United are Oval-whelmed!

VISITS to the Oval in recent seasons have tended to finish in two hugely contrasting outcomes for Ballymena United.

It has either resulted in well-merited Ballymena victories – four in the Sky Blues' six previous visits to east Belfast – or unmerciful hammerings, with nothing in between.

This one, sadly, fell into the latter category, where the three-goal margin between the teams should have been much greater.

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A hideous opening half, underpinned by glaring defensive deficiencies – particularly while defending set-pieces – saw United three goals adrift at the break with no mission of taking anything from the game.

In a league as ultra-competitive as the Carling Premiership, a performance as bad as Ballymena's would spell defeat against any opposition. To do so at the home of the champions is footballing suicide.

"We didn't show up in the first half – simple as that," reflected manager Roy Walker

"We gave corners away too cheaply and we didn't defend them well enough.

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The goals were calamitous from a defensive point of view, even the first one where there was no challenge on Gillespie.

"The two corners were disgraceful marking – if you defend like that, you're not going to keep clean sheets.

"We played better in the second half – there was a bit of pride at stake – but conversely, did Glentoran have to do anything? Not really. We played better without looking like we were going to get goals.

"We didn't pass the ball, we didn't use it well and their men just ran off us. It was a fairly abject first 45 minutes from us.

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"I thought Glentoran worked harder, starting from their front two. We didn't have enough people who stood up.

"It's always uncomfortable to watch when your team is losing goals and games. The key words at half-time were pride and heart," added Walker.

Former Northern Ireland winger Keith Gillespie started the rout on 17 minutes, when he made space for himself before drilling a low angled shot which keeper Sean O'Neill got a hand to but couldn't keep out.

The lead was doubled on 31 minutes when Johnny Black's corner was headed home inside the six yard box by Matthew Burrows – one of the smallest players in the penalty area.

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And the marking was even worse for the third goal on 40 minutes when, from another Black flag kick, Gary Hamilton, again inside the six yard box, had time to maneouvre himself into a position to finish with a bicycle kick volley.

Glentoran: James taylor, Nixon, Ward (sub Johnny Taylor 77), Leeman, Black, Gillespie (sub Waterworth 84), Fitzgerald, McCabe, Fordyce (sub Clarke 75), Burrows, Hamilton. Subs (not used): Morris, Halliday.

Ballymena United: O'Neill, Smith, Colligan, Ramsey, Albert Watson (sub Stewart 35), Anderson, Aidan Watson (sub Haveron 63), Carson, Cushley, Kelbie, Lockhart (sub McConnell 46). Subs (not used): McNeill, Surgenor.

Referee: Adrian McCourt (Bangor).