Ballymena United’s early-season problems continued as they crashed to a 2-0 home defeat by ‘derby’ rivals Coleraine.
Glenn Ferguson’s side again paid the penalty for some sub-standard defending as they suffered a loss which keeps them rooted to the foot of the Danske Bank Premiership table.
Ballymena boss Glenn Ferguson followed through with his promise to make changes following the midweek drubbing by Glenavon, with no fewer than seven changes to his starting line-up.
They included a debut for 18-year-old homegrown centre-back Kyle Crawford, while striker Matthew Shevlin’s reward for his midweek goal against Glenavon was a first start.
Dwayne Nelson replaced Alan Blayney in goal, while Jim Ervin, Michael Ruddy, Gary Thompson and Matthew Ferguson came into the starting XI.
But if the personnel switches were made in the hope of changing United’s fortunes, it was an all-too-familiar story as Coleraine took the lead in simplistic fashion with less than two minutes on the clock.
Coleraine keeper Michael Doherty hoisted forward a long clearance which was flicked on by Rodney Brown to find Sammy Morrow in acres of space and he raced clear to slot past Nelson.
Ballymena attempted to fashion an immediate response with Matthew Shevlin turning sharply in the box but his shot lacked the power to beat Doherty, who grabbed the ball at the second attempt.
Shevlin was also involved in 17 minutes when he forced a mistake from back-tracking defender Ruairi Harkin but the teenage striker’s shot was blocked by the outstretched foot of Doherty.
It proved a crucial moment as the Bannsiders doubled their lead on 23 minutes.
Once again, Ballymena’s Achilles heel when it comes to defending set pieces was cruelly exposed as Aaron Canning rose unchallenged to power home a header from Neil McCafferty’s corner.
With Ballymena visibly deflated, another McCafferty corner was volleyed narrowly over by the in-rushing Ian Parkhill, while the same duo also combined minutes later with Parkhill flashing a header wide.
Ballymena looked to have found a way back into the game when Canning gifted possession to Shevlin inside the Coleraine penalty area but as the striker attempted to steady himself for a shot, Steven Douglas made a superbly-timed goal-saving challenge to preserve the visitors’ two-goal advantage.
Shevlin continued to be the home side’s best hope for a goal in the second half as he firstly robbed Canning before shooting wide from an increasingly narrow angle, while the striker just failed to get a touch on Allan Jenkins’ teasing cross on the hour mark.
Coleraine came close to adding to their lead on 65 minutes when Neil McCafferty took a free kick a split-second before referee Ian McNabb blew for the kick to take place.
It deflected off the Ballymena ‘wall’ and ended up in the net but the referee disallowed the effort and booked McCafferty for good measure.
The final third of the game meandered towards its conclusion and while Ballymena’s second half performance was much improved, they rarely looked like troubling a Coleraine side which played well within itself in the second period.
The final whistle was greeted with a crescendo of boos towards manager Ferguson by disgruntled home supporters.
Ballymena United: Nelson, Ervin, Crawford, McVey, Ruddy, Thompson (sub Hanley 60), Ferguson, Jenkins, Cushley (sub Henderson 55), Shevlin, Tipton (sub Millar 67). Subs (not used): McBride, E Kane.
Coleraine: Doherty, Canning, Douglas, Ogilby, Mullan, Canning, McCafferty (sub Lyons 78), Harkin, Morrow, Brown, Parkhill. Subs (not used): McCauley, McLaughlin, McGonigle, Falconer.
Referee: Ian McNabb (Glengormley).