Head must rule heart for Ballymena's baby steps despite 'desperately disappointing' end to title bid: Jeffrey
Ballymena Utd 1 Warrenpoint Tn 2
David Jeffrey says Ballymena United face five cup finals in the next few weeks as the Sky Blues look to bounce back from a second crippling title blow in seven days.
Defeated by Glentoran last Saturday, Warrenpoint Town left Warden Street with all three points at the weekend, meaning that Linfield can breathe much easier at the summit with a nine-point lead in their pocket.
The two sides clash on Friday-week in the first game of the split, where a win for David Healy's men would effectively clinch the Gibson Cup given their superior goal difference.
Jeffrey was disappointed that his side couldn't build on Adam Lecky's classy 16th minute finish. It was cancelled out by Philip Donnelly eight minutes before the break and, nine minutes from time, Hernany Macedo Marques pounced to win it.
"We weren't able to capitalise and we got caught on the counter-attack and, after a fantastic save from Ross Glendinning, again we should have reacted quicker and didn't and we found ourselves on the back of a 2-1 defeat," he said.
"It's desperately disappointing, particularly on the journey we have had. We've gone on very long runs, played well but today was a day for lessons to be learnt and harsh lessons they were."
That disappointment says much for just how far Jeffrey and his men have come this season and, while the title dream may be at an end, the focus remains the same.
"If anyone had offered me second place at the split, regardless of who was ahead, regardless how many points they were ahead, and said you're in second place, four points ahead of the team below you, I'd have been going 'wise up, catch yourself on'," he added.
"I've talked about incremental steps and baby strides and I've asked the players to think on.
"Football's also a very emotional game and it's a game where mentally, cognitively, you've got to think through how you do things.
"It's a tough lesson, a harsh lesson, but we've come to the split, our points accumulation is impressive, we're in second place, four points ahead of Crusaders.
"Now we have a week off, let's prepare ourselves for five ginormous games to come; five cup finals and the mantra hasn't changed - we've got top six and we want to qualify for Europe, that's where we're at."
For Warrenpoint, there is the very real possibility of a first-ever Irish Cup final as they go into Saturday's semi-final showdown with Ballinamallard United at Mourneview Park as hot favourites.
But they are also looking upwards in the league, their safety long since secured, and manager Stephen McDonnell wants to end the season on a high.
"We took the three points which is pleasing from a confidence point of view to build up to what will be for many of them the biggest game of their career," he said.
"For me so far in management and in my time playing, it will be the biggest game in my career so it is an exciting week ahead."
BALLYMENA: Ross Glendinning, Kane Quigley (McGinty, 73 mins), Addis, Ervin, Watson, Mayse, McGrory, Winchester (McMurray, 81 mins), Lecky, McCullough. Unused subs: Williamson, Whiteside, Burns, Nolan, Shevlin.
Warrenpoint: Turker, Young (Duffy 46,), Hughes, Wallace, Reilly, Macedo Marques, Foster, M Lynch, O'Connor (Moan, 65 mins), Donnelly (Kelly, 90 mins), Scannell. Unused subs: McGrandles, J Lynch, Byrne, Magowan.
Referee: Ian McNabb (Newtownabbey)
Man of the match: Anton Reilly
Match rating: 6/10