Ballymena United 2 Linfield 0
The post-match post-mortem was still in full swing when a pizza delivery boy arrived outside the Linfield dressing room at the Ballymena Showgrounds on Saturday.
Job done, he left but, while his players munched, David Jeffrey had much to chew over as he reflected on his side being ripped apart by a much hungrier and harder working Ballymena United side.
In Jamie Davidson they had a young lad who delivered just what Glenn Ferguson had ordered — three points — with a double goal salvo that had the Sky Blue fans salivating with delight on the opening day treat they’d been served.
Two classy finishes after waltzing through a hopelessly static visiting defence showed that, unlike the dishes on offer elsewhere, Davidson won’t go to pieces in the box.
But while delighted to grab a slice of the action and make a mockery of a predicted nightmare start to the campaign, Ferguson knows there’s an awful long way to go for his young shooting star and the team as a whole.
“We won’t get too carried away yet and I don’t want to put too much pressure on him,” he said.
“At this moment in time he’s certainly no Gary McCutcheon, but he’s proved today and he’s proved to us since we came in in January, that he does have ability and hopefully that will give him a lift to go on himself and want to improve.
“We’re at him week-in, week-out, about the things he has to do to improve. The opportunity is there for them all. We have always maintained if they’re fit enough and doing well in the team and getting results, they’ll stay in the team.”
Sky Blue fans have seen it all before though — a win against the big boys followed by a capitulation against the minnows — and Ferguson knows that only too well.
“I’ve told them that before they get too cock-a-hoop in the changing room, there’s no point in beating Linfield one week and going out and getting beaten by the likes of Ballinamallard or Distillery or whoever.
“You don’t get six or seven points for beating Linfield, you get three like everyone else. It peeves me that teams raise their game against Linfield one week and then go out and get beaten by the so-called lesser teams.
“We will definitely try not to let that happen, but we play Crusaders, who are the next top team, so we can’t let that happen. When the fixtures came out we said it will give us a gauge as to how far we’ve come.”
For Jeffrey and Linfield fans, this was a shock. Yes, they had a nailed on penalty turned away in the opening period but, apart from that Davidson (pictured) double, he skimmed the crossbar and the excellent David Cushley almost broke it as United enjoyed their day in the sun.
At the other end, even the introduction of Matthew Tipton to join the rich array of striking talent on show made no difference, with any attacks snuffed out with ease by Davy Munster and Johnny Taylor.
“If I was a player sitting in there and I’d played and performed like that I couldn’t wait to get to the next training session and I couldn’t wait to get out onto the pitch again simply to say ‘that’s not what I do,’” said Jeffrey.
“If you count the number of league medals in there, it is phenomenal, but the bottom line is that you’ve got to out-work and out-think your opponent. And if you don’t do that, then you’ve no chance.
“I don’t think the officials covered themselves in glory, but what I’m not going to do is deflect onto them because of our poor showing. That would be wrong.
“Yet again, we had players booked for what I don’t know and there were free-kicks that weren’t given and a penalty that wasn’t given but that’s a side issue and would totally take away from the fact that we were out-fought.”
Next up is a tough test against Coleraine. Defeat against Oran Kearney’s men would be a domino effect that no-one in blue will want to contemplate.