Saturday afternoon played host to the much-anticipated return of Institute Football Club to the Danske Bank Premiership after four years spent outside the top flight.
Initiating the season with an away fixture against Dungannon Swifts, this tie was always going to prove tricky for Paul Kee’s men, but having strengthened the squad over the summer with new signings, many fans and onlookers were optimistic about Stute’s chances.
With this, any prediction in the Sky Blue’s favour seemed well made as the visitors claimed the driving seat throughout the first-half – Stephen O’Flynn opening the scoring with a spectacular finish from well outside the box within the first phase, the ball floating into the bottom, right corner of the goal.
This scoreline remained heading into the half-time break, but the second-half was to inspire a reversal of dominance as Dungannon emerged from the changing rooms the more lively of the two sides.
Maintaining strength at the back, captain Paddy McLaughlin and new signing Mark Scoltock dealt with any threats from the Swifts capably – but unfortunately on 81 minutes a mix-up in the box allowed Gary Liggett to bundle the ball into the net untidily – a bitterly disappointing equaliser from our perspective.
Things were then to go from bad to worse for the Drumahoe natives within quick succession as Dungannon earned themselves a penalty – Ryan Harpur converting the spot-kick on 85 minutes to seemingly confirm the late win for the home team.
This wasn’t to be however as former Derry City talisman Stephen O’Flynn knocked home a late goal on the back of an assist from Jamie McIntyre, the 93rd minute goal allowing the Premiership new boys to leave with a deserved point, a great finish to the game.
After the match manager Paul Kee had the following to say:
“Dungannon were very good, they threw the kitchen sink at us, and we had to defend for long periods in the second half, but I’m really pleased that we’ve come away with a point.”
“We were down to the bare bones in some areas today with players unavailable through injury, suspension, and lack of international clearance – but that shows our depth in squad.”
“We have some very good young players, who we would like to get a chance this year, and some very good staff servicing the players.”
“It was a tough ask to come here, Dungannon beat Linfield in the first game of the season last year, but this result sets us up nicely.
“I’m really pleased with the effort put in today, and with the resilience of the players, now we have a run of games at home, and I want us to win as many of those games as possible.”
Next up on the league timetable at the Riverside, Institute host Coleraine in the local derby on Wednesday night – the club would like to encourage fans to attend in order to cheer on the team.