Sky Blues paying price for improvement: Jeffrey
Ballymena United 1 Institute 1
David Jeffrey feels that Ballymena United's upward mobility in recent times means that teams are now seeing the Sky Blues as a major scalp.
Last season they Braidmen finished second in the race for the Gibson Cup but have found things much tougher this time around, as Saturday's battling draw with Institute showed.
A crippling injury-list has played a major part in those struggles with the point against the visitors on Saturday the first they had picked up in six Danske Bank Premiership games.
They had to do it the hard way, coming from behind after Joe McCready had clinically despatched a penalty after Gareth Brown was cut down in his prime by Jim Ervin in the box.
Sean Connor's side were well on top in the opening period and had a great spell later in the game too where only the excellence of Ross Glendinning in the United goal kept them at bay.
They got back on level terms five minutes after the restart when goalkeeper Ryan Brown compounded his original error of fumbling the ball by then pulling down Adam Lecky and Andy McGrory blasted home the spot kick.
"It's part of the consequence of how we performed last year," said a reflective Jeffrey afterwards.
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"Teams are coming here, fighting and battling, possibly moreso than they would have done previously and at this point in time we are having to fight and battle our way through games.
"It's good to have Adam Lecky back but we've lost Jude Winchester for Tuesday night and I think Andrew Burns is suspended.
"We keep getting knocked back through injury or suspension. That was as close to a settled side as we could and now we're having to mix and match, it's just part and parcel of football."
As for Connor, his positive impact on Institute is plain to see, adding a steely determination to the nice football that we have come to expect from them over the years.
"I thought we should have been a wee bit further ahead," he said.
"A one-goal lead is very difficult and I did say to them that we need the next goal quickly because I felt that would kill the game off.
"I never really panicked when Ballymena scored because I do think we have a bit of resoluteness about us and shape to us when we don't have the ball, so that didn't worry us too much.
"But there was a 15-minute period when we were really under the cosh, but once we got through that and we made a few wee tweaks to the shape, I thought we finished very strongly.
"We're working hard, we've got a good bit of substance to us, the defeats, two to Linfield and two to Cliftonville, you can almost accept them."
Ballymena United: Ross Glendinning, Ervin, McCullough, Addis, Burns, McGrory, Winchester, Carville (T. Kane 76), K. Kane (Lavery 61), Lecky, McGinty.
Subs not used: Williamson, Mayse, Knowles, Balmer, Reece Glendinning.
Institute: R. Brown, Crown, McLaughlin, Tourish, Curry, McCauley, Tweed (Bradley 84), Grace, McCready , G. Brown (McGurk 82), McNamee (McIntyre 69).
Subs not used: Wells, Scoltock, Morrow, Leppard.
Referee: Evan Boyce (Ballygowan)
Match rating: 7/10
Man of the match: Ross Glendinning (Ballymena).