Institute vastly improved but late double gives Annagh United deserved victory at Brandywell
Lough 41 Championship
Institute 0, Annagh United 2
Four league games, four league defeats for Institute but this 2-0 victory for Annagh at the Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium offered more than a little hope of Lough 42 Championship salvation for the Waterside men.
With Sean Connor having departed through the week and sitting bottom of the table, Stute produced a season's best display before eventually being undone by a controversial 81st minute penalty and a superb late, if again contentious free-kick.
Annagh just about deserved the victory but they were made to work hard and were struggling to find an opening before 'Stute substitute Gabriel Aduaka was adjudged to have tumbled United left back Aaron Rogers. Niall Henderson, Annagh's best player on the day, made no mistake from the spot-kick, sending Dylan Doherty the wrong way with a rolled finish.
That goal forced Stute to throw caution to the wind but it was Annagh who made the game safe in controversial fashion. Doherty, who was superb throughout, was preparing to clear after gathering the ball into his hands. Annagh forward, Peter Duffin, cleverly stepped across his path as he was about to kick it forcing the Stute No. 1 to release and then regather the ball, only this time he was outside his box.
The free was awarded right on the edge of the box despite Stute's protestations but if there was some doubt on the decision, there was none on Robbie Norton's thunderbolt of a strike , which flashed past the wall and Doherty before either had time to react.
Annagh deserved their win, but the manner of the goals will frustrate a home team whose performance will hopefully set them on an upward trajectory to get away from the bottom of the table.
Gary Forth and Russell Porter, taking temporary charge, welcomed back first choice keeper Doherty, Rhys McDermott, Oran Brogan and captain Cormac Burke to a starting 11 that had a much more secure look than previous weeks. Employing a 4-5-1 formation, Burke slipped seamlessly back into the midfield anchor role.
After finding themselves well behind early on in each of their opening three league defeats, this was a set-up designed to keep Stute in the game long enough to get a foothold against an Annagh side boasting plenty of attacking threat.
Chief among those threats was pacy winger Craig Taylor who offered the Co. Armagh side a constant out ball and was stretching the home defence at every opportunity. A wicked long throw was an added string to the winger's attacking bow.
Deep lying playmaker and captain Henderson was the man charged with knitting it all together. His probing passing was Annagh's base to launch raids forward and more often than not Taylor was the target as United tried to turn the home defence during a first half in which the Portadown side dominated possession.
The new Stute regime had a fortunate escape only nine minutes in when the aforementioned Henderson-Taylor axis combined once more to send the latter into space wide on his left wing. A lovely first touch allowed Taylor to step inside McDermott and into the penalty area, tempting the full-back to make a tackle he was never going to win. Taylor went to ground but referee Diarmuid Harrigan waved away appeals to the surprise of everyone not wearing blue!
Seven minutes later, visiting centre-back Lee Upton saw his back post corner saved comfortably by Stute No. 1 Doherty and for all Annagh's lovely approach play, the longer the half wore on the more 'Stute grew into the game.
Indeed they had a goal disallowed on 19 minutes when Niall Fielding's challenge on Annagh keeper Eoin Hughes was adjudged to have been over zealous before the defender's header found the net from an inswinging corner.
Brendan McLaughlin then saw an effort deflected over from a corner and from the set piece, the home side engineered their best chance of the half. McLaughlin and Burke worked a short corner but rather than return McLaughlin's initial pass, Burke stepped in and whipped a low cross to the front post where centre forward Aaron McGurk had done well to get across his man but could only touch his effort wide of the far post.
Stute's Liam Walsh then worked a lovely move with McLaughlin in the far corner, taking out two Annagh defenders before taking McLaughlin's return pass and firing a low shot which Hughes did well to turn away.
The growing home confidence suffered a blow however in first half injury time when Burke was injured in a challenge with Annagh centre-back Upton, a scoreless opening half ending on a sad note with the 'Stute captain hobbling off to be replaced by Jack Millar for the second period.
The reshuffle saw McLaughlin drop into the holding role in front of his back four with Millar deployed on the left and it was the home side who created the first opening of the second period when Joshua Busteed's deflected effort had Hughes scrambling low to turn it away for a corner three minutes in.
Thereafter the more usual tempo of Annagh pressure and Stute defence took over with Stephen Murray seeing a couple of efforts blocked by diving defenders and a header deflect just over the Institute bar on a quiet afternoon for the Annagh striker.
Despite the pressure, Stute were still managing to carry a threat at the other end and on 66 minutes they probably should have taken the lead when good work from Busteed saw panic ensue in the Annagh box before the ball broke to substitute Millar whose first time effort from eight yards was scrambled clear by the feet of keeper, Hughes.
Stute were almost architects of their own downfall though. With spaces beginning to open and the game becoming more stretched a home free on the edge of the Annagh box on 77 minutes should have brought the visitors their opening goal. When the free was cleared, the visitors broke and found themselves with a three on one break. Peter Duffin sprinted down the right and into the box before puling it back perfectly for the arriving Taylor. His shot was decent but Dylan Doherty's save was better, the Stute No. 1 showing what a huge loss he's been this season with a superb save.
He could do nothing about Henderson's spot kick but produced another great save seconds later, turning Duffin's effort on to the post to keep his team in the game.
That good work was undone by Norton's ferocious free kick four minutes from the end but he can be rightfully annoyed at the award of the original free.
That goal sealed a win Annagh just about deserved. The visitors were the more accomplished side throughout and did enough to claim the win.
For Stute, it wasn't the result they wanted but there was definite light at the end of their current tunnel. They looked solid throughout and could easily have taken the lead with a performance full of spirit. The Waterside men will play better and win this season and a few experienced additions would send them up the table. The challenge now is to secure those
Institute: Dylan Doherty, Rhys McDermott, Conor Quigley, Clement Clarke-Hetherington, Niall Fielding, Cormac Burke (Jack Millar, HT) Oran Brogan, Joshua Busteed (Gabriel Aduaka, 72mins), Aaron McGurk (Alex Pomeroy, 60mins), Brendan McLaughlin, Liam Walsh.
Yellow Cards: R McDermott, 71mins;
Annagh Utd: Eoin Hughes, Jordan Campbell, Stephen Acheson, Ryan Harpur (Ruairi McDonald, 65mins), Robbie Norton, Niall Henderson, Peter Duffin, Stephen Murray (Jake Richardson, 65mins), Craig Taylor (Ryan Moffatt, 88mins, Aaron Rogers, Lee Upton.
Yellow Cards: S Acheson, 76mins;
Referee: Diarmuid Harrigan