Ballymena United’s hopes of securing a European play-off spot suffered a blow as they suffered a last-gasp 2-1 defeat by Ballinamallard United.
Stephen O’Flynn’s stoppage time penalty earned the Fermanagh side their first ever victory at the Showgrounds as they recorded a vital three points in the battle against relegation.
Ballinamallard came close to opening the scoring on 13 minutes when Adam Leckey flashed a near post header just wide from Cathal Beacom’s corner.
Leckey’s height made him an obvious target from set pieces and the midfielder got on the end of a Shane McCabe free kick with his glancing header forcing Alan Blayney to dive full length to his left to save.
Jonny Lefferty then fired a sizzling shot just over as Ballinamallard attenpted to turn their early pressure into a goal.
Ballymena’s first real opening didn’t come until the 24th minute when Willie Faulkner broke clear into the penalty area but just as the winger was taking aim, he was denied by a timely full stretch tackle from covering left-back David Elliott at the expense of a corner.
The rest of the opening half was played in a lull as both teams struggled to cope wioth a swirling wind and a rock-hard, patchy playing surface.
Ballymena came out at the start of the second half desperate to take advantage of the elements and they were in front within 90 minutes of the restart.
Allan Jenkins’ burst towards the penalty area was halted by a high challenge 25 yards from goal and Tony Kane curled the resulatnta free kick over the wall and past the reach of Stefan McCusker.
United came close to a second shortly afterwards as Jonny Frazer raced clear. His shot from an acute angle was parried into the air by McCusker and then headed off the goal-line by Mallards skipper James McKenna.
The width of the crossbar separated Ballymena from a second goal on 58 minutes. Following a quick break out of defence, the ball found its way to Leroy Millar whose fierce shot cannoned off the underside of the crossbar after taking the faintest of touches off Emmett Friars.
Friars’ next contribution to the game was also a significant one as he drew the visitors level on 65 inutes.
Cathal Beacom’s corner was half-cleared back to the winger who returned the ball into the penalty area where Friars stooped to head past Alan Blayney from six yards.
Ballinamallard came within centimetres of going ahead on 74 minutes as Jonny Lafferty nicks in ahead of keeper Blayney but Johnny Taylor was on hand to clear the ball off the goal-line.
Ballymena had a chance to win it in the closing stages but Darren Henderson’s downward header from a Jim Ervin cross was grabbed by McCusker.
There was high drama in injury time as firstly, Jonny Lafferty’s close-range shot came off the post and Friars’ follow up effort was handled on the line by substitute David Cushley.
he was immediately red-carded by referee Lee Tavinder - the winger’s last action at the Showgrounds as a Ballymena player before his summer move to Crusaders - and Mallards sub Stephen O’Flynn held his nerve to send Blayney the wrong way from the penalty spot to earn his side a vital three points.
Ballymena United: Blayney, Ervin, McVey, Taylor, Hanley, Frazer (sub E Kane 89), Kane, Thompson (sub Henderson 76), Millar (sub Cushley 84), Faulkner, Jenkins. Subs (not used): Nelson, McNally.
Ballinamallard United: McCusker, Morris, Friars, McKenna, Elliott, McCabe, Leckey, Beacom (sub O’Flynn 77), Sproule (sub McCartney 65), Lafferty, Campbell (sub Mayse 83). Subs (not used): Currie, Dykes.
Referee: Lee Tavinder (Belfast)