Ultimately, when the league table is perused come the end of the campaign, Ballymena United will be seen to have come up short. The Sky Blues are second in the standings and find themselves nine points adrift of league leaders Linfield, who will surely go on to lift the title and enjoy all of the plaudits that will come with their success.
But United manager David Jeffrey wants his charges to assess the final analysis knowing that they have given their all in the run-in, in the bid to secure the best finish they can hope for. And he remains confident that this can be the case. He has chosen his words carefully to inspire his players to dig deep and produce a final flourish to the season. His comments come after he saw his side slump to a disappointing and unexpected 2-1 loss to Warrenpoint Town in the Danske Bank Premiership.
Jeffrey has been quick to point out that there is no time to feel sorry over the reverse. If they do, they will be punished — for next up for his side is a clash with table-toppers Linfield on April 5. Thereafter, United will go head to head with Cliftonville, Coleraine, Glenavon and Crusaders.
The manager sees second place, a spot in Europe and heaps of pride as the goal ahead of the curtain coming down on the season. He said: “I have asked the players, this is not about your ability, this is not about your talent, it is not about your tactical awareness. Football is a very emotional game and mentally you have got to think how you do things?
“Saturday’s defeat was a tough lesson, a harsh lesson but we have come to the split and our points accumulation is impressive. We are in second place, four points above Crusaders and now we have a week off and let us now prepare ourselves for five massive games of football.
“They are five cup finals and our mantra hasn’t changed. We have got the top six and we want to qualify for Europe. That is where we are at and that was our aim. Top six and qualify for Europe. Nothing has changed for us.”
Meanwhile, at the other end of the table, there was more misery for basement boys Newry City as they slipped to a 12th defeat in 13 league matches, with Glenavon collecting a 1-0 victory at the Showgrounds.
It was Andrew Mitchell’s second-half header that inflicted the damage and not even the most ardent of City fans could argue the win wasn’t one that was deserved.
The one plus point for City was the first-half display from keeper Andy Coleman who pulled off a series of super saves to deny the visitors as they piled on the pressure but reached the interval having failed to make the breakthrough.
Like City, Ards are fighting for their lives at the foot of the table and but they were denied a crucial win when Crusaders forced a 2-2 draw after trailing at Clandeboye Park in Bangor, Agonisingly, Ards were just seven minutes away from grabbing what would have been a vital win in their fight to avoid automatic relegation.