Jonathan McMurray clinched a precious victory for battling Ballymena United with a stunning strike as they came from behind to give 10 man Linfield the blues at the Showgrounds.
Trailing by a fourth minute Robert Garrett strike, the Sky Blues battled back in the second half and turned the game on its head during an eight minute spell which fashioned two sublime goals from Conor McCloskey and then McMurray.
Blues goalscorer, Garrett was then shown a second yellow card for a rash challenge on Cathair Friel as Linfield’s night went from bad to worse on 86 minutes.
The victory moved David Jeffrey’s troops into seventh position ahead of Warrenpoint Town who they meet next weekend on Warden Street as they extended their unbeaten run to four games in all competitions.
As for Linfield, David Healy’s side missed out on the chance to move into third spot as their two game winning streak came to an abrupt end and they remain two points adrift of Crusaders who now have a game in hand.
Ballymena were slow out of the blocks and were punished with less than four minutes on the clock. Indeed the visitors had applied the early pressure and when United failed to clear, the ball fell to Garrett in space on the edge of the 18 yard box and he drilled low into the bottom corner.
It could’ve been a lot worse for the Sky Blues on 12 minutes when, again they failed to defend a corner kick and Stephen Lowry’s 12 yard strike was cleared off the line by William Faulkner.
Leroy Millar’s curling free-kick stung the fingertips of Gareth Deane who spilled the ball and it went behind for a corner kick as the home side began to warm to the occasion.
McMurray and Jonathan Flynn both had shots inside the area frantically blocked by the Linfield defence during a promising spell for the Sky Blues on the half hour mark. Linfield soaked up the pressure and Garrett tried his luck from distance forcing Ross Glendinning into making an excellent save at full stretch to turn it behind five minutes before the break.
There was controversy in first half injury time when Waterworth caught Kofi Balmer for pace and raced in behind the United defence. Just as the Blues striker went to shoot he stumbled under the challenge of the recovering Balmer and referee, Evan Boyce waved play-on despite strong protests from the sizeable Linfield support.
Ballymena emerged with intent at the start of the second half and they netted the equaliser seven minutes after the restart when McCloskey’s superb free kick from wide of the left found the back of the net via the crossbar.
Linfield responded and Lowry cut the United defence with a sublime disguised pass into the path of Louis Rooney but he screwed his shot across goal and wide of the target. It proved a costly miss as United quickly punted it upfield and when Friel flicked the ball on, McMurray controlled it on his thigh before volleying the ball over the head of Deane, who was in no man’s land, and the ball nestled into the net from 25 yards.
Linfield weren’t done yet, however, and when Jordan Stewart bought a yard with a neat dummy on the edge of the box, his curling effort went narrowly past the post.
And with 15 minutes remaining Mark Stafford’s downward header from a Kirk Millar corner had to be turned behind at the far post by the alert Glendinning as the Blues continued to threaten from set-pieces.
Millar then fluffed his lines from a decent position inside the United penalty area as he scuffed his shot well wide of the target as Linfield desperately attempted to rescue something from the match.
But the south Belfast men’s night got much worse when goalscorer, Garrett was given his marching orders on 86 minutes for a second bookable offence following a late challenge on Friel.
Linfield pressed desperately in search of an equaliser but Ballymena stood strong to hold on to a thoroughly deserved and very welcome three points.
Ballymena United - R. Glendinning; J. Ervin, K. Balmer, J. Flynn (S. McCullough 45), A. Burns (F. McCaffrey 90); C. McCloskey (T. Kane 87), L Millar, G. Thompson, W. Faulkner; C. Friel, J. McMurray; Subs Not Used - M. Shevlin, J. McKinney.
Linfield - G. Deane; C. Casement (B. Adams 78), M. Stafford, M. Haughey, M. Clarke; K. Millar, S. Lowry, R. Garrett, J. Stewart; L. Rooney (A. Burns 71); A. Waterworth; Subs Not Used - S. Fallon, A.Mitchell, N. Quinn.
Referee - Evan Boyce.