Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 31 July 2014

Ballymena United 1 Linfield 2

It was perhaps expecting too much for the apprentice to conjure up a spell that would see off the sorcerer on his first day in the office but for Glenn Ferguson the job has started.

He still has some way to go to catch up with David Jeffrey, who celebrated his 15th year at the helm of the mighty ship Linfield this week and, typically, won.

The 2-1 victory at the Ballymena Showgrounds was achieved without fuss or tub-thumping histrionics and, while a seven-point gap in January would have many shouting from the rooftops, for Jeffrey it was simply another win.

Seventh heaven for him will be the blue ribbons remaining on the Gibson Cup come the end of the season and, until that time, there will no counting of any chickens down Windsor Park way.

“I’ve a very, very good memory,” he recalled. “The first year I won the championship was 1999-2000 and we had what appeared to be this great lead and people were saying all sorts of things, ‘it’s only Linfield’s to lose’ and ‘who’s going to come second’. Rubbish.

“We went to play at Solitude and we came in 2-0 down at half-time and ended up winning 3-2 and, if we hadn’t have got a victory that night, I don’t know what the lead would have been cut to.

“So leads mean nothing at this stage, absolutely nothing. It’s a good three points, nothing more than that, and to look any further than that is ridiculously stupid.”

The game itself was never going to be a classic. The main event was always going to struggle to live up to expectations built up by the sideshow of Ferguson’s first taste of management against his mentor and the fact that the latter was celebrating his momentous anniversary.

It took all of 12 minutes into his reign for Ferguson to get his first experience of poor defending; Peter Thompson, never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, gleefully trundling the ball home after a catalogue of mishaps.

Within six minutes United were level, a fine strike on the half volley from influential skipper Allan Jenkins renewing the home crowd’s hopes of a fairytale start.

That was cruelly ended three minutes after the restart when Mark McAllister’s attempt to feed the ball into the box saw Davy Munster stick out a toe and the ball curled agonisingly into the net.

Not the start he would have dreamt of, but Ferguson is too long in the tooth to think that there would be an instant fix at Warden Street. However, seven days into the job it has given him an idea of what is needed.

“I’m a week wiser and a week happier,” he admitted.

“This time last week I didn’t know too much about them and, having drawn two-each with Donegal Celtic, I was disappointed with what I watched. But I’m a lot happier today.

“No manager knows everything. Alex Ferguson is 70 and he’s still learning. That’s why I’ve got Lee Doherty and Norman Kelly with me. They’ve been in the game a long time and Lee’s definitely a mature head and a very intelligent man and all three of us just bounce off each other.

“We’re all learning as we go along and, obviously, when you play games against other managers, you’re going to pick up tips and different trends, so it’s a learning curve for all of us.

“We’ve given positive feedback to them, there’s been nothing negative at all and I think they’ll respond to that. They’re a good bunch of lads and I think the only way is up for them now and the only way they can keep getting better is to keep working hard.

“We didn’t play as much football today as we wanted but we were playing Linfield, possibly the best team in the country and they’re sitting top of the league, so we’ve got to be happy with the performance.”

It was the same for Jeffrey but, with Ferguson joining Oran Kearney as one of the Blues’ chief’s former protégés now cutting their managerial teeth, he is delighted to see them making their mark.

“They’re both students of the game and it doesn’t surprise me that Oran has gone into management and it doesn’t surprise me that Glenn has gone in,” he added.

“They were both excellent players and they know a lot about the game, but I’m sure they’ll learn there’s an awful lot more about it. Before, they will have had to think about themselves and themselves only, that’s natural, but when you’re manager and the head coach then you have to think about everything.

“I’m very proud, and I don’t want to sound patronising, but I’m very proud and it’s nice to see players that you’ve worked with and did so very well with have now gone into management. I’ve no doubt that Glenn will do very well, as Oran is doing.”

As for one word of advice? Well, he kept his counsel on that one, chortling ‘they’ll find out’ but ‘win’ would be one that springs to mind. It has served Mr Jeffrey very well.

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