Sky Blues crush Ports and squash Cushley exit rumours
Portadown were hit with a double whammy on Saturday, well beaten by Ballymena United and then thwacked in the chops with a firm 'he's not for sale' message over their rumoured interest in David Cushley.
The talented barrel-chested frontman is a much sought-after commodity in the Danske Bank Premiership, someone who can create and score goals and he played a key role again as unbeaten United cemented top spot on goal difference.
"No-one has approached me directly and if it's going on I'll be disappointed because no matter when I've signed a player I've always done it the right way and spoken to the manager first," said Sky Blues boss Glenn Ferguson.
"I don't know if it was just a case of because of who we were playing that the rumours were circulating to try and put David off his game, but they didn't work. I thought he was excellent and he worked his socks off.
"But he's contracted until the end of the year and hopefully we can get him beyond that."
Another new attacking player would perhaps cloud things even further for the Ports who were as disjointed as they were disappointing at the Showgrounds and hugely flattered by the final scoreline.
Trying to shoehorn Gary Twigg, Darren Murray and Mark McAllister into a new three-man frontline didn't work, so bringing Cushley in could be another headache for Ronnie McFall to sort out.
"People thought that Suarez, Ronaldo and people like that weren't for sale but he's a player we want to keep and we don't want him going anywhere," warned Ferguson.
"He's an integral part of our team. If anyone wants to speak to him they can speak to me first.
"You need to look at players who have gone. David McDaid has gone to Cliftonville, reportedly for £20,000 with an £8,000 European bonus to Coleraine if they get into Europe and as good as he is, he's unproven really in the Irish League.
"David Cushley finished with 17 goals last season in a team in the bottom six, he's a proven Irish League player so you make the judgement what you think he's worth.
"I'm 45 and I went for £55,000, so he must be worth £155,000 because he's only 23!"
Joking aside, it would be a massive loss for a United side that, on their early showings, could be a contender for the top six that most had overlooked a couple of weeks ago.
Ferguson made only two signings in pre-season, Matthew Tipton – who has led the line magnificently thus far – and Kyle McVey, whose joy at scoring Saturday's opening goal was tempered by leaving the field early due to a back injury.
The Ports levelled matters midway through the second period through Robert Garrett but rarely threatened and justice was done when Allan Jenkins tore open the visitors' defence to make it 2-1 in the 72nd minute and then Darren Boyce scooped up a woeful defensive pass to wrap things up with six minutes to go.
Darren Murray scored a last minute penalty for a hugely harsh handball to give the scoreline a more respectable look. but McFall wasn't fooled.
"Too many of them didn't play to their capabilities, it's a simple as that, even with the system," he said.
"None of the strikers want to play wide, they all want to play through the middle so that's the problem I have. We've changed the system to try and get the three strikers in.
"I also don't think we matched them in the aggression stakes, I thought we were lacking in that."
Attitude was certainly not lacking in the home camp, typified by the experienced men in their squad such as the excellent Stephen McBride, the bombastic Johnny Taylor and the drive of skipper Jenkins.
"The thing that's pleasing is that we were 1-0 up and didn't sit back, we went for more," added Ferguson.
"And when Portadown scored, we didn't sit back, the boys responded well and the boys scored another goal which was well worked by Allan Jenkins.
"The third one I said to Boycie (Darren Boyce) when I was putting him on he would get a chance because they were pushing. I thought Cush (David Cushley) was given them all sorts of problems up there, Tippy's (Matthew Tipton) movement was good and I said he'd get a chance but little did I know it would come from a square pass from one of their players."
As for top six or even higher, well, nothing is impossible seems to be the mantra.
"That's what we're aiming for and if we keep playing the way we're playing, top six is our target and our aim but who's to say what might happen because teams are dropping points already," Ferguson stressed.
"We're three matches in, if it's the end of February and we're 16 points clear I'll be happy that we're top of the league but teams can go into freefall at any time and hopefully we don't."