Coleraine and Ballymena United were forced to settle for a share of the spoils as Kyle Owens’ deflected header earned the Sky Blues a deserved 1-1 draw at The Showgrounds.
The Bannsiders took a first-half lead through Jamie McGonigle, but David Jeffrey’s men levelled through Owens’ header that flicked off the boot of Aaron Traynor and into the net.
Kevin Braniff and Cathair Friel squandered chances to take all three points, before Traynor almost redeemed himself with a long range effort that sailed inches wide.
With a bumper crowd on the Ballycastle Road, it took until six minutes for the first piece of action to arrive as Coleraine ‘keeper Chris Johns was alert to deny Conor McCloskey’s effort. At the other end, Ciaron Harkin’s drive from the edge of the area was easily gathered by Ross Glendinning.
On 10 minutes, a clever run by McGonigle beat the offside trap and the Northern Ireland under-21 international ran into the area, but Glendinning rushed out of his goal to make a superb stop.
Moments later, the visitors nearly took the lead in bizarre circumstances as Gareth McConaghie’s clearance ricocheted off Johnny McMurray and went inches wide.
After the Sky Blues created some half chances through Owens and McCloskey, the Bannsiders broke the deadlock on 40 minutes.
A clever flick from Ian Parkhill released the run of McGonigle who ran onto the ball and finished past Glendinning with aplomb.
The league leaders almost doubled their advantage through Stephen O’Donnell’s header, but Ballymena drew level on 53 minutes.
A long throw by McCloskey was flicked on by Owens and as his header looked certain for Johns to save, Traynor stuck out a leg and the ball went into the net.
The visitors began to smell blood and Johns was once again called into action to deny McCloskey from close range with a terrific stop. Oran Kearney shuffled his pack and brought on the returning Eoin Bradley.
The striker nearly scored with an acrobatic effort from Darren McCauley’s cross, but the ball went narrowly wide.
The Braidmen should have taken the lead with 10 minutes to go as a goalmouth scramble led the ball landing at the feet of substitute Kevin Braniff.
The former Glenavon man looked destined to score, but somehow he poked wide from close range.
In an end-to-end second-half, Traynor almost redeemed himself as his speculative long range effort sailed narrowly wide, before McGonigle was denied on the goal line as Ballymena survived.
Then, in added time, a fantastic cross from Joe McKinney found Cathair Friel, but the former Coleraine striker couldn’t steer the ball home as both sides had to settle for a point.
COLERAINE: Johns, Mullan, Harkin, McCauley, Smith, Carson, McConaghie, O’Donnell, Parkhill (Bradley ‘68), Traynor, McGonigle.
Subs Not Used: Douglas, Ogilby, Kee, Whiteside.
BALLYMENA UNITED: Glendinning, Kane, Owens, Thompson (McAlorum ’76), Friel, McCloskey, Shevlin (McKinney ‘84, Balmer, Ervin, McCullough, McMurray (Braniff ’52).
Subs Not Used: Brennan (GK), McCaffrey.