GLENN Ferguson last night insisted that patience will be required in his attempts to rebuild his Ballymena United squad.
Despite winning the club’s first trophy for 23 years, United’s season has nose-dived in the second half of the campaign, which has seen the Sky Blues take just nine points from a possible 39 in their last 13 league games.
It’s a run which has seen United slump from contenders for a top six place to virtually certain to be in the bottom half of the Danske Bank Premiership, when the league splits into two mini-divisions of six at the end of March.
Despite a hugely encouraging first year in charge, Ferguson insists that he was always aware that reviving Ballymena’s fortunes was a long-term one.
“Cliftonville’s success hasn’t happened overnight, it has taken Stephen Baxter a while to build Crusaders to where they are now and Oran Kearney is doing a good job at Coleraine,” said Ferguson.
“Our aim is to do to the same as those clubs are doing.
“We know it’s not going to happen overnight – it will take a bit of time.
“We gradually and steadily want to get better -it takes time to mould players and to get them with the attitude you want.”
The manager also insists that young players like Peter Duffin and William Bingham will continue to get their chance of more first team football between now and the end of the season – although the manager will continue to monitor their progress carefully.
“We know the young players can do it – if they couldn’t, they wouldn’t be in the squad - it’s whether they can do it on a consistent basis.
“But young players can’t and won’t be consistent week in, week out – that doesn’t happen unless you’re an exceptional player.
“But we’re trying to give them a taste for what senior football is like, put them in for a few games and them take them out so that they are hungry to do well when then get in again.
“We don’t want them getting in, maybe having a couple of bad games and their confidence suffering but the players themselves know what way we’re working.”
The manager will adopt a similarly cautious approach to central defender Johnny Taylor’s return from injury, with getting the defensive strongman back to full fitness in the long-term more important than a short-term return.
“We will leave it totally in the hands of Johnny, who knows his own body, and Gordy McCartney (sports therapist) because the last thing we want to do is rush him back in and him end up wrecking himself again.
Aaron Stewart took part in the warm-up before last weekend’s game and is expected to resume training this week, while Denver Gage, out for over a year with a groin problem, continues to recover from ankle ligament damage sustained in a comeback game in the Reserves.
Winger Ally Teggart may have sustained cartilage damage to his knee after being injured in the warm-up before Saturday’s game.
United continue their league campaign this Saturday when they travel to Glenavon (3pm), having been thumped 4-1 at Mourneview Park before Christmas.
“It was a surreal day that day, one of those where it didn’t feel as if it was really happening but we have a bit of making up to do down there.
“We will need to be on our guard and our final ball and delivery will have to be better than it was on Saturday,” added Ferguson.
* Seven Towers Supporters’ Club transport for Mourneview Park leaves Henry Street car park at 1.45pm. The club’s Joker promotion will be drawn prior to departure.
* United’s twice-postponed home league game against Donegal Celtic has ben re-arranged for Saturday, March 2, with neither side involved in Irish Cup quarter-finals that day.