Allan Jenkins score a dramatic late winner as Ballymena United won a frantic New Year’s Day game at Portadown by four goals to three.
The Scot fired home a rising drive with just over a minute left as United shaded a thrilling encounter, played in awful weather conditions at Shamrock Park.
Indeed, the elements had put the match in some doubt with referee Raymond Hetherington inspecting the pitch three times inside a half-hour period prior to kick-off.
Manager Glenn Ferguson made two changes to the Ballymena side which lost at Coleraine on Boxing Day with Johnny Taylor coming in for Paddy McNally in the centre of defence, while homegrown teenager Stewart Nixon was handed a full debut up front, at the expense of Darren Henderson.
In contrast to recent games, Ballymena made a bright start and came close in the eighth minute when David Cushley’s shot was spilled by Ports keeper David Miskelly but Gareth Rodger was unable to force home the rebound.
Ballymena survived an incredible let-off on 17 minutes when keeper Alan Blayney dropped a Ross Redman corner, prompting a goalmouth melee which saw Keith O’Hara’s shot blocked on the goal-line and Darren Murray’s follow-up effort come back off the post.
The game went into a lull in the worsening conditions until Ballymena opened the scoring on the half-hour mark.
From a well-worked move down the left, Stephen McBride rolled the ball into the path of David Cushley, whose first time thunderbolt crashed off the underside of the bar and sat up perfectly for Allan Jenkins to nod home the rebound.
Ballymena’s lead was short-lived, however, as Portadown levelled matters within five minutes.
From a move down the right, full-back Chris Casement cut back a low cross which Marcio Soares despatched low to Blayney’s left from 12 yards.
The home side came close two minutes into the second period when Darren Murray burst clear down he middle and his fierce strike was kept out by the hand of Blayney and as the striker attempted to steer home the rebound, he was denied by a perfectly-timed challenge by Johnny Taylor.
Then from a Ross Redman corner, Ports defender volleyed just wide as the home side enjoyed the ascendancy in the opening stages of the second half.
But Breen wasn’t to be denied and he headed Portadown back in front on 53 minutes after Ross Redman’s initial corner had been cleared out for the defender to return the ball with interest into the penalty area.
Ballymena should have been level within seconds as Stewart Nixon’s cross from the right found Allan Jenkins but from just six yards out, the Scotsman headed straight at Miskelly.
Straight away at the other end, Portadown broke and Robert Garrett’s shot was inches wide of making it 3-1.
As the action continued in a frantic five-minute period, Tony Kane’s neat interchange with Jenkins saw Kane in on the left hand side of goal but he opted to shoot with his more favoured right foot and hit the side netting.
But Ballymena levelled on 58 minutes from a hugely unlikely source as Stephen McBride netted his first ever goal for the club.
The veteran left-back played a neat one-two with Gary Thompson and surged into the penalty are before firing a shot beyond Miskelly.
But Ballymena were dealt another setback on 68 minutes as Portadown again went in front, Sean Mackle firing home from 15 yards after exchanging passes with Padraig Judge.
Remarkably, though, Ballymena levelled again just a minute later. Gary Thompson did all the spadework with a probing run into the penalty area before laying the ball off for Cushley to beat Miskelly with an arrow-like drive into the bottom corner.
Ballymena, with their tails up, pressed for a fourth goal and Johnny Taylor was twice denied by Miskelly within a matter of minutes, while at the other end, Blayney dived to his left to turn Redman’s wind-assisted free kick wide of the mark.
As both sides battled for the winning goal, the decisive chance eventually fell to Ballymena as the ball dropped in the penalty area to substitute Matthew Shevlin, who rolled the ball across for Jenkins to fire a rising shot high into the roof of the net.
Portadown almost fashioned an equaliser deep in stoppage time but from Judge’s cross, Darren Murray scuffed his effort into the grateful arms of Blayney.
Portadown: Miskelly, Casement, O’Hara, Breen, Redman, Mackle, Garrett, Parker, Soares (sub Judge 62), Murray, McAllister. Subs (not used): Brennan, Lyttle, Carson, Stewart.
Ballymena United: Blayney, Ervin, Taylor, Rodger, McBride, T Kane, Thompson, E Kane (sub Ferguson 79), Cushley, Nixon (sub Shevlin 63), Jenkins. Subs (not used): McNally, Henderson, Hanley.
Referee: Raymond Hetherington (Dungannon).