Glenn Ferguson hailed the enigmatic genius of David Cushley after the winger scored the extraordinary goal which ended Crusaders’ long unbeaten run.
Cushley somehow pivoted his body, after Gary Thompson’s cross-shot had arrived slightly behind him, to flick the ball past Sean O’Neill for the only goal just before the interval.
It was Cushley’s fourth goal in five days against the Shore Road men after his midweek League Cup semi-final hat-trick and his current total of 11 goals for the season is already more than the tally with which he won United’s top goalscorer award last season.
“The referee played a good advantage in the build-up to the goal and how David Cushley was able to spin his body around to get that in, I don’t know,” said Ferguson.
“He’s a livewire and he’s on fire at the minute.
“After losing a semi-final and then playing the same team again a few days later - especially one who will be challenging for the title - it’s great to get that response.
“Once you lose a semi-final, the next thing you want to do is pick up three points and I felt we did more than enough to win the game.
“We defended superbly and limited them to very little chances.
“You know with Crusaders you are really going to be up against it in terms of balls in the air so it was great to have Davy Munster back - he has been great for us the last few weeks and he had that aerial presence to compete with Jordan Owens.
“I’m happy with our performances of late going into the Boxing Day game and we will go in with a bit of confidence - not arrogance - in the way we’re we’re playing and hopefully we can build on that.
“I think we have more points now than we did at this stage last season so I’m happy with that,” added Ferguson.
Crusaders’ day got off to a bad start when they lost winger Paul Heatley to a recurrence of a groin injury in the pre-match warm-up and manager Stephen Baxter admitted that things got little better as the afternoon went on.
“It was a bruising old battle and a nothing game from my point of view - there were no great chances created at either end of the pitch.
“This team, when they’re flying, are a good side and I thought our second half performance was good - we really had Ballymena under the cosh for a long period of time, the pressure just kept coming and coming but they dealt with the ball into the box well.
“We started passing a good bit better in the second half but we didn’t create the openings and we didn’t get anything out of the game.
“We’re now five points off the lead, hey-ho, we were six points off it before, we won a few games and got back into it. There’s a an awful long way to go.
“Cliftonville went above us at the weekend but if a team goes above you by a point or two, it’s not the end of the world.
“We’ll get in on Monday night and assess everything, see who’s fit and who’s not and work towards the style and shape we want to play on Thursday,” added Baxter.