Danske Bank Premiership Promotion/Relegation Play-off, First leg.
Institute 1 Ballinamallard 2
Ballinamallard took a major step toward Danske Bank Premier League safety after John Currie’s deflected second half goal gave them a 2-1 lead to take to Ferney Park for Tuesday’s second leg of the Promotion/Relegation Play-off against Championship, Institute.
The result was harsh on Kevin Deery’s team who more than held their own against Whitey Anderson’s team, fighting back after the concession of a first half penalty and forcing Mallard keeper Alvin Rouse into a number of good saves.
Institute went into the game without injured skipper Stephen O’Donnell who failed a pre-match fitness test on his injured hamstring while Shane McGinty was only passed fit enough for a place on the bench. The visitors were without the suspended Ivan Sproule and the injured James McKenna.
And it was the home side who shaded the opening exchanges despite neither side seriously testing the opposition keeper. If anything ‘Stute enjoyed the majority of possession but it was the visitors looked more potent when they got near the ‘Stute penalty area.
Ryan Campbell saw a couple speculative efforts sail well over Marty Gallagher’s before the game exploded into life 20 minutes in with the first of two penalties in four minutes.
Campbell was again the instigator for the ‘Mallards, making his way down the right before whipping in a low cross which Ryan Mayse did superbly with to nip in front of Institute central defender Darryl McDermot. The central defender had already committed himself to the challenge and when Mayse nicked the ball away he was upended and referee Keith Kennedy immediately pointed to the spot. What followed was remarkable.
Up stepped former Institute striker Stephen O’Flynn who saw his weak penalty saved before Mark Scoltock did brilliantly to block his follow-up with O’Flynn then sending another effort against the inside of the post. The ball remained inside the Stute area with Ciaron Harkin forced to clear off the line for a second time before it looked like the danger had passed.
Wrong. With Institute trying to push out, the ball was sent in once more and found big Johnny Lafferty who had the awareness to nod it back across goal where O’Flynn had the simplest of tasks to open the scoring.
Deery’s team had paid the price for failing to clear but they were level inside two minutes. A corner from the Institute right appeared to have been cleared when the referee surprised everyone, even the ‘Stute players, by awarding the game’s second spot-kick after O’Flynn has adjudged to have handled.
There had been no appeals but Michael McCrudden accepted the gift with an assured low finish to bring the home side level.
After the drama of a breathless five minutes, the game settled back into its previous pattern, ‘Stute looking the more composed and fluent in possession but the bigger, more physical Ballinamallard team carrying a threat from crosses into the box.
The second half started with Campbell, who was operating on the right side of what was at times a three pronged ‘Mallard attack, forcing Gallagher to push a shot behind for a corner as the Premier League side stepped up the intensity.
The visitors’ three central midfielders gave them a numerical advantage in the central areas but their Championship hosts continued to hold their own. The introduction of Shane McGinty six minutes into the second period gave Institute an added threat though neither side was finding clear cuts chances easy to fashion.
Just passed the hour mark in a Jamie McIntyre cross picked out McGinty who arrived to meet the cross first time but his shot was superbly turned away by Rouse in the visitors goal.
That save looked even better when Anderson’s team hit the front for a second time, albeit in somewhat fortuitous circumstances on 67 minutes.
A deep cross from the left was cleared only as far as John Currie on the edge of the area but the midfielder’s shot into the ground looked to be heading nowhere until it took a wicked deflection off Scoltock and wrong footed Gallagher in the Stute goal.
It was cruel on ‘Stute who now faced an uphill task to overturn the deficit in Tuesday’s second leg.
Institute: Martin Gallagher, Ryan Morrow, Jamie Dunne, Darryl McDermott, Mark Scoltock, Ciaron Harkin, Michael McCrudden, Niall Grace, Gareth Brown, Aaron Harkin (Shane McGinty, 50mins), Jamie McIntyre (Shane Brennan, 83mins).
Ballinamallard: Alvin Rouse, Ryan Morris, Ryan Mayse (Andy Little, 86mins), Steve Feeney, Shane McCabe, Jay McCartney, Jake Dykes, Stephen O’Flynn, John Currie, John Currie (Cathal Beacom, 83mins), Johnny Lafferty, Ryan Campbell.
Referee: Keith Kennedy