SHEER RELIEF greeted Institute’s advance into the Intermediate Cup semi-finals as they finally ended their penalty shootout hoodoo - but only just!
It was the third time a cup fixture was to be decided by the dreaded shootout at the Riverside Stadium this season.
And ‘Stute boss, Paul Kee was a relieved man as Declan McKeever’s ‘sudden death’ spot-kick nestled into the net to send the defending champions into the semi-finals at the expense of Coagh United.
Penalty defeats to Newbuildings United in the North West Senior Cup Final last October and against Lisburn Distillery in the Irish Cup fourth round last December were to the forefront of Kee’s mind once the whistle signalled the end of extra-time on Saturday.
And his troops did their utmost to gift Coagh an unlikely victory, missing three of their seven penalties, however, they had the heroics of goalkeeper Marty Gallagher to thank for keeping hopes of a league and cup ‘double’ alive and kicking.
Defeat would have been particularly hard to take for Kee on Saturday as his side squandered a host of chances in the second half when laying seige to the Coagh goal.
Michael McCrudden got the home side back in the tie after a shock but well deserved opening goal from Coagh just after the interval had sent the Co. Derry men on their way.
And ‘Stute scraped into the hat for the next round after that nail-biting penalty shootout much to the delight of the club’s manager who was dreading a repeat of previous shootout heartbreaks this season.
“I said to them at the start that ‘we’ve been on the losing end of two penalty shootouts this year and I don’t want to lose out another one,” said Kee.
“We did do our best to lose it and if it wasn’t for Marty Gallagher, who put in a really good shift and made key saves in the game at crucial time.
“Penalties are a lottery and sometimes when you go up and stand in front the target you wonder where you’re going to put it and that’s what happened. We had a couple of people missing penalties who I expected to score.
“This is a competition we have been taking serious this last couple of seasons,” he added. “It’s the Blue Riband trophy for our level and we’ve been very good in it the last couple of years.
“I have to give credit to Coagh. If they played like that every week they wouldn’t be bottom of the league. It was a good workout for the whole squad and the most important thing is we’re through to the semi-final.”
Surprisingly it was the visitors who showed greater enterprise, desire and at the end dogged resilience.
‘Stute were unable to get out of their own half during the opening seven minutes as Coagh twice came close to taking the lead. James Ferguson’s wind-assisted cross needed to be tipped behind by Gallagher after three minutes and Craig Moore’s strike crashed off the underside of the bar before it was cleared to safety one minute later.
Slowly but surely ‘Stute got to grips with the game but Coagh keeper, William Hasson - who was outstanding on the day - saved well with his feet to deny both Darren McFadden and Tom Carlin. And Parkhouse somehow missed the target with his header from six yards.
Joel Bradley stunned the hosts on 55 minutes after a quick break from Coagh and the winger found the net with a neat one touch finish.
‘Stute began to play with greater urgency after this and McCrudden poked the ball home from close range 10 minutes later after Coagh failed to clear Ryan Semple’s cross.
Parkhouse came closest to winning the game with a stunning strike from 30 yards which rattled the upright on 70 minutes but neither side could fashion that deciding goal in normal time
The excellent McCrudden played substitute Darren McCauley in on goal during extra-time but he sent his shot across goal and wide.
Both keepers were outstanding in the shootout but when Gallagher saved Matt Young’s penalty, McKeever secured safe passage into the semi-final with the deciding kick.