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Saturday 25th November v. Cliftonville (away) - Danske Bank Premiership - k.o: 3:00pm

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BARREN NINTIES (1990-1999)
The Irish League came up with the idea of promotion and relegation, and decided that they would combine the places of the 1993/94 and 1994/95 seasons to form a total score, on which to base a league upon. After a shaky start from Hagan, he was replaced by former Glentoran-boss Tommy Jackson, who faired no better. After a dismal season, he lasted only a couple of months into the following campaign before the axe was wielded yet again by the United board in October 1994.
The managerial merry-go-round continued when local man Gary Erwin was appointed in October 1994 in a vain attempt to secure a place in the Premier League, despite a famous win against Linfield, he failed miserably and was shown the door in March 1995. Alan Fraser was brought in at the end of the 1994/95 season, in order to prepare for the forthcoming First Division campaign. Despite throwing the money about, United finished the following season well behind runaway leaders, Coleraine.
1996/1997's crop of players finally brought a League Championship to the Ballymena Showgrounds for the first time, albeit the First Division, which Alan Fraser’s side impressively won at a canter. This also ensured promotion to the top-flight after two seasons in the wilderness of the First Division as 21 wins from 28 games meant an astounding 15 point gap between United's nearest challengers, Omagh Town, in second place. Fraser’s talented side also were close to a 'double' when they cruelly lost the final of the County Antrim Shield to Cliftonville on penalties after being on top for most of the game. The season ended with Dessie Loughery’s testimonial against Coleraine at the Showgrounds, which produced a stunning 5-1 victory to give the United fans a taste of what to expect the following season.
Ballymena United made a blistering start in their first season in the Premier League in 1997/98 and looked to be genuine title challengers by Christmas time as they topped the table after a stunning 4-3 victory over reigning Champions Crusaders - which also meant one of the biggest crowds in years at Warden Street for the Boxing Day derby against Coleraine; with an estimated 7,000 strong crowd packing into the Showgrounds. I typical fashion it all went off the rails for Alan Fraser's side as he splashed out a club record fee of £20,000 for Crusaders striker Glenn Hunter but the goals never came and the in-form Barry Patton also saw his goals dry up as Ballymena finished sixth in the table – missing out on a top half finish on goal difference. The season almost ended in a trophy as they reached the final of the Irish News Cup, a cross-border cup competition for clubs in the North-West - but lost out to Omagh Town over two legs.
Fraser's aging side failed to push on the following season and the money was beginning to dry up restricting suitable replacements being brought in. Failure again to break into the top half of the Premier League table in 1999 was offset by a disappointing non-performance in the Irish Cup semi-final against Portadown, which ironically turned out to be 'final' as Portadown lifted the Irish Cup by default following Cliftonville’s dismissal for fielding an ineligible player. Alan Fraser was relieved of his duties for failing to meet the ambitions of the United board just hours after the final League game of the season, which also proved to be long-serving Dessie Loughery’s last game as he made a controversial move to Coleraine after 11 years at the Braid. Shay Hamill took charge for the final of the Irish News Cup, but for the second consecutive season Ballymena lost the final this time to Johnny Speak's Finn Harps. The search began for a new manager at Warden Street and a new era awaited.

THE WAIT GOES ON (2000-PRESENT)
Fraser's replacement and the man set to lead Ballymena United into the new century was former Glenavon and Bangor manager, Nigel Best who was appointed in May 1999. However with his predecessor’s aging side starting to break up and with little money to finance quality replacements; it was little surprise when Best's team struggled badly during the 1999/2000 campaign. Striker and talisman Glenn Hunter proved his worth by almost single-handedly keeping the Sky Blues in the division, as United avoided relegation on the final day of the season after defeating Portadown at Shamrock Park to maintain top-flight status amidst wild scenes of jubilation.
