Ballymena United suffered their tenth Danske Bank Premiership defeat of the season after losing at home to Crusaders.
Goals from Josh Robinson and Gavin Whyte ensured there was no boost for the SKy Blues ahead of their eagerly-awaited League Cup semi-final against Ballinamallard on Tuesday night.
The Arctic-like conditions which decimated much of the local sporting programme in the morning time abated to ensure the Showgrounds pitch was playable without the need for an inspection.
The visitors came close insdie three minutes as Billy Joe Burns curled a free kick just over the crossbar.
And the Seaview side again threanted on five minutes when, from Craig McClean’s cross from the left, Jordan Owens got above Davy Munster but his header was tipped onto the top of the net by Stuart Addis.
Owens was again involved on 11 minutes as he punced on a slip by Munster but his low snap-shot was turned around the near post by Addis.
Ballymena slowly began to gain a foothold in the game and Allan Jenkins’ dangerous cross was cleared by Burns before Stephen McBride fired a shot into the side netting after a clever one-two with Matthew Tipton.
But just as Ballymena were enjoying their best spell, the visitors struck on 23 minutes.
From Richard Clarke’s corner, Colin Coates headed goalwards and the ball bobbled through a ruck of players before finishing up in the net, with defender Josh Robinson claiming the final touch.
Ballymena looked for an immediate response but Jenkins’ first time shot from Tipton’s cross straight at Sean O’Neill.
Crusaders came close to doubling their lead on 39 minutes when Burns released Gavin Whyte but as the winger cut in from the right flank, his cross-shot was blocked by the feet of Addis.
Straigt away at the other end, United were unfortunate not to equalise when Allan Jenkins’ left-foot volley from Matthew Tipton’s cross crashed back off the post with O’Neill beaten.
There was late drama at the end of the first half as Crusaders were awarded a stoppage time penalty after Addis impeded Declan Caddell after the midfielder had tried to dink the ball over the United keeper.
Diarmuid O’Carroll took the spot kick but Addis dived to his right to push the striker’s effort around the post.
United made a bright start to the second half with Alan Teggart’s fierce shot blocked by Robinson while Matthew Ferguson’s industrious run ended with his shooting straight at O’Neill.
But the Sky Blues were hit with a sucker punch on 56 minutes when Craig McClean’s cross from the left was headed clear by a defender but only as far as Gavin Whyte, who fired an angled drive past Addis from 14 yards.
The visitors came close to adding a third on 67 minutes when Heatley’s fierce shot was beaten out by Addis, while Decaln Caddell could not foce the ball home from two yards after an Owens knock-down.
Crusaders finished the game with 10 men when skipper Colin Coates was dismissed in stoppage time for his second booking.
Ballymena United: Addis, T Kane, Munster, Taylor, McBride, Gawley (sub McCaul 79), Surgenor, Ferguson (sub Boyce 59), Teggart, Tipton, Jenkins. Subs (not used): McCullagh, Ruddy, E Kane.
Crusaders: O’Neill, Burns, Robinson, Coates, McClean, Whyte, Caddell, Clarke, Heatley, O’Carroll (sub Adamson 70), Owens. Subs (not used): Friars, Hanley, McCutcheon, O’Hanlon.
Referee: Andrew Davey (Bangor)