INSTITUTE limbered up for tonight’s return to Championship action against Larne at the Riverside Stadium (8.00 p.m.), having crashed out of the WKD Intermediate Cup against Banbridge having taken the lead six minutes before the end of normal time.
ARTHUR DUFFY was in Drumahoe
In what proved a poor game, the home side created the lion’s share of the clear-cut scoring chances with Banbridge goalkeeper, Gareth Buchanan, giving a top drawer performance having produced a plethora of superb stops.
In fact, the teenager kept his side in this contest with an excellent penalty save when denying Joe McCready, but no shortage of questions had been asked as to why the goalkeeper was not shown the red card when clearly bringing down Institute winger, Ryan Semple, when judged the ‘last man.’
And while Buchanan denied McCready from the spot when diving low to his right, he also produced a top drawer stop when denying the same player on two other occasions, a powerful headed effort in the first half and in a one-on-one situation midway through the second.
But with a bit of “bad blood” in evidence between these sides after Banbridge controverially lost 3-2 at home in a recent league match against the Drumaoe men, the home defeat was hard to take as far as ‘Stute boss, John Gregg, was concerned.
Making matters even worse was the fact that Institute took the lead in the 84th minute when substitute, Mark Nicell, forced the ball home after superb line-up play between Declan Divin and McCready.
Banbridge, however, got the benefit of another refereeing decision one minute after the goal had been scored. Banbridge moved the ball up field but while Institute centre-half, Ryan Browne, appeared to have been fouled as he came to close down Damien McPartland, he failed to get the decision and after keeper, Alan Ryan, had parried a shot, the alert Stephen McArdle was on had to tap the ball home.
However, in extra-time, Banbridge had the final say when McPartland hot his head to free-kick on the left and he gave Ryan no chance to send the Co. Down club into the next round and home fixture against Limavady United this Saturday.
Greg was furious afterwards but, at the same time, he was happy to get another game under his belt before tonight’s encounter against Larne.
“I felt we were always comfortable, especially in the second half and I still can’t get to grips with the fact that we lost the match,” said the Coleraine man.
“Joe McCready had quite a few scoring chances and although he was much better today, he worked really hard off the ball, so that was a positive for us.
“I have to be careful in what I say, but the referee got a few crucial decisions wrong, decisions which actually cost us the game,” insisted Gregg.
“We were awarded a penalty in the first half, yet their keeper who clearly brought Ryan Semple to the ground was not sent off, I couldn’t believe it when he produced a yellow card despite the face that there was no covering defender.
“We scored with six minutes to go, yet their equaliser, one minute later, was also controversial as Ryan Browne was fouled as he came across to challenge. Even their official, who was acting as linesman, flagged the free-kick but the referee failed to act and they scored at the back post to force the game into extra-time.”
But he acknowledged the fact that had McCready netted the penalty, he wouldn’t have been criticising the referee. “Even during extra-time, I couldn’t see us losing the game and that’s killing me. Our keeper had nothing to do but lift the ball out of his on two occasions.
“To concede just minutes after we had taken the lead was criminal, but the referee failed to act and that cost us. Having said that, we missed a penalty and had Joe scored from the spot, I think the entire pattern of the match would have changed. I still can’t believe we lost it.”
Now focusing on tonight’s Championship fixture against Larne, Gregg was happy that Ryan Semple and Declan Divin both put in hard shifts following injury spells and the return of Eddie McIntyre would also prove beneficial against the Co. Antrim visitors.
“This may have been an Intermediate Cup match, but I still try to win every game we play. That said, getting the match was important as the Larne fixture is more important to us. We’ve had two games in seven weeks so it was important that this game was played.
“Ruairi McClean has now got the Ballymena interest out of his head which is also a positive, so we’re ready to face Larne is what is a major match for us on Tuesday night,” concluded Gregg.
Midfielder, Conor McShane, will miss tonight’s fixture having sustained ankle ligament damage which could keep him sidelined for at least three weeks.
INSTITUTE - Ryan, Crown, Curry, Wray, Browne, Lynch, Semple, McClean, McCready, McShane, Divin. Subs. used: Nicell.
BANBRIDGE TOWN - Buchanan, Hall, Evans, Copeland, Stewart, McParland, Malone, Spratt, Brady, Haire.
REFEREE - Mr. Stephen. Wallace (Derry).