Opinion: United’s building plans continue to take shape

Stephen McBride retreives the ball from the back of Ballymena United's net during Saturday's defeat by Linfield at Windsor Park. Picture Pacemaker Press.
Stephen McBride retreives the ball from the back of Ballymena United's net during Saturday's defeat by Linfield at Windsor Park. Picture Pacemaker Press.

There was something strangely fitting about the backdrop to Ballymena United’s performance against Linfield at the weekend.

Amid the glorified building site that is the soon-to-be-revamped Windsor Park, on the pitch there was further evidence on the longer-term construction project put in place by Glenn Ferguson almost three years ago.

Firstly, it was yet another tremendous game. If you believe that often-used cliché about football being an entertainment business, then surely only the harshest of critics could contend that they haven’t had their money’s worth in the vast majority of United’s fixtures this term.

It was an odd game in many ways. Ballymena could justifiably claim to have played well for a total of 60-70 minutes.

The crux of the matter, however, is what happened in the other 20-30 minutes.

It was strange to see the hesitancy and tentativeness in Ballymena’s defending - even more so after the boost of opening the scoring inside the opening 10 minutes.

But from the moment that Dwayne Nelson came almost as far as the penalty spot in a forlorn attempt to claim a corner, leaving Chris Hegarty to nod home the equaliser, it signalled a severe case of the jitters.

Hegarty and Linfield’s second was as freakish as they come - it could have gone anywhere after Niall Quinn’s free kick came back off the post but it cannoned off Hegarty’s head and rebounded into the net.

The third goal came as the Blues exploited an area where they got particular joy, down their left-hand flank where Ballymena looked particularly edgy.

The half-time withdrawal of the strangely out-of-sorts Mark McCullagh in favour of Tony Kane eased United’s troubles in that position after the break while Kane also offered plenty going forward.

You can point to many improvements in Ballymena’s performances this season; one of them is the number of chances they create in games.

I’ve watched plenty of decidely average Ballymena United sides over the years struggle to create chances from open play - simply a manifestation of the lack of quality that has existed at different times.

But with players like Allan Jenkins, Matthew Tipton and David Cushley involved in the current panel, there is a genuine threat to Ballymena’s attacking play.

For all that, however, set-pieces remain a potential source of goals and Johnny Taylor once again proved what a danger he is from dead ball situations.

Incidentally, it was worth noting that the decision to award Ballymena’s second goal from Taylor’s downward header was given by the assistant referee. In stark contrast to the nonsense of the previous Saturday the role of the assistant - as the name suggests - is to assist the referee in making decisions where the man in the middle is not best-placed to make the call.

The final 15 minutes was classic stuff, with Ballymena throwing caution to the wind and Linfield attempting to pick them off on the counter-attack.

With one-third of the regular 33-game campaign completed, Ballymena are still very much among the pacesetting teams in a congested top half of the table.

One thing is clear to me - having seen Ballymena against every other team, there doesn’t appear to be any particular stand-out side this year and United have the ability to cope with any of them.

* Follow Ballymena Times Sports Editor Stephen Alexander on Twitter (@Stephen_Bmena)