Institute 1-2 Ballymena United
Ballymena United produced a roll the sleeves up display to see off a battling Institute side.
Despite only winning by the single goal the Braidmen were always in control and deservedly claimed the points, in fact they could have won by a bigger margin.
After what has been a roller coaster week for Institute - losing their boss Paddy McLaughlin, assistant manager Brian Donaghy, goalkeeping coach Conleth McCrudden and midfielder Aaron Harkin all to Cliftonville, news then emerged that skipper and the Irish League’s topscorer Michael McCrudden was in self-imposed exile, as he tries to force a move to Derry City - supporters didn't know what type of team they would be cheering on.
'Stute brought in former coach Kevin Doherty as caretaker manager, while Eamonn Seydak also returned and joined the coaching staff and credit to the players, who battled hard and gave a performance to encourage how things will materialise in the future.
For David Jeffrey he was thrilled his side came away with the win from a bitterly cold Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium.
“I’m really delighted with the win because there were those in the footballing fraternity that maybe thought that Institute might implode with the manager going and Michael McCrudden going, but I certainly was not one of those,” explained the United boss.
“I’ve known a lot of the Institute people for a long time and I know the people in this part of the world, and I knew we were going to be in for a massive battle.
“I think we definitely deserved our victory. We could have maybe made it more comfortable if we took the chances we created, but at the end of the day we had to battle and we had to fight really hard to get through. There’s no way you can say we were comfortable at any stage. Institute really put it up to us and we dug in. You need that mental strength to get over the line.”
Prior to kick-off their was a minute's silence observed for long time Institute supporter Basil Millar, who passed away recently.
United took the lead on 17 minutes after another goalkeeping error by Marty Gallagher.
The 'Stute net-minder, who was only recalled after being dropped for their previous game against Crusaders, could only parry Steven McCullough's in-swinging right wing corner into his own net.
Despite falling behind the home side, who had started the game well, should have levelled things moments later but Thomas McBride's shot was well kept out by Ross Glendinning.
Soon after Gallagher was called into action this time he did well to keep out Jonathan Addis' close range flick, after Cathair Friel's initial header found the centre-back.
McBride had another super chance on 28 minutes but after Stephen Curry's left wing cross had picked out the ex-Finn Harps man at the back post, he was unable to keep his header down when well placed.
Right on the stroke of half-time, Gallagher had to keep out Jude Winchester's left wing cross-cum-shot, but he was only able to parry the effort straight out to Andrew McGrory but the midfielder was unable to turn the loose ball home.
The visitors doubled the lead from the penalty spot on 48 minutes, after Colm McLaughlin seemed to pull down Lecky inside the box, referee Tim Marshall pointed to the spot and Friel side footed home from 12 yards, to score his 17th goal of the season.
'Stute deservedly pulled a goal back in stunning fashion on 53 minutes as Ronan Doherty’s left wing centre found Stephen Curry at the back post and the striker made no mistake, volleying home past Glendinning.
Soon after 'Stute centre-back Dean Curry lost the ball to Jude Winchester and as the midfielder ran into the box, his goal-bound chip, which had Gallagher beaten, hit the outside of the post.
United went close to adding a third goal just before the hour mark, as a fantastic long range drive by Balmer, was tipped around the post by a full stretched Gallagher.
Minutes later a superb piece of skill by Lecky, saw the big striker’s clever back-flick find Winchester, but the midfielder’s close range side footed effort was saved by Gallagher.
In the closing stages United hit the woodwork again, as McCullough’s 25 yard free-kick, which had Gallagher beaten, smacked the crossbar.
Institute: Gallagher, Jarvis, D Curry, McLaughlin; R Morrow (Smith 76), McBride (J Morrow 80), Wilson, Doherty, Dunne; S Curry (Moorehead 84), McCready.
Ballymena United: Glendinning, Addis, Ervin, Balmer; McCullough, Millar, Knowles (Harpur 73 Faulkner 88), Winchester (Kane 82), McGrory; Lecky, Friel.
Referee: Tim Marshall (Irvinestown).