Linfield will need to cut out half measures
Ballymena United 2-3 Linfield
If Linfield can maintain the same quality of play for 90 minutes as they do for 45 then opposition teams should be very afraid.
Not for the first time in recent matches, the Blues failed to kick on from a dominant first half and, although boss Warren Feeney insisted they were not hanging on at the end, Ballymena United were the team most likely to get the sixth goal of an entertaining game.
Yet, Linfield should have been out of sight by the interval with Andy Waterworth running the show, scoring once, setting up the first two goals for Stephen Lowry and Sammy Morrow inside eight minutes, and going close on two other occasions, with the United defence looking as vulnerable as they did in the second half of last week's embarrassing seven-goal thrashing by Cliftonville.
But, thanks to skipper Allan Jenkins 25th minute strike, in a rare home attack, the Sky Blues were only two goals behind at the interval and it was they who stepped up the pace in the second half, although their only reward was a twice-taken penalty by Matthew Tipton.
"I spoke to the players at half-time and told them they (Linfield) were getting too many crosses into the box," said manager Glenn Ferguson.
"They cost us dearly. I told them we had to learn form that, we had to stand up and be counted in the second half which, to their credit, we did.
"From 3-1 down and after what happened last week we could have crumbled but we didn't and came back, scored a goal and I firmly believe we should have had another penalty when Jenkins was tripped in the box."
Feeney's after-match comment that "we knew they were going to put us under pressure (in the second half)" failed to explain the recurring problem of Linfield's inability to produce a consistent 90-minute performance.
Against Coleraine last week, they led 2-0 after half-an-hour, but won only 2-1, in the previous home game, they were 2-1 in front but Glentoran controlled the second half to earn a 2-2 draw and in between they "didn't turn up for the first half" against bottom of the table Warrenpoint and had to come back from a goal down to win 2-1.
The more relevant statistic is only two defeats in their last 11 although is it significant that the losses came against Cliftonville and Crusaders, the teams directly behind them in the league table? Leaders Portadown visit Windsor Park on Saturday week.
"We had the desire and hunger to get the three points," added Feeney. "I thought we were comfortable and, while some of the decisions went against us, we held out and all showed the character to win."
Opposite number Ferguson, despite a sixth loss in eight which leaves them stranded seven points from the top half and the same number clear of possible relegation, was happy to take the positives from the second-half comeback.
Ballymena: Addis, T Kane, McCullagh, Taylor, McBride, Gawley, Thompson, Ferguson, Teggart, Jenkins, Tipton. Substitutions: Surgenor (Ferguson, 63 mins), Boyce (Teggart, 67 mins), E Kane (Thompson, 78 mins).
Linfield: Ross Glendinning, Richards, Haughey, Callacher, Quinn, Millar, Lowry, Mulrew, Burns, Morrow, Waterworth. Substitutions: Reece Glendinning (Haughey, 35 mins), Feeney (Morrow, 66 mins), Carvill (Millar, 85 mins).
Man of the match: Andy Waterworth
Match rating: 9/10
Referee: Ross Dunlop (Carrickfergus)