Linfield 2, Ballymena United 1
Big Mark Stafford hit a glorious winner to keep Linfield on title track.
The defender struck in the final minute to spoil David Jeffrey’s return to Windsor Park.
Jimmy Callaher headed the Blues into the lead early in the second half, but Tony Kane levelled matters from the penalty spot with only three minutes left.
It was left to Stafford to steal the points right at the death.
Jeffrey was returning to the international venue for the first time since leaving the Blues back in 2014. He was given a great ovation by the home fans.
Linfield boss David Healy made one change from the team that won at Ards last weekend, reinstating goalkeeper Roy Carroll in place of Gareth Deane.
Jeffrey also had to make an alteration between the posts from the team that walloped Coleraine in the League Cup semi final, with Ross Glendinning, who is on loan from Linfield, making way for another ex-blueman Alan Blayney.
Andy Waterworth should have had the home team in front on 10 minutes. The big striker found himself totally unmarked inside the six yard box following a wonderfull cross from Ross Gaynor, but he managed to blast his shot over the crossbar.
The Blues threatened again with Kirk Millar whipping in an inviting low cross, but bot Gaynor and Waterworth failed to touch home.
Then, in another lightning break, Sean Ward sent Mark Haughey free on the right and when the big defender delivered a telling cross, Niall Quinn shamefully hoofed over the top.
Then, just seconds before the break, the home fans were on their feet celebration a goal after Ward has set up Waterworth, but the big striker had unwittingly strayed offside.
The Blues took the lead only six minutes after the break. Gaynor’s free kick was met by Callacher and his header crept over the line.
But United were level with only three minutes left. Leroy Millar’s shot came of the arm of Niall Quinn and referee Lee Tavinder awarded a penalty.
Tony Kane stepped up to ram home.
Linfield, however, had the last laugh. Substitute Aaron Burns whipped in a great ball from the left and Stafford powered home with his head.
LINFIELD: Carroll Haughey, Stafford, Callacher, Quinn, Millar (Burns 69), Ward (Casement 83), Mulgrew, Lowry (Carson 88), Gaynor, Waterworth. Unused subs: Clarke, Fallon.
BALLYMENA UNITED: Blayney, T Kane, Ervin, Owens, McCracken, Millar, McCaffrey (Taggart 75), Jenkins, Faulkner, Friel, McMurray (McMurray). Unused subs: E Kane, Loughran, McCauley.
REFEREE: Lee Tavinder (Dungannon).