After this muscle-cramping encounter in the mud, you’d have thought Ballymena boss Glen Ferguson would have told his players take it easy this week, with the prospect of Saturday’s sixth round Irish Cup tie against Linfield looming large.
But Ferguson is hoping and praying that Tuesday night’s tough league encounter at the Showgrounds against Gibson Cup holders Cliftonville isn’t a victim of the weather – even though he leads his men to his old stomping ground of Windsor Park just four days later.
“Key men Tony Kane, Alan Jenkins and David Cushley are all facing a one-match suspension, and the Cliftonville match would wipe those out,” said
Ferguson in his post-match interview. And Cliftonville – surprisingly out of the cup – will be keen to tackle under-strength Ballymena.
Especially after beating the Blues on Saturday and just two points adrift of the leaders.
But back to Shamrock Park, and Ferguson was bitterly disappointed that his men didn’t get the point they frankly deserved.
A late goal – that would have levelled a cracker from Sean Mackle – was rubbed out by referee Ross Dunlop.
“The linesman didn’t raise his flag,” Ferguson insisted.
“And Michael McLellan, who forced the ball home, and Daren Boyce, who was just a yard or two away, are adamant it wasn’t off-side.
“Both sides played with great commitment in the mud and neither deserved to lose.
“But you have to look forward, and next seven days are vital for us.”
Meanwhile, Mackle, clutching the ‘Man of the Match’ bottle of champagne was buzzing.
“I’ve suffered four months of injury, with a hamstring and a damaged knee,” he said.
“Now, I’m back to full fitness, and today’s goal – allied to last week’s against Dungannon Swifts – have given me a real lift.”
The decider came on 75 minutes, with striker Darren Murray the supplier.
He ghosted across three defenders and slipped it to Mackle who crashed it home from 14 yards.
“I just swung my left foot at the ball and it rebounded home from under the crossbar after their keeper got a hand to it,” he recalled.
“It was a great feeling and hopefully I can keep on scoring until the end of the season.”
It was borderline whether the match would go ahead, and it was all credit to groundsman Walter McElroy – celebrating his 79th birthday on Saturday – that the pitch was passed fit.