SKIPPER Stephen O’Donnell admits he was delighted to get his first goal of the season and has challenged his team-mates to secure their first three points under Rodney McAree…
Linfield and Ballymena. Two games, two draws. Two very different performances. and two very different feelings post-match. Firstly the Linfield game; throughout that game we played well and dominated for large spells. Particularly for the first half an hour of the second half, where we were relentless with the pressure we put them under and had a few chances which we maybe should have scored. However, if you don’t score when you’re on top, then sides like Linfield are always expected to have a period of the game where they put you under pressure. For us that was the last 15 minutes, but overall I think we were good value for at least a point and after that game we were happy with our performance, but slightly disappointed that we didn’t take all three points. For the new manager it was important that we put on a good performance for him and showed that we are all right behind him and desperate to be successful together. That game and that performance was a good start and I felt that it was a building block moving into Tuesday night and it was set up for us to continue that momentum and go and grab all three points.
Unfortunately, football doesn’t work like that and it has a funny way of kicking you when you least expect it. In our league in particular, you have to be right at the top of your game physically to win matches. Technically it is important to perform well, but in the Irish League there is that little bit more emphasis on the physical side of the game. In that, I mean, the intensity of your runs, how aggressively you close down the opposition, winning headers and tackles and dealing with the physical threat the opposition presents. These things need to be present every week in the Irish League and without one or two of them being right on point, you can find yourself caught cold or behind in games before you know it. For us on Tuesday night there was a lot made about the seven changes Ballymena had made to their starting line up and how they might have looked rusty. However, I think it showed that it actually freshened them up and they started brighter than us and we looked slightly tired from a tough game against Linfield. That’s not an excuse for our poor first half performance by any means, but an insight into the finer margins within our league. Ballymena were quicker to the ball and had more intensity about their play than we did in the first half.
It didn’t help in that first half that we were down to ten men so early on. Skinner has made a stupid mistake and he has apologised to the boys. He knows it was stupid to get dragged into that, however all the boys have accepted his apology and we move on. Skinner is a big character in our changing room and a real big part of the way we play. Throughout his ban, we will have to come together and produce performances. We look forward to having him back in as soon as possible. Rightly or wrongly there has been a bit of banter amongst the boys about Skinner’s reaction. There have been a few mentions of him trailing the Ballymena captain around by the scruff after his dismissal. All light hearted and good fun, but we’re all well aware that its not acceptable and no one can behave or react like that when representing Coleraine FC. The second thing that didn’t help in the first half was how disjointed we were as a back four. Really uncharacteristically for us as that’s the foundation of our good work. Ballymena playing three strikers close together up top gave us more problems than it should have, but we didn’t deal with it well enough. Personally, my first half performance wasn’t good enough. I was really disappointed to make the mistake to give away the Ballymena second goal and then make another mistake which we could have been punished for. I won’t make any excuses for it, but it wasn’t good enough. When you make a few mistakes in a game, half time can be crucial, and for me and a number of players on Tuesday it was important to get in and hear the manager’s words and refocus for the second half. At times like that its important to have big characters in the changing room and that’s where people like big Winky are worth their weight in gold. Having been there and done it all, he is the perfect person for me to bounce off at half time and speak to, and on Tuesday night he was just what I needed.
Coming out in the second half, down to ten men and a goal down, it takes real character to stand up and be counted. As a group, as a team and as fans, I think we done that. We all came together really well and the support in the second half was brilliant. That gave us the extra momentum and push that you need when you are down to ten men. The gaffer deserves a lot of credit as well. He sent us out with a clear message and made positive changes in the game to encourage us to get a result. For me scoring the equaliser was great. I’ve been desperate to get back amongst the goals and the boys have been giving me a bit of stick, and rightly so. It’s been to long since my last goal and something that I want to get back to regularly this season. That goal was important for me and thankfully it was an important goal. Hopefully it made up somewhat for the mistakes in the first half. The celebration around the goal has got a bit of attention this week and I hope it was all taken in good spirits. There was a bit of stick coming from the Ballymena fans when they scored their second goal and to be fair, I don’t mind that. I think it’s part of our league and what makes it so special that the fans and players can have a bit of banter back and forth, as long as it doesn’t go too far. So for me to be able to score the equaliser and celebrate in front of them is all part of that. I’m sure they were none too pleased. For the celebration, Josh Carson has to get a special mention. He brought it into the changing room and done it against Crusaders a few weeks ago, I think he’s copied Mbappe. I told him that I fancied a goal and that if I scored, I would do it for him. Hopefully I can score again on Saturday to get another chance to do it.
At times like that its important to have big characters in the changing room and that’s where people like big Winky are worth their weight in gold.
Moving onto Saturday and the message is simple this week, we need three points. There is only so long that we can draw games and not take maximum points before the other top teams in the league start pulling away. It’s too early to be worrying about points and positions in the table, but one thing you don’t want to do early, is get cut adrift and fall too far behind any one or two teams. This week it’s important that we pick up three points for the manager and the backroom staff so that we can really get going for them. Rodney has been great since he has come in the door and the backroom staff have been great over the last month or so in particular. So we need to reward them as a group of players with three points. That’s why I won’t be discussing Newry this week. Not to be disrespectful or arrogant, because we are well aware of what a good side they are and how difficult they are to beat at home. All we will focus on this week is us. We’ve had a really good and important recovery session on Thursday night and the boys will all be bouncing into Saturday, hungry for three points. All I have left to say is that the boys will give everything they have on Saturday to ensure that we give the manager his first three points as Coleraine boss and reward you and the staff for the support you have given us players over the last month.
Hopefully we can get a big crowd out for a long trip to Newry and we can make it an enjoyable one with three massive points.
C’mon the Bannsiders!