Opinion: United must break Mallards ‘duck’ to keep glory bid alive

Ballymena United's previous visits to Ballinamallard have ended in disappointment. Picture: Press Eye.
Ballymena United's previous visits to Ballinamallard have ended in disappointment. Picture: Press Eye.

As semi-final match-ups go, Ballymena United’s League Cup clash with Ballinamallard tonight is as about as intriguing as can be imagined.

On the face of it, if someone had said to you that Ballymena would reach the semi-final of the second most prestigious knockout competition and then draw a team sitting below them in the league table, not many people would have complained.

The elephant in the room, of course, is United’s dreadful record at Ferney Park since Ballinamallard were promoted to the top flight.

Call me old-fashioned, but, in my opinion, a semi-final should be played at a neutral venue. It’s all part of the occasion, a sense that this isn’t simply a run-of-the-mill league game at the opposing team’s ground.

The only thing that can be said is that all clubs knew the format for the last four before the competition kicked off. Ballymena have played semis both at home and the opposition’s ground in their often overlooked excellent recent League Cup record of three semi-finals in four seasons.

But there’s no doubt that players having to take time off work to get out and rush 75-odd miles down the road to deepest Fermanagh on a midweek night isn’t likely to be conducive to a sparkling performance.

There are a multitude of reasons why I hope Ballymena can go on to reach their third final under Glenn Ferguson’s leadership - not least because it sounds from what I have written above, like a classic case of getting the excuses in early.

What I have described above is unlikely to wash with Ballymena supporters - or indeed Ferguson - if United don’t make the most of a terrific opportunity to reach a decider once again.

The draw made me smile as I recalled the day I incurred the wrath of then Ballymena manager Tommy Wright when I made some sort of off-the-cuff comment about a forthcoming midweek game, something along the lines of “that long auld trip to Newry”.

Tommy fixed me a with a steely glare before replying: “When you’ve travelled from Newcastle to Plymouth for a midweek match...now THAT’S a long trip.”

He makes a good point; if you start throwing possible negatives into the equation like the length of journey, players and supporters can start to believe them, and even rely on them as a crutch.

One thing is for sure - someone is going to have to end Ballymena’s unenviable record of never having scored at Ferney Park if they are to progress - unless of course the idea of 120 scoreless minutes, a penalty shootout win and a return home on a different day from you left home floats your boat?

* Follow Stephen Alexander on Twitter (@Stephen_Bmena)