Ballymena captain Ervin backs officials’ League Cup call

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Ballymena United captain Jim Ervin refused to point the finger of blame after last night’s BetMcLean League Cup semi-final between Ballymena United and Cliftonville at the Showgrounds had to be postponed because of the freezing conditions.

The match was called off just before 6pm after match referee Keith Kennedy carried out a pitch inspection, after the playing surface had been deemed playable after a mid-afternoon viewing by another referee.

The scene at Ballymena Showgrounds. Pic by INPHO.

The scene at Ballymena Showgrounds. Pic by INPHO.

This is the third time that the match has been postponed as the tie was originally scheduled for December 12 but fell victim of the freezing conditions and was called off for the same reason on the second scheduled date on January 16.

Ervin, who found out the game had been called off when on his way to the ground from Belfast, was disappointed the game didn’t go ahead.

“I was in Antrim when I heard the game was off,” he said. “It is very frustrating. Once we got to the ground the lines had been dug out and didn’t seem too bad.

“There was snow on the pitch and there was freezing temperatures and it was minus one at one stage.

“And lets be honest the conditions were only going to go one way.

“It’s very disappointing and this is the third time we have tried to get the game played but we couldn’t because of the snow in Ballymena.

“It’s just not able to happen and it is hard to believe it has been called off three times because of snow.”

But Ervin believes the match officials - who had come in for some flak on social media - had made the right decision.

“It’s easy to criticise but at the time of the first pitch inspection no-one can know what the weather is going to be like later that night.

“I’m sure they were under lots of pressure for the game to go ahead as the final is on Saturday week.

“It is just unfortunate that on the three occasions the game was supposed to be played the snow has appeared.

“It’s gutting because you have done all your preparations from Saturday and then we were on our way to the ground- at the outskirts of Antrim - and the match is called off.

“Guys would have got out of work early and then the game is postponed. But there is nothing anybody can do about the weather.

“It is frustrating for everyone involved.”

A new date for the game has yet to be revealed, but the final is scheduled to take place on February 17.

The race is on to fit in the semi-final. There is a desperate need to get a new date for the tie sorted very quickly.

Last night’s postponement gives the organisers a huge headache as Sky Sports are broadcasting the final live and they will be looking for the game to be played on that date.

Two pitch inspections were held before match referee Kennedy decided not to go ahead with the game.

And Ballymena United manager David Jeffrey agreed with Ervin that the match official had made the right call.

“It’s extremely frustrating and extremely disappointing but referee Keith Kennedy made absolutely the right decision.

“Certainly there is no way the pitch is playable and the referee owes a duty of care to the players.

“It was just too dangerous for the game to be played in those conditions.

“We were drawn out of the hat first and any suggestion that this would be taken away from Ballymena is totally and utterly wrong.”

And Cliftonville boss Barry Gray thought the game should have been called off earlier in the day.

“Common sense tells me this was never going to be played tonight,” he said. “The call could have been made today in the early afternoon and would have saved the cost and the impact to both teams.”

Dungannon Swifts await the winners of the tie in the Windsor Park decider.