Cathair Friel underlined the immeasurable value of an in-form forward at the Ballymena Showgrounds.
He now has 19 goals for the season after netting a brace to help Ballymena United to a 3-1 win over Carrick Rangers.
The game was perfectly poised at 1-1 on 89 minutes for Friel to lash home a half-volley that unlocked a rapture of relief amongst the home support.
Johnny McMurray deservedly made the points extra safe in injury-time, bundling home and Neil Lowry after a host of near-misses.
Friel’s opener separated the sides at the break. He blasted home just eight minutes in, profitting from a burst down the left flank and a cross from Joe McKinney.
McKinney was looking a man in form, playing wide left with Friel the opposite side of central striker McMurray.
That attack looked tough to stop for much of the first period. Friel had a great chance to make it 2-0 on 23 minutes but blasted over from close range after a Tony Kane corner dropped on the six yard line.
Carrick managed to stem the hosts’ attacking flow but only briefly. A minute before the half, McKinney saw an effort saved when totally unmarked. The Carrick back line had gone AWOL as Kyle Owens nodded Kane’c free-kick back across goal.
In injury-time, Conor McCloskey forced another strong stop from Brian Neeson, although the keeper will have been relieved to see the shining Leroy Millar’s follow-up whistle wide.
Carrick, however, started the second half in fine fettle and got the goal their efforts deserved when former Sky Blue defender Paddy McNally nodded home Stephen McCullough’s corner on 53 minutes.
Ballymena unleashed an onslaught on the Carrick goal with McMurray and Kyle Owens both going close. Tony Kane’s set-pieces were causing the majority of the problems - no less than six very scoreable opportunities.
United, though, weren’t for giving up easily and substitute Neil Lowry was involved in the two clinching goals that kept Ballymena just a point behind Coleraine after this dress rehearsal for next month’s League Cup final.
BALLYMENA UNITED: Glendinning, Kane, Owens, Flynn, Ervin, Jenkins, McCloskey (Lowry 78), Millar, Friel, McKinney (Faulkner 69), McMurray.
Unused Subs: Kane, Wallace, Allen
CARRICK RANGERS: Neeson, Chapman, Foster, McNally, McCullough, Kelly (Mustapha 77), Taggart, Noble, McAllister (Morrow 76), M Murray, O’Connor (TJ Murray 65).
Subs: Surgenor, Rice.