Matthew Tipton scored a hat-trick as Ballymena reached the quarter-final of the Wasp Solutions League Cup for the fourth consecutive season.
The Welsh striker took his tally for the season to seven goals with a treble, two of them from the penalty spot , as United overcame the stubborn challenge of Ballyclare Comrades.
Ballyclare started the match with three former Ballymena players in their line-up as Chris Getty, Denver Gage and Randal Reid returned to the Showgrounds.
And it was the Championship side who had the first opening on four minutes as Gary Brown’s cross-shot from the right flank beat Dwayne Nelson but dropped onto the roof of the net.
Ballymena’s first chance came on 10 minutes when Matthew Tipton neatly laid the ball into the path of David Cushley whose first time effort flashed just past keeper Paddy Flood’s post.
The visitors continued to look threatening and Adam McCart played in Chris Trussell down the right-hand channel but as the prolific marksman unleashed a shot, United left-back Michael Ruddy intervened with a timely block.
Gary Thompson came close to putting United in front when he embarked on a strong run from midfield, side-stepping several challenges before his shot was saved low down by Flood.
But it was the visitors who went ahead on 21 minutes when Randal Reid charged down Johnny Taylor’s attempted square pass and raced clear to slot past the advancing Nelson.
Ballymena got back on level terms on 34 minutes from the penalty spot when Matthew Tipton’s sharp turn from an Allan Jenkins knockdown lured Denver Gage into a mistimed tackle and Tipton coolly tucked home the resultant spot kick for his fifth goal of the season.
The visitors spurned a glorious chance to go back in front five minutes into the second half. Joel Cooper’s shot was blocked by the legs of Nelson and the ball spun to Trussell who, with a virtual open goal, could only fire his shot against the post.
And that miss took on added significance on 57 minutes as United went in front as Tony Kane’s cross from the right was glanced home by the unmarked Tipton.
David Cushley came close to adding to United’s lead with a rising drive which whistled inches over Flood’s crossbar with the keeper well beaten, while another long-range Cushley effort was well fielded by Flood.
Ballyclare came close to levelling the tie with 15 minutes left when a corner was flicked on by Gage and Adam McCart, at the back post, saw his effort blocked by the legs of Nelson.
And Comrades saw another glorious chance go abegging when Joel Cooper wriggled clear on the corner of the area and his cross was diverted over the bar from six yards by full-back Kyle Buckley.
Once again, their punishment was swift as Allan Jenkins burst into the penalty area and was brought down by Flood, with the keeper shown the yellow card.
Tipton stepped up to send the keeper the wrong way from the penalty spot to complete his hat-trick.
Nelson preserved United’s two-goal sdvantage late on as he advanced quickly from his goal to beat away Cooper’s
Ballymena United: Nelson, Kane, Taylor (sub McVey 81), Stewart, Ruddy, Cushley, Thompson (sub McCaul 75), Jenkins, Teggart, Boyce, Tipton (sub Harris 83). Subs (not used): Surgenor, McCullagh.
Ballyclare Comrades: Flood, Doherty (sub McIlveen 33), Buckley, McClean, Getty (sub McGowan 66), Gage, Brown, McCart, Trussell, Reid, Cooper, Subs (not used): Gray, McClurg, Clelland,
Referee: Tim Marshall (Irvinestown).