Council launch full investigation as County Antrim Shield final postponed amid Ballymena Showgrounds pitch problems
Tonight's County Antrim Shield final between Linfield and Crusaders has been postponed due to a waterlogged pitch following an afternoon inspection.
The game had been scheduled to take place at the Ballymena Showgrounds but the ongoing issues with the playing surface have now caused five games to be postponed this season.
The pitch was relaid last summer at the estimated cost of £250k to Mid and East Antrim Borough Council.
However, the Shield semi-final between hosts Ballymena United and Linfield was twice put back due to a waterlogged pitch.
There has also been a disruption to United's Premiership campaign with their game against Institute put back in December, albeit on a day that Crusaders' artificial surface was the only one to host a top division tie.
The fourth game to be called off was Saturday's Irish Cup tie between United and Portadown although, again, that was on a day that saw disruption across the fixture schedule, with three more of the last 16 games put back.
Mid and East Antrim Council has confirmed that a 'full investigation' has been launched.
"We are extremely disappointed and hugely frustrated by the condition of the playing surface at Ballymena Showgrounds," read a council statement. "We have launched a full investigation into the current issues in order to find a long-term solution.
"We want the pitch at the Showgrounds to be among the very best in Northern Ireland and we are committed to ensuring we will deliver this for the people of Mid and East Antrim, and the football fraternity.
"The current situation is totally unacceptable, and we apologise unreservedly for the disruption caused."
There are, however, two Danske Bank Premiership games scheduled to take place tonight with Newry's home game against Glentoran confirmed to be on after a pitch inspection. Elsewhere, Dungannon Swifts host Coleraine at Stangmore Park.
Linfield boss David Healy and Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter, among others, had raised concerns over the Showgrounds being named as the venue for tonight's game.
"The choice has been made. Is it the right choice? Probably not," Healy told the BBC. "If the game is on what state is the pitch going to be in? I don't know. Come Tuesday there is not going to be much football played. That's for sure."
"The Ballymena surface has come under pressure and scrutiny over the past few weeks and I understand there may be issues around drainage, but things like that are outside of our control," added Baxter, speaking to BBC Sport.
United manager David Jeffrey, meanwhile, has admitted there was an issue to be addressed.
"I am no expert when it comes to pitches, horticulture or anything of that nature," he said on Radio Ulster when his side's win over Ards went ahead only after an inspection 10 days ago. "I do know that there was a big investment made by the council and unfortunately, something doesn't seem to be right. There's no point trying to dress it up.
"I am sure council will be looking at the difficulties that are being experienced. There's obviously something with the drainage but I trust that council will be doing all that they can to right what is not working properly."
A new date for the County Antrim Shield final has yet to be set.
Belfast Telegraph Digital