Portadown's renaissance continued when big Richard Lecky settled a rather ordinary lower-table encounter with virtually the last kick of the game.
With United pressing for an equaliser to Keith O’Hara’s first-half strike, the Ports’ industrious Gary McCutcheon picked up a loose ball, released it perfectly to the big Castlederg man and he raced through to nestled it past keeper Sean O’Neill.
And — according to United’s boss Roy Walker, of all people — it was fitting the McCutcheon should lay on the winner.
“Portadown had in McCutcheon what we didn’t possess,” said the honest Walker in his post-match analysis.
“He’s superb at holding up the ball and laying it off. He’s aware and has an uncanny positional sense and that’s why Portadown came out winners.”
McCutcheon also had a hand in the Ports’ first goal on 39 minutes — a scrambled effort by central defender O’Hara — but even the little Scot would admit his contribution was tenuous. He whipped across a corner, which Ballymena failed to clear and O’Hara powered in at the far post to bundle it home.
“They all count,” said O’Hara. “It was just my second goal of the season, but this was a vital game for both sides and the points were so important.
“We’ve played much better and lost this season, and it’s good to be putting a decent run together.”
United didn’t have the best of luck in the first-half and could have a couple ahead before that O’Hara opener. After 10 minutes, main striker Kevin Kelbie headed a Philip Carson free-kick against the crossbar and Nathan McConnell just failed to net the follow-up.
Then they had what looked like a genuine shout for a penalty refused when Ryan McCluskey grounded Lee Colligan, but Walker manfully refused to complain.
Portadown’s interval lead flattered them a little, but they were slightly the better side after the break, especially when a slick four-man move ended with an Alan Teggart effort striking the foot of a post.
Ballymena’s brightest moment was a Kelbie ‘bicycle’ effort that rested on top of the Ports’ goal, and then big Lecky settled in with his late, late goal.
Portadown manager Ronnie McFall said: “It wasn’t a classic by any means. But the points were vital and after a shaky start to the league we’ve put together a really good run and that’s all that matters.
“We found it tough when we came back up from the Championship, but we’ve re-adjusted to the top league and we’ve turned the corner.”