Super sub Mark Miskimmin produced a moment of magic to rescue Linfield from what could have been another embarrassing situation. The 21 year-old striker being likened to Pistol Pete Thompson replaced the injured Kevin McHugh at half-time and grabbed a precious winner.
Miskimmin needed no second invitation when Paul Munster’s cushioned header fell kindly for him.
With frustrated home fans holding their breath the ice cool kid clinically drilled an angled shot past Dwayne Nelson.
The relief around Windsor Park was almost audible and manager David Jeffrey beamed: “Didn’t he do well.”
But the victory didn’t fool the Blues boss who conceded: “While the players were pumped up and fired up after Monday night’s defeat they played like rabbits in the headlights of a car in the first half.
“There was no hairdryer treatment at the break. I just told them to relax and after that we were much better.
“We got one and maybe could have had a second.”
Rival boss Roy Walker was totally frustrated and hardly surprising because Ballymena were by far the better team in the opening 45 minutes.
Walker moaned: “If we had shown a little more belief we could have got something out of the game.
“You expect Linfield to have a period in the game and they got it after 20 minutes of the second half.
“Yet it took a poor piece of defending to give them the goal. The lad ran off a defender and had all the time in the world to score.
“Mind you he took it well even though from where he was you would have expected him to hit the target and he did.”
As Jeffrey indicated Linfield really did begin like a team still shell-shocked from the humiliating 4-0 defeat by Cliftonville.
They were shaky at the back, nondescript in midfield and had no penetration up front.
Little wonder then that frustrated Jeffrey wielded the axe during the interval although some of the changes were enforced.
Hauled off were Kevin McHugh (groin), Robert Garrett and JP Gallagher (dead leg) to be replaced by Mark Miskimmin, Paul Munster and Aaron Burns.
It’s not something Jeffrey or any manager would normally do but circumstances obviously dictated and the changes certainly worked after a pedestrian first half performance.
However Ballymena boss Walker will no doubt have been disappointed not to be ahead.
His side enjoyed the majority of possession but had nothing to show for it.
David Cushley saw a spectacular scissor-kick tipped over by Alan Blayney, Andy Smith glanced a header from Orman Okuniaya wide and central defender Albert Watson flashed another header over the bar.
With home fans fast becoming restless, Linfield were put under more pressure by a penetrating run from United full-back Lee Colligan but again they survived.
Time was almost up when the Blues produced their first serious threat when Philip Lowry’s hooked shot was touched on to the bar by Dwayne Nelson.
The second half was barely started when Blayney had to be alert and brave when he went down at the feet of Okuniaya.
But for the first time Linfield began to flex their muscles and half-time sub Miskimmin cashed in.
Jim Irvin launched a long clearance, Munster got his head to the ball and when it found Miskimmin he calmly and expertly beat Nelson with an exquisite cross-shot.
And the Blues went close to making it 2-0 when a long cross from Munster drifted over Nelson only to be headed off the line by Colligan.
There were chances for both sides in the dying seconds with Miskimmin missing out for Linfield when he got the ball stuck in his feet and allowed Nelson to smother.
Then at the other end, veteran Darren Lockhart sliced wide when he had time to take a touch.
LINFIELD: Blayney 7; Irvin 6, Douglas 6, Bailie 6, Gallagher 5 (Burns 45 mins 6); Garrett 5 (Munster 45 mins 6), Gault 6, Lowry 7, Tomelty 6; McHugh 5 (Miskimmin 45 mins 6), Carvill 6 Subs: Curran, Lindsay
BALLYMENA: Nelson 6; Smith 7, Stewart 7, Albert Watson 7 (Surgenor 59 mins 6), Colligan 7; Cushley 7, Lockhart 6, Anderson 6 (Aidan Watson 77 mins 5), Okuniaya 5 (McConnell 70 mins 5); A Smith 6, Kelbie 6. Subs : Taggart, O’Neill
REFEREE: Adrian McCourt, (Bangor) 7