Ballymena United boss David Jeffrey was in a rush to leave Windsor Park following Saturday’s final whistle but it had little to do with the 2-1 loss to Linfield.
Jeffrey had to hit the road to serve as a judge for the ‘Strictly Ballymena’ charity event in aid of Bravehearts NI - but took time to deliver a verdict on the previous 90 minutes as one of pride in his players.
“We were undone by two pieces of individual brilliance,” said the Blues boss following a Joel Cooper brace that left Linfield with three points despite Jimmy Callacher’s last-gasp own goal. “I couldn’t fault the players, I felt we played well in the first half and even better in the second.
“You cannot say Linfield did not deserve to win, obviously when you have that brilliance that’s the difference between the two teams.
“But, for our own performance, I was proud of the players.
“They worked hard, looked to keep the ball and created chances.
“In the first half we hit the frame of the goal and had as many chances as Linfield, I’ve looked at the stats.
“But it comes down to a very simple analysis of Joel Cooper’s two goals.
“In terms of effort, commitment and quality of play it was good from my viewpoint.”
Ballymena’s recent injury issues have forced Jeffrey into a reshuffle of his pack and that continued at Windsor Park.
Leroy Millar proved alert in the final third during Ballymena’s positive attacking play but his absence on three occasions for attention to a head wound, although diligent, marked just one added disruption for the Sky Blues in a bid to leave Belfast with any rewards.
“We lost Scot Whiteside at half-time with hamstring trouble and the plan was always to use Cathair Friel but he’s been out for four weeks,” said Jeffrey. “We were never going to throw him straight in but Cathair was always going to play a large chunk of the game.
“However, I thought Kenny Kane did really well in the first half.
“If we had scored with 10 or 15 minutes to go rather than right at the death then it’s a different kettle of fish and Linfield were able to see it out over injury-time.
“I cannot say I’m disappointed or frustrated as I’m very proud of how we played.
“We never let our heads drop and sometimes you’ve just got to put your hands up.
“I’ve said this season’s league is as competitive as I can remember, even from when I was a player.
“I’m 57 years old on my next birthday and have been involved in the Irish League from 19 and never seen the league as strong right down the line.
“The whole league is very competitive.”