Transferring Ballymena United’s cup form of recent seasons into the league campaign is the biggest challenge facing manager Glenn Ferguson in the new season.
The former Linfield goal ace is embarking on his fourth full season in charge at the Showgrounds and in each of the previous three, the manager has led his side to final appearances in knockout competitions.
But while those occasions have brought mixed fortunes – the County Antrim Shield success of 2012-13 was followed up by defeats in the Irish Cup final in 2014 and the League Cup final last year – it is an improvement in the club’s league position that Ferguson is using as the real barometer of his side’s progress.
United have continually come up just short in recent years, failing to reach the top six since the ‘split’ format’ came into effect.
Successive seventh place finishes in the Danske Bank Premiership in the past two years prompted Ferguson to decide that a change was required and he cut adrift virtually a full XI of first team squad and fringe players since the latter stages of last season.
“It certainly doesn’t get any easier year on year because there’s no doubt, with the way it has panned out, with the European money that is coming to clubs, there are five places gone, you would imagine, in the top six,” said Ferguson.
“The rest of us are playing for one place and there are probably four or five teams who will be looking for that spot.
“One area where we will have to improve is in games against the other top six sides – we didn’t score anywhere near enough points in those games last season, which ultimately cost us.
“But we also have to try to maintain the level of points we picked up last season around the sides in the lower half as well,” added Ferguson.
“We don’t have the finances to compete with the top sides when it comes to signing players so we have to be careful with the signings we make.
“We have tried hard to bring in players of the quality we need to improve the team,” added Ferguson, who has also promoted teenagers Eoin Kane, Matthew Ferguson, Leroy Millar and Matthew Shevlin to his senior panel from the reserves.”