The Comrades, who had occupied a berth in the top three since early October, fell to a 3-2 defeat at Knockbreda.
Loughgall, who won 3-0 at Dixon Park on October 30, now sit third after a 2-0 win over Dundela, while Ballinamallard climbed to fourth with a 3-0 win over basement side, Queen’s University.
Ballyclare manager Paul Harbinson said: “The mood in the camp was one of frustration after Saturday’s performance. We’ve spoken about trying to improve performances each week and unfortunately, that didn’t happen yet again on Saturday. Knockbreda were better and deserved the three points. If we go into this incoming week with the same performance levels, we’ll come out with the same result.”
Ballyclare welcome Queen’s to Dixon Park on Saturday (3pm), and although they have enjoyed wins over the same opposition already this season (2-1 BetMcLean League Cup, 3-1 in the league and 3-1 in the ToalsBet.Com Co Antrim Shield), Harbinson is wary of the threat QUB could pose.
He explained: “We’ve learned this is a really competitive league this season and you can’t afford to take anything for granted. We’ve had good results against Queen’s, but that’s not to say we produced accomplished performances. They’ll come knowing we’ve had a few bad results and wanting to capitalise on that. Our message has to be clear that we need to concentrate on improving our performance levels.”
Although performances have dipped over recent weeks in the league, the Comrades pulled off a fantastic result in their Co Antrim Shield quarter-final win over Crusaders to set up a last-four meeting with Larne (see Page 38).
Harbinson is enjoying the cup run, but has stressed his focus is on the league campaign.
He said: “Larne will be another opportunity for us to test ourselves against one of the top teams and to see how well we can cope and adapt to their fast-moving style of football. The challenge will be again to improve our concentration and thus, our performance levels. Anything beyond that is a bonus.”
The Comrades boss was full of praise for goalkeeper Richard Purcell (20) after he received the Championship Player of the Month award for October from the Northern Ireland Football Writers’ Association.
Paul concluded: “I have spoken openly about Ricky and his desire to improve consistently. He is a young man who came to the club in order to develop and he has done so in abundance.
“His drive and attitude are two factors that are helping him to keep on getting better. He’s not alone in that and we are blessed with a group of players who want to do everything in their power to take this club forward.
“Each and every one of them has been hurting over the last few league results and they are keen to get back to winning ways. I can assure the fans that this is not taken lightly and that these players are working so hard outside of the Saturday window to put things right.”
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