Ballymena United moved into seventh place in the Danske Bank Premiership with an important 1-0 victory over Carrick Rangers at the Showgrounds.
Nathan Hanley’s early goal settled a low-key game in United’s favour in their first outing since winning the County Antrim Shield a week earlier.
Any thoughts of Ballymena’s heads still being in the clouds from that Shield success seven days ago were dispelled within the opening 90 seconds as they took the lead.
There looked to be little danger as David Cushley hopefully flicked the ball towards the Carrick penalty area but recent signing Gareth McKeown dithered in trying to head the ball back to his keeper and Nathan Hanly nipped in to dispossess the defender before poking the ball past Brian Neeson.
Carrick attempted to find a swift response and Ben Roy was teed up on the edge of the penalty area on seven minutes but his low shot was straight at Alan Blayney.
Ballymena continued their confident start with David Cushley curling an effort narrowly past the far post after a corner hadn’t been properly cleared.
Tony Kane then tested Neeson with a free kick which dipped over the Carrick defensive wall, with the keeper diving to his right to dive on the ball, virtually on the goal-line.
A great chance went a-begging for Ballymena on 35 minutes after a neat build-up put Willie Faulkner in on the right hand side of the penalty area but the winger delays his shot and Kyle Cherry made a timely interception.
Carrick spurned a glorious chance to equalise two minutes before the interval when skipper Aaron Harmon put Miguel Chines through on goal but with only keeper Alan Blayney to beat, the veteran striker sliced his shot beyond the far post.
Hanley came close to doubling his and his side’s account two minutes into the second period when his free kick from just outside the penalty area curled narrowly wide of the Carrick goal.
Rangers came back into the game, forcing a number of corners but they were unable to put any real pressure on Blayney in an increasingly scrappy second period.
The visitors came close to levelling on 72 minutes when Mark Surgenor’s close-range effort from a Chines corner was hacked off the goal-line in a packed penalty area.
Carrick sub Conor McCloskey bought a yard of space on the left hand side of Ballymena’s penlaty area but after escaping from Tony Kane, his low curling effort lacked the power to beat Blayney.
At the other end, Cushley screwed a shot wide after being set up by Jenkins as Ballymena searched for a decisive second goal.
Carrick came close to an equaliser deep in stoppage time when Blayney acrobatically turned McCloskey’s drive ovee the bar and from the resultant Chines corner, Kyle CHerry headed over from point-blank range.
The win saw United leap-frog Portadown into seventh place in the table after the Ports’ defeat at Warrenpoint - a result which will also have Carrick looking anxiously over their shoulders at the foot of the table.
Ballymena United: Blayney, Kane, Ervin, McNally, McBride, Taggart (sub Ferguson 54), Thompson, Hanley (sub Smith 64), Faulkner, Cushley (sub Taylor 90+1), Jenkins. Subs (not used): Henderson, Shevlin.
Carrick Rangers: Neeson, McCaul, McKeown, Surgenor, Traynor, Kelly (sub McCloskey 56), Harmon, Salley (sub Wright 80), Cherry, Roy, Chines. Subs (not used): McNeill, Doyle, Taggart.
Referee: Raymond Crangle (Belfast)