Glenavon enjoyed set-piece success on two occasions to see off league leaders Ballymena United by 2-1 in front of a vibrant Mourneview Park on Friday night.
A major pre-match talking point was the decision by striker Guy Bates to start a new life in Australia, with his introduction off the substitutes’ bench marking a farewell appearance. The attacking void created by Bates’ departure was the source of debate within the stands but Glenavon had defenders Kris Lindsay and Rhys Marshall to thank for full points against Ballymena.
Both sides finished with 10 men as the final whistle signalled a first defeat of the season for Ballymena.
Sky Blues boss Glenn Ferguson - a former Glenavon striker, of course - will rue the missed chances, most of them falling to David Cushley.
Lindsay glanced in the opening goal on five minutes from a wicked in-swinging Kyle Neill corner-kick.
Cushley almost replied immediately when he drove a shot from just outside the box that Alan Blayney pushed away to safety.
Andy McGrory then tried his luck with a dipping volley from the left corner of the box but Dwayne Nelson dealt with it comfortably.
In the 26th minute, Cushley showed great skill to flick the ball over Marshall’s head but he couldn’t direct his shot on target, with Blayney happy to see it drift wide of his left-hand post.
Three minutes later, the little United forward latched on to a long ball but was penalised for colliding with the Glenavon keeper just inside the box.
Glenavon debutant Ciaran Caldwell played Blayney into trouble when he attempted to head the ball back from near the centre circle but the Glenavon keeper did well to rush out of his area and make a great block tackle to deny Cushley another shooting chance.
On the stroke of half-time, Cushley showed great skill to control a through ball, beat Marshall and draw Blayney out - only to drag his shot wide with the goal gaping.
Ten minutes into the second half, Caldwell put over a great cross which McGrory played back in from beyond the far post but Ciaran Martyn put his header well wide.
Just after the hour mark, United briefly thought they had equalised when it appeared Davy Munster headed in from a Neal Gawley free-kick but the big defender was penalised and cautioned for deliberate handball.
Marshall made it 2-0 to the Lurgan Blues with his third goal of the season by heading in from another Neill corner-kick after the initial effort had been headed off the line.
Ballymena will point to the fact that it should never have been a corner in the first place, with Gareth McKeown clearly slicing his shot out of play without any contact from a Sky Blues player.
Sixty seconds later, Eoin Bradley had a great chance to make it 3-0 after Johnny Taylor failed to cut out a throughball but the former Coleraine man, after drawing Nelson out, curled his left-foot shot narrowly wide.
Blayney pulled off another great save in the 74th minute, denying Matthew Tipton’s well-struck close range shot.
Referee Raymond Hetherington sent off Glenavon’s Shane McCabe and Ballymena skipper Allan Jenkins for an off-the-ball incident in the 68th minute, with Lindsay and Darren Boyce together on the ground after they had challenged each other for an aerial ball.
There were seven minutes remaining when the visitors had claims for a handball in the box by Lindsay waved away by the referee, with Mark Surgenor picking up a yellow card for his protests.
Two minutes later, Cushley finally got the goal he deserved when he beat Blayney from the edge of the box after a fortunate break of the ball had favoured Tipton, who crossed for his team-mate to convert with a measured chip.
In the final minute, Martyn fired a volley just wide from Bates’ cross but in added time, as United went three at the back and pushed forward for an equaliser, Boyce went close with a header that dropped inches wide from a dangerous cross to the far post by the marauding Taylor.
Bates joined the play around 75 minutes to a standing ovation from the home fans and spent time at the close of the game showing his appreciation to the Glenavon supporters. He left on Sunday for a job in Australia.
GLENAVON: Blayney, McKeown, Neill, Lindsay, Bradley, McGrory, Caldwell, Marshall, Braniff, McCabe, Martyn. Subs: McCallion, Murphy, Kilmartin, Hamilton (Braniff, 73 mins), Bates (Bradley, 76 mins).