IT was a season of extremes at the Showgrounds in 2007/2008, as the Sky Blue faithful witnessed the good, the bad and the ridiculous this season.
Manager Tommy Wright had a quiet summer in the transfer market bringing in only two new players in the summer transfer window, choosing to stick by his players that finished a disappointing ninth the previous season. Full-back Thomas Wray arrived from Dungannon Swifts, whilst striker Davitt Walsh joined on loan from Bohemians. Darren Murphy was the only major departure as he moved back to Dungannon as their Reserve Team manager.
The domestic season got off to a disastrous start at Windsor Park in August when the Sky Blues were humiliated 5-1 by Linfield in the opening League Cup game. However, Wright's men got off the mark the following week against Glenavon winning 3-1 at Mourneview Park.
However, a record-equalling 8-0 high-score against Amateur League 1B side Orangefield Old Boys in the first round of the County Antrim Shield and an opening day Premier League win at Glenavon proved to be the calm before the storm, early in the season.
A dismal turn in form saw Ballymena United lose seven of their next eight games, as pressure began to mount on Wright. One of those seven defeats saw the Braidmen bow out of the County Antrim Shield to Crusaders at the semi-final stage, but it marked the debut of an 18-year-old defender by the name of Johnny Flynn.
After six straight defeats; United turned it around in truly breathtaking fashion as the win Portadown at the end of October kick-started a 14-game unbeaten run that would last until January! The longest run a Ballymena side had been on since Alan Campbell's side in 1979/1980.
The emergence of the extraordinarily talented Flynn, along with the return to form of key-performers Gavin Melaugh and Kevin Kelbie shot the Sky Blues up the table and sat comfortably in fourth place at the turn of the year as Tommy Wright had seemingly proved his doubters wrong by picking up the 'Manager of the Month' award for December.
Undoubtedly the performance of the season came on New Year's Day as Ballymena United travelled to the Oval to take on title-challenging Glentoran. In what was a thrilling game, the Braidmen ran out 4-2 winners with the media now tipping the Warden Street side to even push Linfield, Glentoran and Cliftonville in the title race. It wasn't to be however.
A few days later, Ballymena was in chaos as English Championship side Norwich City approached Tommy Wright about taking up a coaching role at Carrow Road. Despite looking odds-on to leave Ballymena, the former Northern Ireland goalkeeper made an eleventh hour decision to stay and finish the job he'd started at United.
Given the team's recent success the vultures were circling over the best young talent. Aaron Callaghan moved to home-town Derry City in search of first-team football, while Albert Watson turned down an approach from Linfield to remain at the Showgrounds. Unsurprisingly there was major interest in Flynn and English Premier League side Blackburn Rovers won the race to sign the centre-back for an undisclosed fee. Michael Ward was the only major signing of the transfer-window.
The unbeaten run came to an end in January as Ballymena were cruelly dumped out of the Irish Cup on penalties at home to Newry City. Obviously having knocked confidence this was to be the first defeat in another losing streak which spanned five games this time, moving the club out of fourth place and out of the running for European football.
Ballymena United made world news for all the wrong reasons in March when a high-tempered league tie with Lisburn Distillery ended with the Whites scoring an undeserved equaliser in the TENTH minute of stoppage time against nine-man United. Chaos ensued as players and managers started a full-scale brawl on the pitch and a 'leg of lamb' appeared amidst the pandemonium. The story was covered in newspapers from Sydney to New York.
The final run in to the season was a very tame affair as there was only one win mustered in the last six fixtures; as a sixth place finish in the Carnegie Premier League was the reward for the season's endeavours. There was one final twist though, as manager Tommy Wright sensationally resigned on the last day of the season against Newry City having become disillusioned with the game. His final game was a 2-2 draw as young Paul McNeill scored the last goal of the Wright era.
Season Review by Neil Coleman