Opinion: The OTHER play-off now on Ballymena’s radar

David Cushley's reaction says it all as Dungannon Swifts celebrate their fourth goal against Ballymena United on Saturday. Picture: Press Eye.

David Cushley's reaction says it all as Dungannon Swifts celebrate their fourth goal against Ballymena United on Saturday. Picture: Press Eye.

Among the litany of criticisms often levelled at Ballymena United in recent years is that the latter part of league campaigns have been largely meaningless.

Something tells me that isn’t going to be an issue in 2016.

On current form, there’s every chance that Ballymena’s season might well end in the drama of a play-off - just not the one that many people would have predicted, even as recently as a few weeks ago.

This one won’t require a passport for its possible destinations - not even for footballing outposts as remote as Castlederg and Loughgall!

Ballymena United are in a dreadful freefall at present and with four more games to go to the split - against three top six sides as well as a rejuvenated Warrenpoint Town - the Sky Blues’ position might be even more perilous by the time they go into their final five games.

It’s the whole reason the controversial ‘split’ was introduced - to have meaningful mini cup finals in the closing weeks of the season where results can have significant bearings upon league positions.

In recent seasons, Ballymena have gone into the post-split games with a healthy cushion between themselves and the sides below them battling against relegation.

Those fixtures were largely ‘dead rubbers’ and United were able to play those matches relatively free from pressure and, generally speaking, the results were good but this is likely to be Ballymena’s first real experience of that pressure cooker scenario.

If Saturday’s defeat by Dungannon Swifts had been a novel, it would have had all the facets - drama, mild farce, mystery - that would have made it a best-seller.

The post-match ‘sacking’ rumour - later dismissed by chairman John Taggart - was particularly odd. When your last matchday duty as a football reporter is to clarify whether a manager is still in his position, then you know all is not well.

The break in action this weekend might well come at an opportune time for Ballymena; it might enable United’s position to be considered with cool heads and solutions sought to see out a season whose already ailing condition has now deteriorated to ‘critical’ status.

Stephen Alexander