AARON Walsh cut a lonely figure as he practised taking penalty kicks into an empty net at the Riverside Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
And that was in the pre-match warm-up, prior to Institute’s 1-1 draw with Crusaders!
Fast forward 90 plus minutes and he was disconsolate as he trudged off the pitch with his head in his hands after missing a last gasp penalty to win the game.
After missing from the spot against Ballinamallard two weeks ago, he was determined to redeem himself and got his chance against the high flying Shore Road men in the first half.
Indeed his pre-match shootout warm-up reaped its rewards as the Strabane man bravely stepped up and clinically converted from 12 yards to put ‘Stute ahead on 20 minutes.
But he quickly transformed from hero to villain in the second half as he sent a glancing header into his own net before blasting high over the bar deep into stoppage time.
It was a glorious chance to take the scalp of the high flying Shore Road men and a downbeat Walsh claimed it was an ‘unacceptable miss’ as he shouldered the blame for costing his side three precious points.
“We should have won it,” he claimed. “We’ve always talked about mentality and composure and all it needed was five or 10 seconds of composure at the end of the game with the last kick of the game. There’s no excuses for it.
“When we got the first penalty I was thinking I needed to redeem myself after missing the last one against Ballinamallard and I did that.
“But to miss the second one, at this level, is unacceptable. It’s not all about me, it’s about the team and we needed the points.”
It was second half substitute and regular penalty taker, Stephen O’Flynn who lifted the ball and looked favourite to take responsibility in the final seconds of the game when Paul McVeigh’s goalbound shot was handled inside the area by Billy Joe Burns.
However, after a quick conversation with O’Flynn, Walsh placed the ball on the spot before blasting over the crossbar.
“O’Flynn wanted to hit it and then handed it to me in the last second and asked me if I wanted it,” explained Walsh. “I will never shy away from taking a penalty so I took it.
“To be fair to the keeper, he was going to the side I was hitting it to. You shouldn’t ever change your mind and I tried to hit it down the middle. But to miss from 12 yards, you should keep the ball on target.
“I more or less bottled it,” he added honestly. “I put it over the bar with the last kick of the game.
“We’re never going to get a better opportunity than getting a penalty in the last kick of the game to get three points against one of the best teams in the league.
“It’s just the way things are going at the minute for me.”
Having said that, both Walsh and his manager, Paul Kee would certainly have taken a share of the spoils against Stephen Baxter’s in-form troops before kick-off.
And the midfielder conceded that his side will take the positives from the game after ending a run of four league defeats.
“We haven’t got beat, which is the main thing, but it was a great opportunity to get three points as Dungannon and Ballinamallard both won on Friday night.
“But I think that’s me now off taking penalties. I couldn’t put the team through that again..”
‘Stute started the game on the front-foot with Crusaders skipper Colin Coates needing to react quickly to clear Robbie Hume’s inviting cross into the six yard area with Paul McVeigh lurking dangerously after just two minutes.
Coates then rashly brought Declan McKeever crashing to the ground just inside the penalty area and referee, Mervyn Smyth pointed immediately to the spot.
Walsh sent the keeper the wrong way to put ‘Stute into an unlikely lead after 20 minutes but they had to survive a late onslaught with Burns coming closest to an equaliser with his free-kick which cannoned off the crossbar.
O’Carroll then somehow missed from four yards with the goal at his mercy but the visitors finally got back on level terms on 57 minutes as Walsh’s glancing header from Craig McClean’s free-kick found the net.
In the dying moments of the game McVeigh’s shot was handled inside the area by Burns and the referee pointed to the spot.
Up stepped Walsh but he blasted high over the bar with that resultant penalty.