Published Tuesday, 04 February 2014
Joe Gormley celebrates a goal on Tuesday night at Warden Street. (© Pacemaker)
However, although the Reds were good value for the three points, United will look back on a controversial second half penalty which gave the visitors the edge.
Earlier the first chance of the game fell to Cliftonville after Martin Donnelly picked out Liam Boyce but he directed his shot straight at goalkeeper Aaron Shanahan.
The visitors almost went ahead by way of a mistake on 18 minutes when David Munster's back header almost caught out the home keeper but he did well to push the ball away for a corner.
The Reds looked the more confident and Boyce had a looping header tipped over by the busy Shanahan and from the corner the United stopper was called upon again to deny Boyce's close range header from going into the net.
Shanahan kept the home team in the match as he darted off his line to beat Joe Gormely in a race for the ball.
Ballymena offered their first real threat when Alan Teggart found space in the box but his parting shot failed to trouble Conor Devlin.
The visitors suffered a blow when Boyce was forced to retire through injury and soon after almost went behind when United fullback Jim Ervin let fly from distance but Devlin reacted well to make the save.
From the resultant corner Devlin misjudged Tony Kane's cross and ended up punching the ball into his own net on 44 minutes.
Ballymena fans were still celebrating that breakthrough when Cliftonville levelled in stoppage time after a cross from Donnelly spun off a defender and nestled in the net.
Any hopes Ballymena had in toppling the champions began to disappear five minutes after the restart when they conceded a controversial penalty and had Johnny Taylor red-carded after he brought down Gormley in the box.
Ballymena protested Gormley had been going away from goal when he went down but it was to no avail and it was Gormley who blasted home the spot kick.
With 15 minutes to go United almost snatched an equaliser when Darren Boyce's header from Tony Kane's cross just flew wide of the goal.
The Reds made certain of all three points on 81 minutes when Martin Donnelly fired home to seal a great night for Tommy Breslin's men.
In Tuesday's other Premier League clash the spoils were shared as Coleraine and Ballinamallard battled out a 1-1 draw at The Showgrounds.
The first chance fell to the visitors when Liam Martin forced a fine save out of Eugene Ferry and then at the other end Coleraine had a penalty appeal waved away after Davy McDaid went tumbling in the box.
Ballinamallard took the lead on 39 minutes after Martin set up Ryan Campbell who fired past Ferry.
Craig Hill then saw red after he blocked Lowry's shot with his hand and a second yellow saw him heading for an early bath.
Coleraine took immediate advantage with Howard Beverland bringing the Bannsiders level a minute from the break.
In the second half Coleraine should have taken the lead in the 64th minute but Gary Browne saw his header sail wide of the goal.
A great save from Rouse prevented the home side edging in front on 71 minutes but in the end it finished level with the visitors the happier with the outcome.
In the Mid-Ulster Cup, a hat-trick from David Rainey helped Glenavon ease to a 7-1 win over Laurelvale at Mourneview Park.
The other Glenavon goals came from Sammy McIlveen, Kevin Short, James Singleton and Jonny Dallas. Jamie Uprichard scored a consolation for the visitors.
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