Waterworth: I'm Lowry's biggest fan and he can be cream of the crop
Linfield 2-0 Ballymena Utd
Striker Andy Waterworth celebrated a new two-year contract by landing the killer punch to floor a determined Ballymena United at Windsor Park.
Linfield were grimly clinging on to Mark Stafford's first half strike when Waterworth hovered up a delicious pass from Stephen Lowry and, after a 25-yard dash, the outcome was inevitable.
But the game hung in the balance up until that point. In fact, only for two world-class saves from Roy Carroll, it could well been entirely different.
The big Northern Ireland international somehow got a glove to Johnny McMurray's first half shot that looked destined for the top corner and, in the closing minutes, deprived the same player with another incredible save to keep out the striker's bullet header.
And, while it was all high-fives and back slaps on the final blast of referee Tim Marshall's whistle, Waterworth preferred to deflect the plaudits in the direction of his impressive team mate Lowry.
"Stephen is a dream to play with - I've been saying that all season," purred Waterworth, who has now hit the net on 16 occasions this term.
"I'm his biggest fan. When he was at Coleraine, I constantly urged Big Davy (Jeffrey) to try and sign him.
"Even in training, Stephen is the one you always want in your team. There is nothing he can't do. When he's on his game, he's the best in the business - he's is so technically gifted. As a midfielder, he reminds me of Stephen Gerrard, and that's a big shout."
Even though he popped up with a crucial second goal for the fourth successive week - he also did it against Crusaders, Glentoran and Glenavon - Waterworth wasn't entirely happy with his own performance.
He added: "I probably hadn't a bad game, but it wasn't one of my better displays. I felt a bit leggy, especially in the second half.
"So, my experience kicked in. I wanted to conserve enough energy just in case something broke for me. I had to be clever in my game management and thankfully it paid off."
Having settled his future Windsor Park, Waterworth is hoping for a big end to the season. "I'm thrilled that David Jeffrey brought me to the club," he stated. "This is where I want to be. I missed out on a move to Windsor Park a few years ago, and I rued every day after that.
"I'm flattered to be part of such a great club. But I know if you don't do the business, there is always someone coming behind to replace me. As long as I can keep scoring goals, I will keep my place. Today wasn't one off my better games, but I scored and made a contribution.
"Hopefully, we can stay on the tails of Crusaders and mount a challenge for the rest of the campaign. Credit where credit is due. My old mate (Michael Carvill) got them the derby win over Cliftonville.
"They are like the Linfield of old, they have a lot of mental strength and that wins them games. That's where we have got to get to. We still have a lot of work to do, but there is a long way to go. I've seen teams lose bigger leads than seven points."
Ballymena boss David Jeffrey insisted that Carroll's performance was one of the best he had seen.
"I don't know another goalkeeper who could have made those saves," claimed Jeffrey. "Roy was the difference between this sides. You just need to look at the statistics and the number of chances we had.
"The game hinged on the duel between Jonathan McMurray and Roy Carroll. He pulled off two or three wonder saves.
"I was certainly disappointed at the way we conceded the opening goal," added Jeffrey. "The second was a great finish by Andrew.
"We played some good football that was appreciated by our supporters. I thought we matched Linfield all over the park. The players showed great passion and desire."
LINFIELD: Carroll, Stafford, Haughey, Callacher, Waterworth (Amuneke, 85 mins), Lowry, Burns, Ward, Clarke, Fallon (Millar, 67 mins), Gaynor (Stewart, 74 mins). Unused subs: Casement, Carson.
BALLYMENA: Blayney, Kane, Owens, Taggart (Jenkins, 43 mins), McCloskey, Faulkner, Ervin, McKinney, McMurray, Loughran, McCracken. Unused subs: Henderson, Kane, Lowry, McCauley.
Referee: Tim Marshall (Irvinestown)
Man of the match: Stephen Lowry