Terry Fitzpatrick was the unlikely hero as Dungannon Swifts took a massive step towards Premiership safety against Ballymena.
A rare home win was secured by an even rarer goal from the long-serving midfielder. It was only Fitzpatrick’s seventh in the league in as many years.
And while it wasn’t exactly a contender for goal of the season, going in via the post, it could be one of the most important for Swifts.
It secured a much-needed three points on a weekend when each of their three other relegation rivals lost.
Dungannon’s advantage over the bottom two is now seven points. They have also climbed above Ballinamallard.
Although safety is by no means secured, Fitzpatrick felt it was a significant result.
“It was a massive, massive three points,” the midfielder said. “The conditions were tough but the boys dug deep and I thought we deserved the three points.”
Fitzpatrick revealed Dungannon had been working on adding to their goals tally from set-pieces. “We’ve been working on corners in training – movement and so on. The corner came over and fortunately I was able to get on the end of it.”
The referee checked with the assistant that his header had crossed the line, after Stephen McBride’s desperate attempts to clear.
But Fitzpatrick insisted: “Of course it crossed the line – it nearly ripped the net out.
“It’s just good to get back in the action. I hadn’t played for a few weeks so to get a game and pick up three points is great.”
Dungannon made a positive start and could have gone ahead in the third minute.
Jamie Glackin received a throw and clipped the ball in for Matt Hazley, who turned past a defender and fired just wide of the back post.
The one moment of concern on a relatively quiet night for Andy Coleman came in the 15th minute. David Cushley tried his luck with a left-foot effort from the tightest of angles, but the goalkeeper did well to parry it away.
Otherwise the majority of half-chances fell the home side’s way.
Fitzpatrick just failed to connect with Glackin’s delivery, before bumping into Gary Liggett as he chased down a Hazley cross.
The deadlock was broken in the 34th minute. Fitzpatrick got above his marker to meet Hazley’s cross, his header hit the inside of the left post and had crossed the line before being kicked clear by McBride.
Ballymena did have a penalty appeal late in the half when Glackin appeared to trip Eamonn McAllister.
However, the referee ignored the visitors’ pleas and instead controversially booked the Ballymena player for simulation.
Dungannon had only kept two clean sheets in the league before Friday. Yet Coleman was barely tested in the second half, with Tim Allen the busier goalkeeper.
He produced a terrific stop to deny Andrew Mitchell after the substitute met another pinpoint Hazley delivery on the turn. Later he safely collected a long-range Stefan Lavery drive.
But Allen’s best save came two minutes from the end when he reacted sharply to help Lavery’s curling effort over the crossbar.
Dungannon Swifts: Coleman, Burns, Brennan, Wilson, O’Rourke, Glackin, Fitzpatrick (McCullough, 87), Harpur, Hazley, Douglas (S Lavery, 75), Liggett (Mitchell, 61) Subs: Lowe, Sanusi
Ballymena United: Allen, Ervin, McNally, Munster (Teggart, 81), McBride, McAllister (McCaul, 68), Kane, Thompson (Surgenor, 81), Cushley, Boyce, Tipton. Subs: Gardiner, Gawley
Referee: Raymond Hetherington, Dungannon