Crusaders 3 Ballymena United 2
Paul Heatley grabbed a double as Crusaders ended Ballymena United's unbeaten run with a 3-2 victory at Seaview.
Heatley struck in the first and second half along with Kyle Owens to seal the three points - while Jude Winchester and Steven McCullough were on target for the Sky Blues as their 19 match unbeaten run came to an end.
Ballymena started the game well but it was Crusaders who took the lead in the sixth minute. Phillip Lowry found Paul Heatley and he poked the ball past the advancing Ross Glendinning in the United goal.
It was a great start from the defending champions but questions must be asked of the absent United defence.
Heatley had another chance in the ninth minute as he twisted and turned in the United box before having his shot saved by Glendinning.
The ball fell to Declan Caddell but his effort hit the post and went wide.
Billy Joe Burns then got a yellow card after a rash challenge on Shane McGinty in the 13th minute.
Crusaders Heatley then had his corner pushed onto the bar by keeper Glendinning before United countered and striker Cathair Friel shot over the bar when put through by Jonathan McMurray.
McMurray then headed just wide from a Tony Kane corner in the 22nd minute and we had a game on our hands as both sides were looking to get forward.
It was 1-1 in the 25th minute as United got forward and Jude Winchester pounced to score his fourth goal of the season. It was a good finish from the former Cliftonville midfielder.
Four minutes later it was 2-1 to the Crues. A free-kick - that was flicked on - found former Ballymena defender Kyle Owens and he fired home past a stranded Glendinning to regain the lead for his side.
The Crues were starting to push the ball around and the Sky Blues were struggling to stick with the Shore Road outfit.
Lowry again went close for the Crues but his long range effort flew wide with keeper Glendinning looking on.
Things were hotting up and Crues forward Jordan Owens was having a few rows with Ballymena's Adam Lecky and Kofi Balmer.
Right at the break Crusaders broke through Heatley. He released David Cushley who hit the side netting when well placed.
United had the first chance of the second half. A free-kick found Jonathan Addis and his goal bound effort was brilliantly blocked by Crues skipper Colin Coates.
The Sky Blues to their credit had started the second half brightly probable after a few choice half-time words from manager David Jeffrey.
The Crues had a penalty appeal turned down in the 64th minute when Jordan Owens went down in the box but the referee waved play on.
A minute later it was 2-2 as Steven McCullough rifled home from a pass from Friel and United were not going to give up their unbeaten run without a fight.
It could have been 3-2 a few minutes later for United. McMurray fed McGinty and his effort was just off target.
Heatley then tried his luck with a curler in 70th minute. His effort had Glendinning beaten but came flying back off the bar and the chance was lost.
United then had another chance two minutes later as McMurray fed Lecky who fired over the Crusaders goal when well placed.
It was 3-2 to Crusaders in the 86th minute as Heatley grabbed his second of the game. The winger's shot finally hitting the top corner after a deflection off a Ballymena defender.
Crusaders: O'Neill, Burns, Coates, Lowry, Cushley (Carvill 90mins), Caddell (Snoody 89mins), Forsythe, K Owens, Ruddy, J Owens, Heatley.
Subs not used: Doherty, Ward, Brown, Clarke.Patterson.
Ballymena United: Glendinning, Kane (Whiteside 85mins), Addis, McGinty, Friel, McCullough, Balmer (Mayse 88mins), Winchester, Ervin, Lecky, McMurray.
Subs not used: McDermott, Quigley, Faulkner, Nolan Shevlin.
Referee: Ian McNabb