INCONSISTENCY, shocking away form and individual errors proved to be the key factors in another poor season at the Showgrounds; in Tommy Wright's second season in charge.
Optimism was high going into the season after an encouraging season previously, which had seen the Sky Blues reach the County Antrim Shield final and finish seventh in Tommy Wright's first season at the Braid.
However, the summer seen the departure of a number of key players as club captain and 'Player of the Year', Gary Smyth, returned to Glentoran. First team-players such as Ciaran Donaghy (Donegal Celtic), Vincent Sweeney (Limavady United) and Rory Hamill (Dungannon Swifts) found themselves heading out Warden Street.
Wholesale changes were made to the Ballymena side with winger Mark Picking arriving from Linfield along with Northern Ireland Under-21 full-back Aaron Callaghan and Lee Patrick from Limavady United. Wright's problem goalkeeping area seemed solved with the arrival of Portadown stopper, Paul Murphy. Wright also appointed 21-year-old Albert Watson as the new club captain in the wake of Smyth's departure.
Encouraging pre-season results against Scottish opposition Motherwell (in what was a testimonial for long-serving Nigel Boyd), Stranraer and Airdrie United bode well for the new season, but a poor opening League Cup campaign seen the Sky Blues pick up only one win in six as they finished bottom of the four-team group.
Although, one of the highlights of the season came in August when English Premier League side Manchester City visited the Showgrounds for a friendly as part of the transfer that took Richard McKinney from Ballymena to Manchester in 1999. A sell-out crowd of over 5,000 crammed into Warden Street to see Stuart Pearce's side win 3-1 over a spirited Ballymena United side, with Gary Haveron scoring the home goal in what was a memorable night for the club's supporters.
Back to the domestic scene, the Premier League campaign also kicked off in style as Ballymena fought back from two goals down to defeat Glenavon 4-2 at the Showgrounds in a sensational opening day clash.
Notoriously slow starts to the season, Tommy Wright's side then only picked up one win in their next ten outings between October and December, as the pressure was beginning to mount on this under-achieving United side. Undoubtedly the most humilating result of the season and possibly the last decade was the truly abysmal 3-1 defeat to Dundela in the County Antrim Shield, the same competition the club had been within a crossbar of winning the season previously.
A trip to Larne on the 1st December broke the winless streak thanks to a emerging young striker Randal Reid's winner; this proved to be Ballymena's first away victory in eight months! Victory the following week in the first meeting against newly-promoted Donegal Celtic secured back-to-back wins for the first time all season.
The festive gloom of the 3-2 Boxing Day defeat to rivals Coleraine was lifted by arguably the game of the season at the turn of the year. Title chasing Glentoran visited the Showgrounds but were stunned by two Kevin Kelbie goals, as the Scottish striker returned to form in a fantastic 3-2 victory.
January seen a number of new faces to strengthen the side as midfielders Gavin Melaugh and Stephen Lowry arrived from Donegal Celtic and Limavady United, respectively and Dundalk defender Simon Kelly also joined in January to replace Gordon Simms who moved back to England, whilst the ineffective Austin Friel was used as a swap deal with Limavady for Lowry.
With the inconsistent league form attentions turned to the Irish Cup and after uncomfortable victories over lower league HW Welders and Comber Rec. the Braidmen faced Linfield in the quarter-finals of the blue riband event. Gavin Melaugh's deflected effort looked to have put Ballymena through, only for Steven Douglas to fire a late equaliser to force a replay.
However, controversy reigned when Linfield boss David Jeffrey refused to play the replay the following week, citing a fixture back-log due to their Setanta Cup commitments. It took nearly a month before the replay took place - on the day of the semi-finals - yet despite the Braidmen racing into a 2-1 lead at Windsor Park, they could not hold on and eventually went down 4-2 to the eventual winners of the competition.
A low key end to the season saw Ballymena United finish a very disappointing ninth in the Premier League, as the long-standing trophy famine continued in Mid-Antrim. However, at least the future looked britgher as David Dorrian's Reserve side picked up the Irish League Reserve Championship after some excellent displays over the course of the long season.
Season Review by Neil Coleman