Strikes by the Higgins brothers, David and Ricky, in Dunloy ensured that Ballynure Old Boys advanced to the semi-final of the Crawford Cup.
The locals dominated for a time in the second half, but after having a player sent off, they were unable to stop the Ballynure juggernaut that has won 14 Ballymena league and cup ties on the bounce.
Against a howling wind, Gary Burns’ lads struggled during the opening quarter, but although Paul Hughes was busier than his opposite number, he had to deal only with long-range efforts and a couple of corners.
He had to retrieve the ball from the net when Nure’s offside plan failed to operate, allowing Benny McGarry to race through to open the scoring.
Ballynure gradually began to gain control, but shots by Michael Duff and Johnny McClurg were off target, before David Higgins drilled in the equaliser from a tight angle, after playing a neat one-two with Josh McIlroy.
Two minutes in to the second half Ballynure got the decisive second goal. Ricky Higgins anticipated a defender’s back-header to his goalkeeper, took a touch, and volleyed into the net from close range.
The visitors were forced on to the back foot for a time, and Hughes pulled off the most spectacular save of the afternoon at the expense of a corner to keep his side ahead.
Burns introduced subs Simon McGreevy, Ronnie Burns and Sammy Duff during the final stages, when his side succeeded in keeping possession to thwart Dunloy’s attempts to force extra-time.
“We just about deserved to turn round all square, but we controlled the game in the second half and were worthy winners,” said Gary Burns. “It wasn’t a great game but we did enough to win.”
Ballynure are currently on the crest of the wave with McReynolds and Crawford Cup semi-finals looming in addition to a quarter-final O’Gorman Cup tie.
Their Premier League title aspirations received a boost on Saturday when main challengers, Newtowne, managed only a draw with Killymoon, leaving Ballynure 12 points clear at the top.
Junior Division One: While Ballyclare Comrades Reserves were idle at the weekend, Antrim Rovers grabbed the opportunity to leapfrog them in to pole position.
Rovers’ 3-1 victory against Mallusk Athletic took their points tally to 35 – just one ahead of the Wee Reds, each having four fixtures remaining.