of the trials and tribulations of following the Sky Blues’ fortunes under my belt, Saturday’s Solitude surrender fell into the jaw-dropping category.

It was a scoreline that was suggestive of an absolute massacre but that wasn’t the case - at least not for 53 minutes in which Ballymena gave the champions their fill of it.

My eyesight isn’t great at the best of times, without having to guess - thanks to the positioning of the Solitude press box - what is happening over 100 yards away at the other end of the pitch so I’m in no position to comment on the corner awarded to Ballymena or the alleged foul that saw Mark Surgenor’s resultant header chalked off. But if you watch TV footage of the reaction of Cliftonville’s players to the award of the corner and then Glenn Ferguson’s reaction to the subsequent free kick, it’s not an unreasonable deduction that referee Tim Marshall might just have got it wrong.

Within 60 seconds, United defender Davy Munster was back in the dressing room and the wheels were in motion for the 20 minutes of chaos that followed.

The flip side of where I was situated is that I had a bird’s eye view of all seven Cliftonville goals as the Reds showed up that nonsensical adage that ‘it’s harder to play against 10 men’ as United finished the game with the sort of bedraggled look of someone who had popped into their local supermarket to pick up a cheap TV in a Black Friday sale.

As pivotal as the disallowed goal was, does it justify a team at this level of football shipping in six goals in 20 minutes? Not in my view.

There was very little variation among the avalanche goals - the majority were simple balls played through the yawning gap in the centre of Ballymena’s reshuffled defence leaving Cliftonville’s eager frontmen one-on-one against Dwayne Nelson, who must have felt like he was standing in front of a firing squad.

Certainly with a testing fixture list to come in December, United cannot afford to mope around and bemoan their fortunes, or else more misery may lie ahead.

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