Ballymena United tasted Boxing Day defeat at rivals Coleraine - despite another stunning goal from David Cushley.
Cushley’s smasher wasn’t enough to rescue a point as the Bannsiders triumphed 2-1 at Ballycastle Road thanks to Jamie McGonigle’s double strike.
It was Oran Kearney’s side third win in three outings against Ballymena this season.
Cushley took his place in the Ballymena United starting line-up after it was revealed during the week that he had signed a pre-contract agreement to join Crusaders in the summer
Manager Glenn Ferguson made three changes to his line-up from Saturday’s defeat by Linfield with Gareth Rodger replacing the suspended Johnny Taylor in defence, while Stephen McBride replaced the injured Michael Ruddy at left-back. Darren Henderson came in for Matthew Shevlin as Ferguson freshened up his attack.
The home side dominated the opening exchanges, putting a number of dangerous crosses into the Ballymena penalty area. From one of them, by Ruaihrdi Higgins, James McLaughlin headed wide when well placed.
McLaughlin then threaded through a pass to Jamie McGonigle down the left, who cut inside but Alan Blayney was down quickly to his left to smother the effort,
But McGonigle’s next foray down the left brought more reward for the Bannsiders as he collected Rodney Brown’s pass and beat the offside trap to bear down on goal. He initially looked to have taken a heavy touch as he rounded Blayney but the young striker then steadied himself to steer the ball past covering defender Rodger on the goal-line.
Higgins then fizzed a 25 yard effort just wide as the Bannsiders looked to press home their dominance with Ballymena struggling to make an impact.
Eventually, though, Ballymena had their best spell and Darren Henderson went close when his effort was kept out by the outstretched foot of Michael Doherty on the half-hour mark.
But the visitors weren’t to be denied and levelled a minute later with a trademark spectacular strike from Cushley.
The winger was hovering on the edge of the penalty area as Tony Kane’s cross was headed out and Cushley chested the ball down before firing a right foot half-volley past Doherty, who got a fingertip to the ball but couldn’t keep it out.
Coleraine came close to regaining the lead within two minutes of the start of the second half when McGonigle’s rising drive was acrobatically turned over by Blayney.
Ballymena had strong appeals for a penalty waved away by referee Ross Dunlop after Stephen McBride went down under a challenge from Ruairi Harkin.
Harkin was again involved as Coleraine went back in front on 61 minutes when his deep cross from the right was headed back across goal by Brown for McGonigle to side-foot past Blayney with a neat cushioned finish.
McGonigle came close to completing his hat-trick two minutes later when his fierce drive from 20 yards was brilliantly turned behind by Blayney for a corner.
And the former Northern Ireland international keeper pulled off another great save at full stretch to once again deny McGonigle and keep Ballymena’s hopes alive.
But despite a late flurry of pressure, the closest Ballymena came to an equaliser was when Cushley’s effort came off the outside of the post from an acute angle deep in stoppage time.
Coleraine: Doherty, Beverland, Mullan, Higgins, Douglas,Harkin, Brown, McLaughlin, Lyons (sub Parkhill 57), Kane, McGonigle (sub McCauley 83). Subs (not used): McCafferty, Morrow, Watt.
Ballymena United: Blayney, Ervin, McNally (sub Nixon 58), Rodger, McBride, T Kane, Thompson (sub Taggart 70), E Kane, Cushley, Jenkins, Henderson (sub Shevlin 72). Subs (not used): Ferguson, Hanley.
Referee: Ross Dunlop (Carrickfergus)