More departures followed the following summer and despite an encouraging start to the 2000/2001 season, United’s frailties caught up with them and Nigel Best was sacked after an unacceptable run of results in December 2000, cumulating with a 5-2 defeat to Newry Town. Bizarrely the club appointed unqualified club physiotherapist George Magill was caretaker-manager until a suitable successor to Best could be found; Glenn Hunter, who had taken time out of the game to pursue a fire-fighting career would act as Magill’s assistant. In January 2001, former Coleraine manager Kenny Shiels took the reins of the Showgrounds side with the sole aim of keeping the Braidmen in the Premier League. Despite a late flurry in the final weeks of the campaign Ballymena just weren’t good enough and suffered relegation to the First Division after failing to defeat Portadown at home, when a win would have at least guaranteed another shot at survival in the play-offs.
It proved a season of rebuilding in the second-tier of Irish League football as the erratic Shiels made a number of 'big-name' signings which all flopped before the eyes of the supporters; former Northern Ireland goalkeeper Tommy Wright, former Leeds United defender Paul Beesley and Liberian striker Leon Browne all failed miserably to make an impact at the Braid. This left Shiels with a number of totally inexperienced teenagers fighting his cause, however despite their best efforts, slumped to a dismal fifth place finish during the 2001/2002 season – Ballymena United’s lowest ever placing in their history.
Despite the previous season’s disappointment, Shiels' side bounced back with style the following season. Buoyed by the completion of an impressive new 2,000 seated stand at the Showgrounds, the free-scoring Sky Blues were playing an exciting and unstoppable brand of football, however finished the season with little to show for their season as they finished runners-up in the Ulster Cup, County Antrim Shield and First Division. The league campaign was particularly sickening, despite promotion, for Ballymena fans as they were leading the table for many weeks, only to capitulate to Dungannon Swifts during the final run-in. Media attention also circled around starlet striker Shea Campbell who bagged 38 goals and a Northern Ireland Under-21 cap as he was being hawked to moves across the water and also in the Irish League before committing himself to the Sky Blues.
Promotion back to the restricted sixteen team Premier League proved difficult at first for Shiels and his untested side – however the influence from former Nottingham Forest forward Nigel Jemson proved key to Ballymena’s success during the 2003/2004 campaign as they equalled their best placed finish in the Premier League by finishing sixth and also gaining a return to European competition for the first time in 15 years through the Intertoto Cup. Ballymena travelled to Danish side Odense in June 2004 and produced a remarkable scoreless draw against the full-time side – only to lose the home second leg heavily with Spanish side Villarreal waiting in the next round.
Shiels was given the finance to attempt to bring the Gibson Cup to Mid-Antrim for the first time and signed a number of quality local players in Rory Hamill, Gary Smyth, Gordon Simms and Tim McCann but his team didn’t not produce a return on his investment and eventually cost Shiels his job after four and half seasons at the helm. The final nail in the coffin was the Irish Cup semi-final defeat to minnows Larne at the Oval, as the Braidmen finished a disappointing eighth after a season that had promised so much.
Former Northern Ireland and Ballymena United goalkeeper Tommy Wright took over as manager on a full-time basis – a first for the club. Despite a slow start, he stamped his authority on the side bringing a number of new players in including a young Scottish striker Kevin Kelbie, who’s goals in the second half of the season almost fired United to their first trophy in 17 years when they agonisingly lost the County Antrim Shield final to Linfield at Seaview. A credible seventh place was reward for Wright’s work over the course of the 2005/2006 season.
The following year proved disappointing as the club failed to make any progression to becoming a side capable of winning trophies after finishing ninth, the highlight of the season was the visit of English Premier League side Manchester City to Warden Street as part of the transfer deal that took goalkeeper Richard McKinney to England eight years earlier. The next season though saw Wright’s side finally come of age as after an incredible 4-2 victory at the Oval on New Year’s Day 2008 they looked like potential title challengers. This was to be the pinnacle of the success as teenage sensation Johnny Flynn was sold to Blackburn Rovers and Wright was linked with a move to Norwich City. Although the manager signed a new contract in January his team collapsed in their pursuit of success and Wright resigned in April 2008 only to re-emerge at Norwich a few months later.