When Callum Byers scored a third goal for Ards by rising unchallenged to glance home a Ross Clarke corner kick at Ferney Park on Saturday my eyes were immediately drawn in the direction of Mallards manager Gavin Dykes..
I thought to myself ‘penny for them Gavin’. At that precise moment in time his Ballinamallard United team were seven points adrift of second-bottom Carrick Rangers, three goals down against Ards after just 29 minutes and with just eight games remaining to pull off the great escape.
It’s not a position any manager wants to find himself in.
Unlike most observers I remained of the opinion that the Mallards would get themselves out of trouble, particularly after the players Dykes had recruited in and around the January transfer window.
All six signings were players who would and should have made a difference. And initially they did.
Sean Noble was scoring a goal a game, Stephen O’Flynn looked as if he was playing his best football for a number of seasons, David Kee brought experience, craft and steel to the midfield and Micheal Kerr, Ryan O’Reilly and Packie Mailey looked like they would help plugs the holes at the back.
The arrival of those six coincided with an amazing 6-4 victory over Cliftonville and at that point the Mallards looked a different beast. It seemed the only way was up.
However in recent weeks things have turned sour. One game in particular appeared to derail the Mallards new found resurgence – brief as it was – and that was away to Glentoran at the beginning of last month.
In that game goalkeeper Richard Brush was sent off for a foul on Curtis Allen for being the last man, even though the Glens striker was already turning into traffic in the form of, not one, but two Mallard defenders.
Later in the game the Glens were awarded a corner kick that should never have been and from it Willie Garrett headed in an equaliser to cancel out Noble’s opener. That controversial goal swung the pendulum.
Allen then swooped with a winner and to compound a horror show for the Mallards Kee was dismissed for foul and abusive towards the referee. Brush and Kee both served suspensions and since then the Ferney Park side has lost to Coleraine, Dungannon Swifts and now Ards.
Defeat to the title-chasing Bannsiders was perhaps inevitable but the other two games were ones Dykes and his players would have targeted maximum points – Dungannon because they had just come off the back of an historic League Cup win and the celebrations that went with it and Ards because it was a must win on home soil.
Not to get something from those two games would suggest the Mallards number is well and truly up. The manner of those defeats will have tested the most faithful of the Ferney faithful and after Saturday it’s extremely difficult to make a case for the Ducks staying afloat.
The performance against Ards would have been particularly soul destroying for the home fans. The confidence appears to have hit rock bottom while the body language smacked of resignation.
Irrespective who takes over from Gavin Dykes – Harry McConkey has been installed as the bookies’ favourite – the responsibility rests with the players to dig themselves out of this almighty mess.
As Dykes has eluded to more than once in recent times, the board has gone the extra mile in ensuring that he had the players to do the job of protecting the club’s Premiership survival.
After Saturday things can’t get any worse.
I’m sure it’s not the case but if you’re a loyal Ballinamallard supporter you could be forgiven for thinking that the players have thrown in the towel and that they are beginning to feel sorry for themselves. In his post-match comments Gavin said he still had the belief the Ducks could pull off an escape of Houdini proportions.
“We lost no ground on Carrick but mentally we took a torturing today. Mentally as a footballer when you go out and target a game and that doesn’t happen that can be scarring on the players.
“But we have some big characters in the club, in the dressing room and I think if they stick together we can get out of it.”
It’s high time we saw some of that character, the kind which marked out Dykes during a distinguished playing career in the League of Ireland!