David Jeffrey tried everything. He utilised his substitutes, tweaked the system and altered the formation as his Linfield side threw everything other than the proverbial kitchen sink at Ballymena United.
Plenty of huff, no shortage of puff after a rigorous pre-season campaign, but the Blues couldn’t blow Roy Walker’s side’s firmly constructed house down.
And that meant two points slipping away from the champions as they kicked off their defence of the Carling Premiership title.
Now manager Jeffrey will have to undertake a tactical rethink before taking his side to face Dungannon Swifts next Saturday.
The 4-2-3-1 formation that he employed in the Blues’ Champions League meetings with Rosenborg didn’t bring a victory, but it was deemed a success, largely because it was popular with the players.
With the right personnel doing their jobs properly it’s a system that can be solid defensively and positive in attack. Linfield, however, have failed to score a goal in the three competitive games in which it has been used — although two have been 0-0 draws.
After getting nowhere in their attempts to break Ballymena’s sturdy resolve in the opening 45 minutes — with Jamie Mulgrew somehow heading over the bar from a yard out — it was time for changes.
Brian McCaul’s league debut lasted just one half and off went Billy Joe Burns too. Jim Ervin and Michael Carvill were like-for-like replacements, which was probably part of the reason why there was still no breakthrough or a real clear-cut opportunity created.
When Carvill was pressed further forward in the closing stages the Blues did look more threatening and eventually they did have the ball in the net six minutes from the end, only for referee Raymond Crangle to cut the celebrations short when he awarded a free-kick for a foul on Ballymena’s debutant goalkeeper Ryan Brown.
“It was a very frustrating day,” admitted a perplexed Jeffrey.
“In the first-half we had plenty of possession and we used the system that served us well in Europe.
“That system is only good if you pass the ball and move the ball quickly, but there was a lethargy about our play and we didn’t zip the ball about.
“We made the changes at half-time bringing Jim Ervin and Michael Carvill on because we wanted to up the tempo and to a fair degree we did that.
“We’d lots of possession, although we didn’t create a lot, but we had lots of possession.
“Then I thought we needed to be more direct and we changed to our more traditional 4-4-2 and that brought a bit more joy.
“We’d lots of free-kicks and corners, but we couldn’t capitalise.
“You want to get off to a good start and we haven’t done that. We didn’t capitalise on our possession.”
As if watching his team struggle for 90 minutes, things got worse for Jeffrey when he saw footage of the incident that surrounded the disallowed goal — a decision he felt was incorrect.
“I saw the goal again on television and Michael Carvill didn’t commit a foul on Ryan Brown, not by any stretch of the imagination,” claimed Jeffrey.
“That just compounded our day.”
There was one other disappointment for Jeffrey, but also one piece of good news that will soften the blow.
Kris Lindsay suffered a knee ligament injury after just 29 minutes and a scan this week will reveal the exact extent of that damage and how long he will be missing for, but the signing of David Armstrong will give Jeffrey options in defence.
“David Armstrong is quick and strong, good in the air and good in the tackle. He could have gone elsewhere, but this is where he wants to be,” said Jeffrey.