Ballymena United 3 Linfield 3
Roy Walker has signalled his intent to make Ballymena United the top provincial club in Northern Ireland — and if Saturday is anything to go by, they have every chance.
The Braidmen should have been dead and buried when trailing 3-1 to champions Linfield at the Showgrounds but their relentless charge for a point paid off.
Mark Surgenor was the hero of the hour for the Sky Blues as his late second-half double ensured what had looked an unlikely draw.
Make no mistake about it; this Blues side are a tough nut to crack but a rare halloween horror show at the back cost them dear.
David Jeffrey's frustration was slightly eased with the news that closest rivals Glentoran and Cliftonville slipped to shock defeats to Lisburn Distillery and Portadown respectively.
While Jeffrey must have been relieved, Braid boss Walker was disappointed his battling heroes only managed a point.
“We showed real character to come back from 3-1 down and, if anything, I’m a little disappointed we didn’t win the game,” he said.
“We created a lot of chances and spurned some as well as a slightly dubious offside being given against us.
“There is such a desire to finish in the top half of the table and I want to make sure we are the top provincial club in the league.
“Off the pitch we are right up there with the stadium and on the pitch we continue to improve.”
Despite toying with the Blues for the opening 20 minutes on Saturday, Ballymena went behind to Mark McAllister's cool finish.
But two minutes later, Richard Gibson slotted home united's first successful spot-kick of the season.
Having got back into the game, United soon hit the self-destruct button as Dwayne Nelson's blunder in punching the ball into his own net handed Robert Garrett an early Christmas present before Peter Thompson continued his stunning form in front of goal with a smart finish after the break.
It should have been game over but after Aaron Burns' disallowed goal — one of countless dubious decisions by referee Alan Black — the home side stunned the league leaders.
Surgenor headed their second before Gibson and Gary McCutcheon fluffed their lines to level with the goal at their mercy.
Thirteen minutes from time however, Surgenor gave his side the kiss of life after an attempted clearance rebounded off the midfielder and bizarrely looped into the goal.
It was a stunning climax to a pulsating encounter, enjoyed by Sports Minister Nelson McCausland.
“That was a fantastic advertisement for local football,” said Linfield boss Jeffrey.
“I'm sick of people telling us we don't have a good product; that match will prove them all wrong.”
The final piece in the match jigsaw came in the dying seconds when Antrim official, Black took centre stage again —harshly dismissing Blues midfielder Jamie Mulgrew.
“The referee has told Jamie he was dismissed for a punch,” added Jeffrey.
“I also have a few questions about Aaron Burns’ goal because he was definitely onside.
“Was it because other players were interfering with play and, if so, I would like it explained to me because no one seems to know these days.
“It was a perfectly good goal and if that had made the game 4-1, I don’t think there would have been any way back for Ballymena.
“Then we contributed to our down downfall by giving away poor goals.
“Having said that, a draw was probably the fair result.
“Ballymena threw everything at us and had chances which Alan Blayney had to save but at 3-1 up, you should win the game.”
Every player involved can take a bow for the entertainment, only spoiled by Black's blunders.