Opinion: United’s deficiencies laid bare on the big stage

So, that would be that, then.

Ballymena United defender Stephen McBride at the final whistle after Saturday's Irish Cup semi-final defeat by Portadown. Picture: Press Eye.

A season which started with such promise for Ballymena United is flickering in its dying embers after Saturday’s Irish Cup semi-final defeat by Portadown.

Scarcely in his worst nightmares could Glenn Ferguson have envisaged the nightmare that was the opening half hour at the Oval, as a bumper Ballymena support watched ashen-faced as hopes of another Irish Cup final were ripped from them.

It was the sort of result and performance that a lot of people hoped wouldn’t happen but secretly feared that it might.

A lot of people in sport will tell you that losing in a semi-final is worse than losing in a final, simply because you miss out on all the build-up and excitement associated with it.

To lose a semi-final within the opening half-hour takes that to a whole new level.

The disappointment of missing out on an occasion which brought such life and vigour to the club this time last year in such a feeble manner is something that will hit hard, much harder than if the vast majority of the same group of players hadn’t experienced it last year.

From the moment that Paddy Mcnally’s fourth minute clearance cannoned off the chest off Mark McAllister, straight to the striker’s feet, there was an awful sense of foreboding about what lay in store.

I’ve said it before this season, that you can tell within the first 15 minutes of a match whether Ballymena are going to be at the races or not.

The space that Michael Gault had to get not one, but two shots away for the second goal was all too familiar, while Peter McMahon’s burst from midfield to score from a seemingly fairly innocuous situation highlighted United’s glaring lack of pace.

After 27 minutes it was all over bar the shouting - and it came about 30 seconds later.

United at least made a fist of it in the second half but dominating possession against a team content to sit on a three goal cushion didn’t fool Ferguson and it won’t have fooled many other people either.

Perhaps a greater concern at this stage is the apparent loss of faith in Ferguson by a section of the United support.

McMahon’s classy third goal for the Ports was greeted by the sight of sizeable number of Ballymena fans heading for the exit, accompanied by a chorus of ‘Fergie, time to go’.

Ferguson is a determined enough character to attempt to tun it around but there is no doubt that this will be the biggest summer of his three-and-a-half years in charge.

While previous summers have been pretty much ‘tumbleweed’ material, with minimal ins and out, Ferguson has tended to do much of his transfer activity in January.

Not this time. It won’t be a case of tweaking the squad here and there - it is root and branch overhauling in many areas that will be required in a busy off-season.

* Follow Ballymena Times Sports Editor on Twitter (@Stephen_Bmena)