City of Derry recovered from the blow of losing out-half Richard McCarter in the warm-up to claim a bonus point win over Ballymena at Eaton Park.
Richard Peoples stepped off the bench and although he was instrumental in Derry’s 39-29 victory, McCarter is expected to return for the vital AIL encounter against Instonians at Judge's Road on Saturday.
The win moved Derry into second place, seven points behind Ballynahinch, but with a game in hand, while Dungannon are two points further adrift.
With the end of the season in sight the championship will probably be decided when the top two teams face each other.
Derry’s opening try from William McCleary was cancelled out when Daryl O'Kane touched down for the Braidmen, but it was the visitors who led 17-5 at the break with tries from Richard Baird and Peoples — the latter converting one.
In the second-half a penalty from Peoples and another Baird try made it 25-5, but Ballymena didn’t lie down.
They scored three tries to Derry’s one before David Funston scored the visitor’s sixth and Andy Kerr’s late effort gave Ballymena a bonus point.
Belfast Harlequins held a 14-0 half-time lead over Banbridge, but failed to take a bonus point in a 21-5 win at Rifle Park.
Michael Holmes and Gavin McLaughlin both scored converted tries in the first-half.
Paul Ross cut the deficit two minutes into the second, only for Michael Allen to score for Quins.