Coleraine 1, Ballymena United 2

Gary Thompson celebrates after opening the scoring for Ballymena United in today's game at Coleraine. Picture: Press Eye.
Gary Thompson celebrates after opening the scoring for Ballymena United in today's game at Coleraine. Picture: Press Eye.

Ballymena United remained among the Danske Bank Premiership pacesetters with a hard-fought win over ‘derby’ rivals Coleraine.

The Sky Blues soaked up long periods of pressure from the home side - who had FOUR efforts cleared off the goal-line - to stun their rivals with a Michael Ruddy header 13 minutes from time.

Earlier, Gary Thompson had put United ahead against the run of play before Gary Browne levelled for the Bannsiders in the second half.

Ballymena made just one change to the starting line-up from last week’s dramatic draw with Glentoran with last-gasp goal hero Gary Thompson replacing the suspended Allan Jenkins.

It also meant that Darren Boyce lined up for Ballymena against his former club for the first time after missing the games between the sides last year after his transfer in January.

Coleraine almost took a 13th minute lead when Howard Beverland’s cross from the right found Gary Browne, whose shot was blocked by the legs of keeper Dwayne Nelson.

The ball rebounded to Browne, who drilled his follow-up effort past Nelson, only to see defender Aaron Stewart acrobatically clear the shot off the goal-line.

Ballymena’s response was a neat move involving Gary Thompson and Darren Boyce but with Thompson in a good position to shoot, he tried to slip a pass into Boyce’s feet and the striker’s heavy touch saw the ball roll harmlessly through to Doherty.

Coleraine fashioned another opening on 16 minutes when Darren McCauley’s run and cross from the left found Shane McGinty but his effort was bravely blocked by defender Stephen McBride.

As Coleraine continued to dominate the early stages, they missed a glorious opportunity on 17 minutes. A cross into the Ballymena penalty area was headed straight up into the air by Johnny Taylor and as Ballymena hesitated, Ruairi Harkin nipped in unmarked to loop a header over the stranded Nelson only to see the ball trundle past the far post.

And that miss took on added significance as Ballymena snatched the lead against the run of play on 21 minutes.

It came after Doherty had twice kept out efforts from Gary Thompson and Darren Boyce following a spell of corner for the visitors but from the third effort, the keeper made a weak punch from Neal Gawley’s delivery.

The ball fell to Thompson, whose first effort was blocked by team-mate Matthew Tipton but the ball rebounded to the midfielder who drilled the ball home through a ruck of players.

The goal took some of the early sting out of the game and much of the next 20 minutes was played in a congested midfield but Ballymena almost doubled their lead on 43 minutes when Thompson made a late burst into the penalty area but just as he was about to pull the trigger, he was foiled by a timely tackle by Aaron Canning.

From the resultant Gawley corner, Johnny Taylor had a free header but could only direct his effort wide of the far post.

Coleraine continued to dominate at the start of the second half and Nelson palmed a Neil McCafferty free kick against the inside of the post, with Matthew Tipton clearing the danger, while Mark McCullagh was well-positioned to clear another effort off the line from a corner.

In a rare United counter-attack a Neal Gawley long throw was flicked on by Johnny Taylor and Matthew Tipton’s bicycle kick was met with an equally acrobatic save from Doherty.

Coleraine deservedly got back on level terms on 62 minutes following good work from left-back Adam Mullan who provided the pass for Gary Browne to toe-poke a low shot past Browne.

Ballymena survived yet another scare on 68 minutes when Darren McCauley exchanged passed with Browne before slipping the ball past Nelson but Johnny Taylor was on hand to clear off the goal-line.

And it once again proved important as United went back in front on 77 minutes from an unlikely source as substitute Michael Ruddy stooped to head home from a Gawley corner.

Ballymena had a chance to rubber-stamp victory in the closing stages as substitute David Cushley teed up Boyce but he could only shoot tamely at Doherty, while Coleraine had late appeals for a penalty waved away after Mark Miskimmin went down under a challenge from Aaron Stewart.

Referee Andrew Davey’s final whistle brought scenes of delirium from the travelling support as Ballymena grabbed three vital, if scarcely deserved, points.

Coleraine: Doherty, Canning, Beverland Douglas, Mullan, McGinty, Harkin, McCafferty, McCauley, Browne, Parkhill (sub Miskimmin 61). Subs (not used): Hegarty, Ogilby, Watt, Kane.

Ballymena United: Nelson, McCullagh, Taylor, Stewart, McBride, Gawley, Taggart, Thompson, Teggart (sub Cushley 57), Boyce, Tipton (sub Ruddy 75). Subs (not used): Kane, Surgenor, McVey.

Referee: A Davey (Bangor).