Nine-man Coleraine inflicted more misery on ‘derby’ rivals Ballymena United with a dramatic 2-0 victory at the Showgrounds tonight.
The Bannsiders beat their fierce rivals for the fourth time in four meetings this season thanks to second half goals from Darren McCauley and James McLaughlin - despite then picking up red cards for Sammy Morrow and Mark Edgar inside a manic three-minute spell.
Ballymena boss Glenn Ferguson’s response to his side’s defeat at Ballinamallard in their last game was to make five changes, including a debut for January loan signing Johnny Frazer, while Leroy Millar lined up on the other wings.
Ferguson also recalled Jim Ervin, Tony Kane and Gavin Taggart after completing suspensions.
After a quiet opening, the first shot on goal didn’t come until the 12th minute as Ballymena’s David Cushley sent in a low daisy-cutter straight at Coleraine keeper Chris Johns.
Debutant Frazer’s first contribution came on 17 minutes with a devastating burst of pace down the right flank before squaring to Allan Jenkins, whose curling shot was tipped over by Johns.
Coleraine’s first effort came on 25 minutes but top scorer James McLaughlin’s rising shot went over the bar.
Then from a quickly-taken Tony Kane corner, David Cushley’s quick turn and shot came off the angle of post and bar on its way over.
Another chance came for Ballymena as Johnny Frazer’s low cross from the right is pushed out by Johns but as the ball rolled across the penalty area, Coleraine defender Lyndon Kane was able to clear just ahead of the in-rushing Leroy Millar.
Coleraine had an early chance in the second half but James McLaughlin’s shot from inside the box was deflected over the bar by United defender Paddy McNally,
But the Bannsiders went ahead on 51 minutes. It came in slightly fortuitous circumstances as Ian Parkhill’s miscued shot was heading well wide until United defender Eoin Kane’s attempted clearance took the ball into the path of Darren McCauley. The winger cut inside and his low shot flicked off the outstretched boot of McNaly, which was just enough to take the ball out of the reach of Blayney.
Ballymena spurned a good chance to equalise as good work from Frazer teed up David Cushley, who got the ball onto his favoured left foot before blazing wildly over.
Instead, the visitors doubled their advantage on 64 minutes when James McLaughlin got to Ian Parkhill’s low cross from the right ahead of Ballymena keeper Alan Blayney at the near post.
But the Bannsiders received a setback just two minutes later when Sammy Morrow was shown a straight red card by referee Keith Kennedy.
And the 10 men became nine just three minutes when left-back Mark Edgar, cautioned in the first half, collected a second booking for a foul on Johnny Frazer.
But despite their numerical advantage, Ballymena rarely looked like finding a way back into the game and the closest the came was a close-range header from defender Paddy McNally which came back off the base of the post.
Darren Henderson also saw a well-hit shot pushed behind by Johns deep in stoppage time as Coleraine preserved their clean sheet.
Ballymena United: Blayney, E Kane (sub Henderson 70), Ervin, McNally, McBride, Taggart (sub Thompson 60), T Kane, Frazer, Millar, Jenkins, Cushley (sub Tipton 80). Subs (not used): Ferguson, Smith.
Coleraine: Johns, Kane, Ogilby, Beverland, Edgar, Parkhill (sub Mullan 72), Higgins, Harkin, McCauley (sub McGonigle 89), Morrow, McLaughlin (sub Lyons 80). Subs (not used): McCafferty, Watt.
Referee: Keith Kennedy (Lisburn).