Opinion: Sky Blues suffer ‘ref’ justice at Mourneview

David Cushley endured a frustrating evening in Ballymena United's defeat at Glenavon on Friday night. Picture: Press Eye.
David Cushley endured a frustrating evening in Ballymena United's defeat at Glenavon on Friday night. Picture: Press Eye.

That didn’t take too long, did it?

Barely a month into the new season and the familiar subject of refereeing standards once again becomes a central issue in this column.

There’s no doubt that refereeing decisions played at least some part in Ballymena United’s unbeaten start to the Danske Bank Premiership campaign coming to an end at Glenavon on Friday night.

Certainly, the decision by Raymond Hetherington to award Glenavon a corner from which they scored their decisive second goal was a pivotal moment in the game.

The only logical conclusion one can draw is that Gareth McKeown’s long-range shot was so hopelessly off-target that the Dungannon official must have assumed that it had somehow taken a deflection.

Which leads me to one of my personal bugbears with Irish League referees that I don’t see in any other level of football I watch - an annoying tendency to blow instantly for decisions rather than give themselves time to make the correct decision.

Had he allowed himself even a split-second to assess the situation, Mr Hetherington might have wondered why no Glenavon player appealed for a corner; why every player from both teams was starting to make their way out of the penalty area to prepare for a goal kick; why Ballymena fans were ironically cheering McKeown’s effort; why the home fans were groaning and then laughing at the award of the corner.

Likewise, the double sending-off of Shane McCabe and Allan Jenkins was another questionable decision which robbed United of the services of their talismanic skipper.

It was a still mystified Jenkins who told me after the game: “The referee said it was for aggressive behaviour but I’m not sure how he decided that Shane and I were any more aggressive than any of the other players involved.”

Think on it like this. Allan Jenkins played professional football in Scotland for over a decade without ever receiving a red card.

Yet in three full seasons in the Irish League and a handful of games this term, Jenkins has now taken the long walk on three occasions.

I can’t imagine the weekly journey across the Irish Sea has somehow turned the affable Scot into some sort of ticking timebomb; rather I would suggest that his unwanted three-card trick might be indicative of the over-zealous refereeing in this country.

I expected Glenn Ferguson to be apoplectic with rage when he came out to face the media after the game. Yes, he said his piece in a measured way but he was also quick to point out that United had contributed to their own downfall.

Conceding two goals from corners - you just KNEW that disputed corner was going to lead to a goal - was very unlike Ballymena, who possess enough height to deal with set-pieces at both ends of the field.

At the other end, David Cushley endured one of those nights where it looked as though he would do everything but score before, ironically, he tucked away arguably the hardest of the many chances he had.

The unbeaten record may have gone but there were still plenty of positives. The performance maybe lacked the sparkle of some of their previous games but they still created a hatful of chances and there was a determination to keep going right to the end. But when Ballymena stop creating the chances they are, I’ll be more concerned.

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