Boost for Blair as ‘Stute back on song

ALAN Blair’s hopes to securing the vacant managerial position at Institute received a boost on Saturday, the ‘Sky Blues’ ending a losing sequence of five matches with a deserved win over Ards Rangers.

ARTHUR DUFFY was in Drumahoe

Photographs: STEPHEN LATIMER

And the relief etched on the face of the current caretaker told it’s own story afterwards, Blair clearly delighted with the shift put in by his players who, without doubt, exhibited great camaraderie and effort in what was a hard fought win.

Strikers Joe McCready and Declan Divin led the line so well making the Ards defence work hard throughout the 90 minutes and with senior players of the calibre of Darren Lockhart, Chris Kingsberry Mark Picking and Darren Fitzgerald in the visiting line-up, the home side simply refused to be intimidated.

McCready, who was not expected to start the game due to a foot injury, stepped back into the breach when winger, Ryan Semple, failed a fitness test and the Shantallow man produced a top drawer performance having netted twice.

In fact, the much talked about Derry City target really should have been taking the match ball home with him, but he opted to play in debutante, Adam Clarke when sliding a pass across the Ards six yards box, but the Derry City contracted youngster failed to take advantage.

“Joe beat two men, raced into the penalty area and rather that take a shot himself, he opted to pass the ball to Adam. I asked Joe why he didn’t shoot afterwards and he told me he tried to help Adam celebrate his ‘Stute debut with a goal,” smiled Blair afterwards.

Unsurprisingly, he heaped all the praise on his playing staff who stood up well to Saturday’s challenge and it would appear that they are united in attempting to end the club’s recent poor run of results.

“The players fully deserved this victory simply because they worked their socks off,” claimed Bair. “I felt we defended properly and we used the ball so well at times. In the end we were rewarded for our work rate.

“In recent weeks - even when John (Gregg) was here - we seemed to put pressure on ourselves. This week we opted to push forward more and I think it paid off for us. We used the channels well and the entire team put in an excellent performance and I’m very happy about that.”

However, he also referred to the fact that his side had conceded an equaliser within a minute of actually breaking the deadlock.

“I suppose it’s the old saying in football, you are at your most vulnerable after taking the lead and we simply switched off which was disappointing. They caught us out and we were punished for our lack of concentration.

“That said, I thought the players showed great character to overcome that setback. We pushed on and never gave up. Our young players stepped up to the plate when asked and, hopefully, that will continue.”

Still keen on securing the managerial post at the Riverside Stadium, Blair was delighted to have ended five consecutive defeats and, indeed, held the view that the playing staff were behind him.

“I suppose many will feel that this win will not do my hopes of becoming the Institute manager any harm, but that’s out of my hands. I can only do what I promised to do. I tried to prepare the team properly and I think our preparations were spot on.

“Despite the results, over the last few weeks we had actually been playing quite well but we never seemed to get any luck and against Ards, it seemed to turn a bit. But you’ve got to work hard for everything and I believe our players did just that.”

The home side broke the deadlock in the 14th minute following a defensive howler by Ards full-back, Samuel Devine, when he failed to intercept a cross. The alert Eddie McIntyre stole in but his shot crashed off the base of the upright before McCready pounced to power the ball home from six yards.

However, the ‘Stute celebrations were cut short when Ards hit back almost immediately, Kingsberry broke the right and with the home lot failing to adequately defend their lines, Ross Arthurs was presented with a clear-cut opportunity, the Rangers players taking full advantage when beating keeper, Ryan, from 12 yards.

Refusing to feel sorry for themselves, ‘Stute continued to push forward and they were rewarded again in the 27th minute when McCready added a second goal, the ball appearing to deflect off the body of a defender and the striker was presented with a simple tap-in close to the line.

It got worse for the visitors who had two men sent off during the final minutes - Aaron McKee following a confrontation with the referee’s assistant - and Vinny McIlhagga who picked up two yellow cards in the space of as many minutes.

INSTITUTE - Ryan, Ferguson, Browne, Crown, Wray, Lynch, Divin, McIntyre (Nicell, 80 mins.), McCready, McClean, S. Curry (Clarke, 70 mins.). Subs. not used: Taylor, D. Curry, Smyth.

ARDS RANGERS - Kerr, Devine, Lockhart (McKnight, 85 mins.), Young, Pike, Kingsberry, McIlhagga, McKee, Picking (Doyle, 70 mins.), Fitzgerald, Arthurs.

REFEREE - Mr. S. Wallace (Derry).