BALLYMENA United boss Glenn Ferguson said that some of his players were “like rabbits in the headlights” as United slumped to a 2-0 Boxing Day ‘derby’ defeat by rivals Coleraine.
After a fairly even opening half-hour, the Sky Blues were completely outplayed by Coleraine as they crashed to a sixth straight Danske Bank Premiership defeat, leaving boss Ferguson with plenty of work to do in the new year.
Goals in each half from David Scullion and Curtis Allen secured an easy win for the Bannsiders, who could even afford the luxury of missing a second half penalty when Curtis Allen’s spot kick was kept out by Dwayne Nelson, who almost single-handedly stopped the visitors from running up a cricket score.
“There weren’t too many out there who it means enough to - it needs to means more to them and you can’t hide that,” said Ferguson.
“Dwayne Nelson was good and saved us from a real drubbing.
“Beyond that, there were some decent performances rather than good ones but there were others who didn’t step up to the mark - it was a case of ‘rabbits in the headlights’ for some of our players.
“We’re not scoring enough goals at present to win matches and that needs to change sooner rather than later.
“We haven’t got enough quality. We probably over-achieved by winning the County Antrim Shield and people were maybe expecting too much.
“We have a building process in place where we try to bring in better players than are already here.
“There are people out there thinking ‘am I going to be here?’ and rightly so - we might have to make that call for them,” added Ferguson.
Ballymena almost made a flying start inside 13 seconds when James McCabe poked the ball into the path of Jamie Davidson who bore down on Michael Doherty’s goal from the left-hand channel but could only drive his shot past the far post.
Davidson was again involved on 22 minutes when he ran onto David Cushley’s through ball but from a similar position to the earlier chance, he blazed high and wide of the near post.
It took Coleraine half an hour to fashion an opening but gradually the Bannsiders began to gain the upper hand and they went in front five minutes before the break with a well-worked goal.
David Scullion picked the ball up deep inside the ball half and drove forward before exchanging passes with Curtis Allen and steering a neat shot into the bottom corner.
Darren Boyce came close to doubling the advantage 60 seconds later when he curled a shot towards the top corner but Dwayne Nelson, at full stretch, tipped the ball over the bar.
The visitors did go 2-0 up 12 minutes after the restart when Ryan McIlmoyle’s corner was met by a header from the unmarked David Ogilby. Nelson did well to beat out the header from point-blank range.
As the visitors threatened to run riot, Nelson single-handedly stood between United and humiliation with brilliant saves from Allen and Ruairi Harkin.
Nelson was again the hero on 64 minutes when he saved a Curtis Allen penalty after Aaron Stewart was adjudged by referee Raymond Crangle to have brought down David Scullion.
The let-off didn’t signal any change in United’s fortunes; instead it was Coleraine who went close when Darren Boyce’s rising drive clipped the crossbar on its way over.
Ballymena United: Nelson, Rodgers, Munster, Stewart, Black, Taggart (sub Surgenor 67), Thompson, Jenkins, Cushley, McCabe (sub Costello 46), Davidson (sub Lowry 60). Subs (not used): Teggart, Duffin.
Coleraine: Doherty, Canning, Beverland, Ogilby, McIlmoyle, Hegarty, Scullion (sub Bradley 90+1), Lowry, Harkin (sub Owens 82), Allen (sub Jennings 85), Boyce. Subs (not used): Watt, Boyd.
Referee: Raymond Crangle (Belfast).