Glentoran went into this afternoon's game at The Oval against Ballymena Utd searching for consistency following a mixed bag of results to start the 2015/16 campaign. Positive news in the team selection saw Ciaran Caldwell make his debut following last week's move from Glenavon and David Howland earned his first start in almost a year following a return from another severe injury. Glentoran changed tactics, operating a 4-3-3 with McAlorum joining Caldwell and Howland in midfield. Fra McCaffery returned in the front three following an excellent performance and two goals for the Seconds in mid-week.
Our opposition Ballymena secured their first point of the season last week against Carrick Rangers but in truth it has been a disastrous start for Glenn Ferguson's side. Glentoran surely would have been filled with confidence that if we made a solid start to the game we could run out comfortable winners. When Curtis Allen opened the scoring after 6 minutes it seemed to be going perfectly to plan. Following a good header from a cross from the left hand side, Conor McMenamin stretched and deflected the ball onto the post before it fell perfectly to Curtis Allen to tap home into the empty net from just 5 yards out.
Glentoran's delight was short lived. Just one minute later and Ballymena were level. A poor pass by David Howland meant Glentoran lost possession in their own half. A worrying gap appeared in the middle of Glentoran's final third and Jim Ervin slotted through the defence for 16 year old Michael Shevlin to latch on to. Shevlin showed composure beyond his years, rounding Aaron Hogg in the Glentoran goal and finishing into the empty net. 1-1.
Ballymena soon after had the opportunity to take the lead with the dangerous David Cushley lining up a free kick just outside the box. Typically Cushley connected well but thankfully for Glentoran his shot bulleted straight at Aaron Hogg who did well to hold on. Glentoran huffed and puffed in the first half with very little quality on show. Barry Holland and Marcus Kane tried to offer width and bar a couple of decent crosses, Glentoran lacked a real cutting edge in the final third. Ciaran Caldwell saw the headlines on his debut and attempted a hopeful long range effort that sailed aimlessly over the bar.
Glentoran's defensive problems continued as more gaps appeared in the back with midfield runners easing beyond Glentoran's backline and causing real problems. Ballymena should have taken the lead on the half an hour mark when Willie Faulkner got through on goal only for Aaron Hogg to make himself big and block the goalbound effort. Ballymena's persistence paid off on the 38th minute however, again Jim Ervin with the assist following more sloppy defending from Glentoran. Ervin laid the ball into the path of the uncoming Matthew Tipton and the former Linfield and Portadown striker fired sweetly beyond Hogg's reach into the far corner.
The second half got off to a disastrous start for Glentoran with Curtis Allen limping off injured to be replaced by David Scullion and forcing a re-shuffle from Eddie Patterson, sending Conor McMenamin to his more natural central position. For Glentoran the loss of Allen was the end of any serious challenge to the Ballymena goal. On the 58th minute, Shevlin could has extended Ballymena's lead after Aaron Hogg's initially good goalkeeping in blocking the ball suddenly slipped out of his grasp and on the turn Shevlin should have done better as he fired wide of the unguarded net. Faulkner could have given Ballymena the lead when he opened up his body and tried to place his shot in the corner on 61st minute but his effort sliced wide leaving Glentoran breathing a sigh of relief.
Glentoran offered their first threat of the second half when a good piece of play by Conor McMenamin sent Scullion free on the left hand side. His cross/shot was low and powerful but well handled by the Ballymena goalkeeper.
Ballymena's confidence continued to grow and Glentoran's failure to produce any real quality meant the pressure was continually on the Glentoran end of the pitch. Matthew Tipton could have scored on 69th minute when Jonny Addis carelessly lost the ball in defence. Hogg again came and stopped his shot.
Ballymena in truth could have continued to inflict the misery onto Eddie Patterson's side but Hogg saved Cushley's shot and was also able to stop full-back Ruddy's effort with Calum Birney hooking clear before a rebound into the empty net on 71st and 74th minute.
Ballymena were almost punished for not putting the game away as Calum Birney's smart free kick on 75th minute send Conor McMenamin through on goal. The youngster didn't have the best of angles and tried to round the goalkeeper in-field to create a better angle. His indecision gave Ballymena the chance to recover and clear before he was able to get a shot off.
On 82nd minute the game was put to bed by Faulkner, again he burst through Hogg's defence but this time made no mistake dinking the ball over Hogg into the back of the net.
Glentoran made late changes bringing on Kym Nelson and Steven Gordan for Fra McCaffery and Stephen McAlorum but it was too little too late for Glentoran. A really disappointing performance with only three attempts in the entire of the second half when behind particualarly difficult to believe. Much work ahead for Eddie Patterson- next week we host Portadown in a repeat of last season's Irish Cup Final and an improved performance will be necessary for Glentoran to re-start our faltering season.
Photographs by Thomas Sewell.