Coleraine captain Lyndon Kane celebrates scoring the winner against Ballymena Utd on Tuesday night.
STAND-IN skipper Lyndon Kane marked his 24th birthday by scoring a dramatic winner in a 1-0 defeat of derby rivals Ballymena Utd on Tuesday night.
The right-back's stunning left foot shot from the edge of the Ballymena penalty area around the hour mark was a rare moment of quality in a tense struggle.
But make no mistake - the visitors were deserving winners by virtue of creating the better of any chances created.
Indeed, they can argue they were harshly treated by the match officials, having a goal chalked off in each half.
Curtis Allen's deflected effort in the first half was ruled out by referee Tony Clarke because of an alleged handball.
If that was a contentious decision, worse was to follow.
Striker James McLaughlin appeared to win the ball cleanly in an aerial duel with Ballymena keeper Jordan Williamson in the second period.
Inexplicably, the man in the middle adjudged the front man had fouled the United number one and disallowed the goal.
Thankfully for Oran Kearney's battlers the decisions didn't have affect the outcome as Kane scored just the second league goal of his lengthy career to claim the points.
The Ballymena defence failed to deal with a Jamie Glackin and when the ball fell to Kane on the edge of the area he simply fired an unstoppable left foot shot high into the net past a helpless Williamson.
It was a goal fitting of winning any game - the only disappointment, as the player admitted himself afterwards - was that there were no Coleraine fans in attendance to celebrate with.
Ballymena offered little in attack during the course of the 90 odd minutes, Shay McCartan the sole player who looked like causing Coleraine defenders problems.
That was due in large part to a belligerent Coleraine defence in which Aaron Canning was making his 300th appearance for the club.
Alongside him, Gareth McConaghie was his best no-nonsense self with full-backs Kane and Aaron Traynor providing defensive cover and an outlet in attack.
Stephen Lowry was everywhere in midfield where he was ably supported by Evan Tweed, a player who goes under the radar but who gets through a mountain of work.
Work-rate was key to this win: Josh Carson, Jamie Glackin, James McLaughlin and Curtis Allen and sub Stewart Nixon when he came on defended from the front, putting Ballymena under pressure at every opportunity.
Nixon, introduced for Curtis Allen, may not have been on the field long but he was involved in one of the game's major talking points.
In the dying minutes, Ballymena 'keeper Williamson came rushing out of his goal to challenge Nixon for the ball.
It was a heavy challenge, ref' Clarke opting to produce the red card for the goalie - the second time he has been sent off in games against Coleraine.
The incident led to heated exchanges on the sidelines between Ballymena boss David Jeffrey and his former players at Linfield, Oran Kearney and Winkie Murphy, now in charge at Coleraine.
There were a few nervous moments to endure in the closing seconds as Ballymena went in search of an equaliser but Coleraine held out for a deserved win.
"It's been a long time since we've had a 1-0 win so we'll enjoy that," said Oran afterwards.
The victory sees Coleraine draw level with third-placed Crusaders on 30 points but with a game in hand.
Incidentally, the Crues visit Ballymena Utd on Friday night while Coleraine travel to face league leaders Linfield in the Saturday tea-time game.
BALLYMENA UNITED: Williamson, Kane (Knowles ’82 mins), Redman, McElroy, McCartan, McGrory (Waide ’62 mins), Hume, Erwin, Keeley, Kelly, Wylie (McCready ’75 mins).
Subs Not Used: Glendinning (GK), Keenan, Graham, Beattie.
COLERAINE: Deane, Kane, Canning, Lowry, McLaughlin (Wilson ’76 mins), Carson, McConaghie, Tweed, Glackin, Traynor, Allen (Nixon ’57 mins).
Subs Not Used: Gallagher (GK), Douglas, Jarvis, Beverland, Brennan.
Referee: Tony Clarke