Guy Bates: We can't afford to ease off or get carried away
Linfield may be the early pace-setters in the Danske Bank Premiership but their big summer signing reckons it could be the most open title race ever.
Back from a brief spell in Australia, it was fitting that Guy Bates and his colleagues ruthlessly dismissed Ballymena United in a manner Stuart Broad would have been proud of.
And while Glenn Ferguson was left to sift through the ashes of a four-hit that could have been so many more, for Linfield it was the stuff of dreams and gave Bates the chance to purr over his new team-mates.
"It was a great start for the team and there were a few stand-out performers, Aaron Burns and Kirk Millar were superb, Stephen Lowry and Jamie Mulgrew too, but you could pretty much go through the whole team," he said.
"You need that little bit of quality in the final third and I think Burnsy gives us that and Andy Waterworth just breeds goals, so it's a great start but it's only one game in and we have to recover well and go again on Wednesday."
Two goals for Aaron Burns in the first-half set the Blues on their way and, although they huffed and puffed more in the third quarter, once Jim Ervin was red-carded for hauling down Bates as he looked to make it a dream league debut with a goal of his own, two more followed from Waterworth and Reece Glendinning in the last five minutes.
But Bates is too long in the footballing tooth to know that one win doesn't make a season, a campaign which he believes is wide open.
"There are too many good teams in this league," he maintained.
"This is a league where any team is capable of putting together a run of five or 10 wins, as with Glenavon last season when they went on a superb run to qualify for Europe.
"It's a league where anybody can beat anybody and we're certainly not getting carried away.
"You've got Crusaders who are champions, your Portadowns, Glentorans, Glenavons, I think Ballymena are up there as well and Warrenpoint are a team that can beat anybody on their day, they're very dangerous going forward.
"Everywhere you look in the league there's quality now. I think the top six is wide open and I think the bottom six is wide open, it could be anybody's title this year."
As for the Sky Blues, Ferguson would love to have packed off a few people to Australia so expect some new faces on show when they entertain Glenavon at the Showgrounds on Wednesday.
And one of those could well be Co Antrim Milk Cup starlet, Matthew Shevlin, who excelled in pre-season and scored twice for the Reserves on Saturday.
"We needed to try and create something and we had one chance when David Cushley went through and he's tried to lift it over the keeper and it has hit him in the face but other than that we didn't create an awful lot," Ferguson admitted. "Our set-pieces weren't good and we've worked really hard in pre-season but sometimes when you think things are going well you get a kick in the stomach.
"We've got a chance to put it right, some of those players might not. I told them that I know it's really early doors but I said at the start of the season that we have 22 players who I feel are capable of playing in the first team and there's competition for places."
LINFIELD: Ross Glendinning, Reece Glendinning, Clarke, Ward, Haughey, Mulgrew, Millar, Burns (Quinn 70), Lowry, Bates (Salley 86), Waterworth. Subs: Quinn (Burns, 70 mins), Salley (Bates, 86 mins), Deane, Hegarty, Murray.
BALLYMENA: Blayney, Ervin, McBride, McVey, Taylor, T Kane, Thompson, Gawley, Hanley, Tipton, Cushley. Subs: Taggart (Taylor, 46 mins), Henderson (Gawley, 53 mins), Jenkins (Thompson, 58 mins), E Kane, Ruddy.
Man of the match: Aaron Burns
Match rating: 7/10
Referee: Andrew Davey (Bangor)