If Crusaders go on to claim back-to-back titles they may well look to this dramatic late victory at Ferney Park as being a pivotal moment in their season.
A winner from captain Colin Coates 15 seconds from time sealed a massive 1-0 win for the champions.
The heroics arrived in the 94th minute, just as Ballinamallard United looked set to earn a valuable point at the other end of the table.
Coates rose highest to head home Diarmuid O’Carroll’s corner to send the visiting Crues support wild with delight.
Until then they had struggled to break down a dogged Ballinamallard side who suffered a late goal agony for the second time in two weeks.
Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter admitted he had been told there were just 10 seconds left on the referee’s watch when they were awarded the decisive corner.
“What a great finish from the skipper, but I felt over the 90 minutes it was nothing more than we deserved,” he said.
“We carved out so many opportunities and we were living by the seat of our pants trying to get that goal and we pushed bodies forward to try and get it.
“It was a good solid performance from the team who worked very hard in a very difficult place to get a result.
“That’s’ what this league is all about. Play what’s in front of you and play to the final whistle and you need that something. I felt one goal would win it and I wasn’t wrong. It’s another game out of the way.”
Ballinamallard manager Whitey Anderson added: “I feel so sorry for the players. We conceded with a minute to go a few weeks ago against Glenavon and with 15 seconds on the clock tonight Crusaders scored a goal.
“In the first half they had a lot of possession, but we had the better chances on the counter attack and in the second half we played very well.”
In the first half Jordan Owens had two great chances, the first when he burst through but teenager Ryan Morris cleared off the line, and the second blocked by Emmet Friars just inside the 18-yard line.
Johnny Lafferty almost opened the scoring for the Mallards on 38 minutes but for a saving tackle by Owens, and seconds later Owens was through again but keeper McCusker saved with his legs.
O’Carroll had a great effort pushed away by the Mallards goalkeeper before Paul Heatley found himself in the clear after a defensive mix-up just before the break. Again McCusker was on hand to clear the danger.
In the second half Owens had the best opportunity of the game when Heatley drilled a ball across goal for the striker to head just wide, and again Owens should have scored when O’Carroll’s cross found him clear at the back post.
Ballinamallard were dangerous on the break and Ivan Sproule raced through on the break, but couldn’t get his shot away under pressure with the keeper to beat.
Substitute Adam Lecky weaved his way inside the Crues penalty box only to see his effort blocked on the ground amid strong appeals for a hand ball from the home players.
Then with just seconds remaining Coates headed home the late, late winner to preserve Crusaders’ five-point lead at the top.
Ballinamallard: McCusker, Feeney (Lecky 45), McCabe, McKenna, Sproule, Lafferty, Currie (Campbell 86), Beacom (McCartney 72), Morris, Friars, Elliott
Subs not used: McMenamin, Falconer
Crusaders: O’Neill, Burns, Magowan, Coates, O’Carroll, Robinson, Forsythe, Owens, Snoddy, Heatley Mitchell (Holden 84).
SUBS NOT USED: McKibbon, Stewart, Clarke, Vauls.
Referee: Raymond Crangle