Ballymena United’s recent recruit pointed to his new boss as inspiration for their second half revival on Saturday.
Joe McKinney, who joined the club last week from Ards, put in a starring performance in his new side’s typically topsy-turvy 3-2 win over Dungannon Swifts.
Although he couldn’t take his chance to find the net shortly before the break, a win on his debut was just the start he wanted.
“It was like a game of chess,” reflected McKinney. “During the first half, we didn’t perform but we went into the changing rooms at half-time and David (Jeffrey) gave us that fire in the belly to come out in the second half and push on from there. Everyone was brilliant during the second half, it all came together.”
Things didn’t look so rosy for United at half-time as Dungannon went in with a 1-0 lead, care of Kris Lowe’s second league goal of the season.
But within 12 minutes of the restart, the hosts had reversed the scoreline thanks to Kyle Owens’ deft header on a Tony Kane cross and, of course, Kane got his customary penalty. It was his 12th spot-kick goal of the season and a much-needed return to normal service after his miss from 12 yards a week previous.
“We had a bit of a dip in the league with a couple of defeats before today so this game was so important to try and push on and get towards Europe,” said McKinney.
“Making my debut here was unbelievable. I’ve had lots of messages from fans, wishing me well. I want to thank all the Ards fans, the backroom staff and Colin (Nixon) who have been very supportive of me through the whole process as well.”
As good as Ballymena were in the second period, they still made things difficult, surrendering their 2-1 lead. Andrew Mitchell seized on a short goal-kick, held off his marker and slotted home at the second attempt, his first getting stuck in the goalmouth mire.
Two goals at the Showgrounds, though, are rarely enough for even a share of the spoils. So it proved a Caolan Loughran powered home a header on another Kane cross “Ballymena have always been a great club and I feel they deserve some success,” said new signing McKinney.
“I think good things are going to come. David and Brian are doing everything the way things should be done. Under those men, a lot of things are changing. There is a good vibe and a good level of professionalism and I’m very happy to be here.”
In defeat, Dungannon missed a golden opportunity to break into the top six as Glenavon lost to Linfield.
“It was disappointing because I thought for the first 45 minutes we were in complete control,” said Swifts boss Rodney McAree. “We were the better side, we played good football in poor conditions.
“We restricted Ballymena to half chances but then we came in at half-time and we knew we had to believe in what we had done in the first half. We had to deliver it again in the second half but we didn’t.
“We probably played quite well going forward but we looked like we were always going to concede. We lost runners and markers and the ball ended up in the net. We let wide players turn and run at us instead of pushing them away in the opposite direction.
“We’ve done everything we shouldn’t have done defensively in the second half. Going forward, I can’t knock the players. Their effort, commitment and desire has been very good. We just didn’t defend well enough.”
Despite the slip, McAree was in optimistic mood.
“We’ve still got a chance of pushing and competing for a top six place,” he said. “We have done extremely well. It’s been a long time since Dungannon haven’t been looking over their shoulders at this stage of the season.”