Ballymena United ended a disappointing sequence of Danske Bank Premiership results with a convincing win over basement side Institute.
The Sky Blues defeated their north west opponents for the third time in the league after three first half goals had laid the foundations for what was only United’s fourth league win in their last 20 outings.
With Matthew Tipton not involved in the Ballymena panel for the first time this season, manager Glenn Ferguson opted for a previously-used tactic by pushing skipper Allan Jenkins into attack alongside Gary McCutcheon.
But it was the visitors who caught the eye in the early stages with their neat approach play, while strikers Darren McFadden and Robbie Hume posed plenty of problems for United with their contrasting physical attributes.
But for all Institute’s early promise, they lacked penetration and instead it was United who scored with their first meaningful attack on 18 minutes.
It came from the penalty spot after referee Damian Basketfield adjudged that Gary Thompson had been impeded by Stephen O’Donnell as he tried to latch onto Gary McCutcheon’s knock-down from an Allan Jenkins cross.
Gary McCutcheon took the kick and confidently sent Martin Gallagher the wrong way.
Michael McCrudden was narrowly off target with an acrobatic overhead kick for Institute before Ballymena doubled their advantage on 26 minutes.
It came from a quickly-taken free kick by Tony Kane, who sent Eamonn McAllister scurrying clear down the right and his low cross was turned home from close range by Jenkins.
The skipper should have ended the game as a contest on 29 minutes after another flowing United move on the right flank as Jim Ervin sent McAllister clear of the full-back and the winger produced another pinpoint cross which was wastefully headed over by the in-rushing Jenkins, from just six yards out.
Institute tried to take advantage of that let-off as Robbie Hume’s powerful header from Declan McKeever’s left-wing cross was brilliantly clawed behind by Tim Allen, springing across his goal to turn the effort behind.
The visitors’ task became even more difficult on 38 minutes as they conceded a third goal.
It started from Tony Kane running into acres of space down United’s right flank and from his cut-back, Jenkins swept the ball towards goal. Marty Gallagher made a superb save to push the Scot’s effort away but McAllister was lurking at the back post to score with a diving header.
It was almost four a minute later as Gary Thompson’s shot was turned behind by Gallagher with Institute on the ropes.
The visitors almost found a way back into the game eight minutes after the re-start, when McFadden headed over from a Hume corner from six yards.
And Stute were unlucky not to open their account on 67 minutes when Hume found a yard of space just outside the penalty area and his left foot piledriver was acrobatically turned behind by Allen.
At the other end, Johnny Taylor met Neal Gawley’s corner with a firm downward header but Gallagher made a sharp reflex save.
Institute’s day was summed up when McCrudden set up McFadden in a good position on the left side but the striker shot wide.
Ballymena United: Allen, Ervin, Munster, Taylor, McBride, McAllister (sub Gawley 69), Kane, Thompson, Cushley (sub Teggart 61), Jenkins, McCutcheon (sub Shevlin 73). Subs (not used): Boyce, McCaul.
Institute: Gallagher, McLaughlin, O’Donnell, D Curry, S Curry, McManus (sub Forker 75), A Walsh, McKeever (sub Bradley 75), McCrudden, McFadden, Hume (sub D Walsh 75). Subs (not used): Scoltock, Crown.
Referee: Damian Basketfield (Banbridge)