Irish Premiership: Ballymena's lead over Linfield cut to two points
Ballymena United's lead at the top of the Irish Premiership has been cut to two points after a dramatic afternoon of Boxing Day action.
Leaders United came from 3-1 down to grab a thrilling 3-3 draw against Coleraine while Linfield demolished Glentoran 4-0 at Windsor Park.
Paul Heatley scored a hat-trick as Crusaders hammered Cliftonville 5-1.
The champions are level with third-placed Glenavon who snatched a late 1-1 draw away to Dungannon Swifts.
Warrenpoint Town scored a 93rd-minute equaliser in the 2-2 draw at home to neighbours Newry City, while a Michael McCrudden penalty proved enough to give Institute a 1-0 home win over bottom club Ards.
Ballymena, on a brilliant nine-match winning run in the league, looked to be heading for defeat when they went 3-1 down at home to derby rivals Coleraine.
Stephen Lowry's bobbling shot from the edge of the box gave Coleraine a 10th-minute lead which was quickly wiped out by a Cathair Friel penalty.
James McLaughlin's close-range finish restored the visitors' lead before the break, but the Coleraine striker was then sent-off for a second yellow card foul early in the second half.
The 10 men, however, extended their lead through Ian Parkhill in the 65th minute.
Andrew Burns got Ballymena to within a goal and then the transfer-listed Johnny McMurray pounced for the 90th-minute equaliser.
The Sky Blues pressed for a stoppage-time winner, but boss David Jeffrey was happy to avoid defeat.
"Coleraine's goalkeeper Chris Johns was immense and only for his brilliant saves we would have come away with three points," said the Ballymena boss.
"Our players would not accept defeat and they were fantastic.
"I am an unapologetic champion of Irish League football, and today we saw a classic."
Jimmy Callacher was the first of three former Glentoran players to score for Linfield in a one-sided encounter in south Belfast.
The Glens, without a league win since October, looked hapless at times and shipped three goals in 10 second half minutes as the blues strolled to victory.
Jordan Stewart, Joel Cooper and Andrew Waterworth drove home Linfield's advantage as David Healy's side narrowed Ballymena's lead.
Robbie McDaid's late red card compounded Glentoran's misery.
At Solitude, Crusaders were in front inside three minutes through a David Cushley penalty and they were further ahead through Heatley.
Cushley got another early in the second half and Heatley scored another two as the title holders surged into a 5-0 lead before Rory Donnelly got one back.
Dungannon Swifts were reduced to 10 men when Seanan Clucas was sent off for throwing the ball in the face of opponent Rhys Marshall.
But the 10 home men took the lead through Paul McElroy midway through the second half only for Stephen Donnelly to snatch a stoppage-time equaliser for Glenavon.
A penalty in the 32nd minute by skipper Michael McCrudden gave seventh-placed Institute a 1-0 home win over bottom club Ards.
Warrenpoint Town and Newry City each had a player dismissed in the 2-2 draw at Milltown.
Mark McCabe put City in front but Danny Wallace levelled for the hosts just before the interval.
Anto Reilly picked up a second yellow card for the foul on McCabe which led to Dale Montgomery restoring the visitors' lead.
It was 10 versus 10 when Darren King picked up two bookings in close succession and Dean Watters bundled home the close-range equaliser for Warrenpoint.
|Danske Bank Irish Premiership|
|Warrenpoint Town||2-2||Newry City|
|Bluefin Sport Championship|
|Carrick Rangers||3-1||Limavady United|