Champions elect Crusaders weren’t really tested by Institute and they ran out comfortable 3-1 winners, at Seaview.
Although Stephen Baxter’s side never really dominated things they were always in control and pacy winger Gavin Whyte along with Jordan Owens’ aerial ability was a consistent threat.
A Timmy Adamson pass on four minutes released Gavin Whyte, but the in-form winger hestiated and Stephen O’Donnell got across to block the close range shot.
Some poor defending on 12 minutes nearly resulted in the home side taking the lead when Josh Robinson’s flick-on caused problems for Stephen O’Donnell, but fortunately for the defender Jordan Owens’ close range strike was saved by Martin Gallagher.
A minute later Adamson missed a glorious chance this time he blasted over when well posiitoned at the back post, after Declan Caddell’s inital cross was flicked goalwards by Diarmuid O’Carroll.
Mark Scoltock came to his side’s rescue on 19 minutes when Gallagher’s poor punch only fell to Adamson, but the striker’s drive from 12 yards was cleared off the line by the big centre-back.
Institute had a good chance themselves on 25 minutes but Robbie Hume’s drive from 14 yards was well off target, after Michael McCrudden’s intelligent chest down had created the opening.
The deadlock was broken moments later when Billy Joe Burns’ header on the edge of the box caught out Stute’s back-line as they tried to push out and the alert Owens ghosted in behind before turning the ball home from close range.
Just after the half-hour mark Gallagher was called into action when a fast break by Whyte which started in his own half ended with the talented winger’s shot saved.
Institute levelled things somewhat against the run of play when Paddy McLaughlin’s right wing centre found Hume and his super header from the edge of the box looped over a flat footed Crusaders keeper Sean O’Neill.
The home side were awarded a penalty on 51 minutes when Caddell was clipped inside the box by Peter Bradley and O’Carroll made no mistake with the resulting spot-kick.
Moments later a Duwayne McManus centre from the right found Hume, but the striker’s header which had beaten O’Neill flew over the bar.
Crues raced into a two goal advantage on 56 minutes when Whyte was afforded a lot of time inside the Stute penalty box and his right wing cross found Owens who gleefully headed home from close range.
Crusaders: O’Neill, Burns, Magowan, Robinson, McClean; Clarke, Caddell, Adamson (Hanley 85); Owens (O’Flynn 71), O’Carroll, Whyte.
Institute: Gallagher, McLaughlin, O’Donnell, Scoltock, Bradley (McKeever 60); Crown, McManus, Young (Armstrong 70); McCrudden, Hume, Curry (McIntyre 60).
Referee: Mr Raymond Crangle (Belfast).