If you want a graphic illustration of the enormity of Ballymena United’s freefall, then a brief look ahead to this weekend’s ‘derby’ game against Coleraine provides it.
When Michael Ruddy headed home United’s winner at Ballycastle Road in September, it took the Sky Blues some nine points ahead of their fierce rivals
Now, when the sides run out at the Warden Street Showgrounds this Saturday, the difference between the sides will be four points - only this time in the Bannsiders’ favour.
Ballymena’s meltdown in the last six weeks has been as puzzling as it has been hard to stomach.
In the past four games, manager Glenn Ferguson has used a remarkable TWENTY different players.
It’s been understandable that the manager has wanted to make root and branch changes but it has also has the effect of breaking up partnerships which were working so well earlier in the season.
In fact, the only continuity that we’ve been in recent weeks has come in the concession of four goals in each of Ballymena’s last three games.
I read a brilliant stat before the game against Glenavon 10 days ago where someone had drawn up a league table of how the Danske Bank Premiership would look if the matches had ended at the 45 minute mark.
Guess who was top of the table? Yep, Ballymena United. It has been a feature that United are competitive when the game is still scoreless, or indeed when they’re ahead, but when the opposing team strikes, it has tended to have a snowball effect.
There were elements of that theory once at the Oval on Saturday as United reached half-time scoreless, thanks mainly to the heroics of Dwayne Nelson.
If the goalkeeper’s recent performances have come under scrutiny, he certainly answered his critics with a string of fine saves and confident handling which prevented Ballymena’s 8-0 defeat against Cliftonville a couple of seasons back from being surpassed.
Playing three at the back was always going to be a risk on the wide open spaces of the Oval, particularly given the limited mobility of the three players in question, while the very point of putting an extra man in midfield - to stop the opposition playing through - was also blown out of the water as Glentoran continually put balls into the channels where full-backs would ordinarily have been.
The sloppiness that has riddled United’s play in recent weeks was once again in evidence as Glentoran’s opening goal ultimately came from Jordan Stewart’s persistence to keep the ball in play while Tony Kane attempted to shepherd the ball out of play for a goal kick. Once again, United folded like a pack of cards and the lack of heart and battle is a genuine source of concern for Ferguson.
The manager will certainly hope that old adage that ‘form goes out the window in a derby’ holds true this weekend.
* Follow Times Sports Editor Stephen Alexander on Twitter (@Stephen_Bmena)