The onset of autumn has brought with it a cold, hard dose of reality for Ballymena United.
The Sky Blues’ current dip in form isn’t something that has happened overnight - instead it’s something that been in the pipeline for several weeks.
In stark contrast to the manner in which United were steamrollering teams in the formative weeks of the season in August, Ballymena have been scratching for form since the start of September.
A number of late equalisers and a scarcely deserved win at Coleraine went some way to masking the deficiencies, while the points tally continued to click around.
But there’s only so long a team can carry on doing that and it doesn’t take a UEFA Pro Licence coaching certificate to work out that Ballymena’s chances of picking up points in games are being dramatically reduced by the worrying number of times the ball is ending up in their net.
The situation is perhaps all the more peculiar by the fact that, in individual terms at least, it has been Ballymena’s defenders who have been drawing plaudits - Johnny Taylor was named the Northern Ireland Football Writers’ Association Player of the Month for September, while the Seven Towers Supporters’ Club chose Aaron Stewart as it top man over the past month.
It was telling to note that Glenn Ferguson reinstated Taylor and Kyle McVey - a strongman pairing which was instrumental in United’s early-season form - in Saturday’s defeat at Portadown.
That partnership will, of course, have to be dismantled again as Taylor contemplates a three-match ban following his dismissal - a headache Ferguson could do without as he attempts to steer the Sky Blues out of their mini slump.
The manager will be mighty glad, then, to have the services of Gavin Taggart at his disposal this weekend to bolster his midfield.
Taggart has been transformed from a much-maligned figure among United supporters to one of Ballymena’s key players this season, adding an extra layer of protection in front of the back four.
In Taggart’s absence - through injury and then suspension - United’s central midfield has been comprised of Gary Thompson and Allan Jenkins - two players whose natural inclination is to get into their opponents’ penalty area.
The return of Taggart would bring much better balance to United’s midfield and hopefully help shore up what has become an increasingly leaky rearguard.
Certainly, anything which can lift United out of their current form will be very welcome, if the Sky Blues’ early-season exploits aren’t going to go to waste.
* Follow Ballymena Times Sports Editor on Twitter (@Stephen_Bmena)