Opinion: Reds mauling showed welcome ruthless streak from United

Matthew Shevlin is brought down by Peter Burke in the incident which led to the Cliftonville keeper's red card. Picture: Pacemaker Press.
Matthew Shevlin is brought down by Peter Burke in the incident which led to the Cliftonville keeper's red card. Picture: Pacemaker Press.

It would be fair to say that Ballymena United’s start to the season has produced some comments you might not have expected to hear.

Certainly, the Showgrounds faithful chanting ‘we want seven’ would undoubtedly fall into that category.

Home matches in the Glenn Ferguson era can rarely be described as uneventful and a 6-1 mauling of Cliftonville proved to be no different.

It’s remarkable to think that more than four years had passed since Ballymena’s last league win against the Reds, while the last success at the Warden Street Showgrounds was a further year-and-a-half before that again.

It’s somewhat ironic that Ballymena’s goal rush should come against Cliftonville - the very side who have inflicted so much misery on United in the intervening period with some of the most crushing defeats in the club’s history coming at the hands of the Reds.

Yet again, the spark for Ballymena’s improved form came from the bang in-form Matthew Shevlin. He won United’s first two penalties from situations where he had very little right to do so but his sheer determination, alertness and willingness never to give up on seemingly lost causes created the situations. There was more than a little fortune about the award of the third spot kick, which just a rank bad decision from referee Tim Marshall, with the TV pictures to prove it.

He is an absolute torture for nightmares - and goalkeepers, as Cliftonville’s Peter Burke discovered in the incident which led to the Reds stopper’s first half red card.

While that dismissal ultimately played a key role in the eventual outcome, it wasn’t the turning point as such - Ballymena had been very much competitive in the opening half and they simply cut loose in the second period.

They certainly made light of that nauseating football cliché that ‘it’s harder to play against 10 men’. It shouldn’t be and Ballymena gave an object lesson on how to switch play quickly, stretch opponents and get forward in numbers.

Shevlin had a hand in four of Ballymena’s goals and afterwards wore a beaming smile but with the slightly rueful look of a player who felt he should have been on the scoresheet himself

For me, the best part of Ballymena’s performance was their willingness to continue to attack when the game was long since won.

Whether it was borne out of the frustrations of the early weeks of the season or a desire to improve United’s poor goal difference from those fledgling weeks of the campaign, it displayed a ruthlessness which hasn’t always been seen in the past by this Ballymena team.

In effect, Ballymena did to Cliftonville what the Reds had done so often to United during the north Belfast side’s recent spell of domination.

It sounds overly-simplistic but Ballymena’s collective improvement has come about as a result of improved individual performances by several players.

The green shoots of recovery are certainly sprouting, but now comes the test of winning games where United will carry the favourite’s tag.