The Sky Blues made the short journey up to Windsor Park in Belfast yesterday in order to take on Warren Feeney’s Linfield, in an encounter that would end up playing host to a considerable amount of clamor and controversy.
The first major incident quickly presented itself when the stadium’s generator failed to start, leaving the attending crowd with no choice but to queue outside. However, after a half hour delay, the problem was resolved, allowing the match to begin as planned.
It didn’t take long for Linfield’s performance to light up though, with Chris Hegarty latching onto a curled cross in the opening 90 seconds, Eugene Ferry making no attempt to stop it from falling into the bottom corner as he was routed to the spot.
Things quickly darkened for the home team, as Institute fought their way back into the game just before the ten minute mark, with talisman Stephen O’Flynn greeting a pinpoint cross from Cormac Burke to head home a great equaliser, and his eighth goal of the league campaign.
Following on from this, Linfield reacted to the leveller by piling on the pressure, and on 15 minutes a well struck freekick from Niall Quinn forced goalkeeper Eugene Ferry to pull off a good save, the net-minder diving to his bottom, right, as the ball swerved low and hard at him.
Though the Sky Blues survived this scare, the next incident was to prove even more costly, as captain Paddy McLaughlin picked up an injury on 21 minutes, being replaced by ex-Newbuildings United defender Dean Curry from the bench.
The injury list was to claim another victim soon after, with stand-in-skipper John Curran receiving a heavy knock to the head, and he was immediately taken off, with Thomas McBride entering the field, Aaron Walsh filling in at the back instead.
Institute held out well despite their unlucky start to the game, Dean Curry making a series of good challenges, while Eugene Ferry also denied the home team on a handful of occasions – however, on 48 minutes, Ivan Sproule beat Declan McKeever down the right flank, and was able to supply Andy Waterworth in the area, finishing past Ferry, who reacted well but was unable to prevent the finish despite getting a hand on the ball.
Half-Time: 2-1 to Linfield.
As the second half began, Linfield dominated the play, but Stute held them well, and against the run of play Thomas McBride found good space in the area, being picked out by Cormac Burke with a perfect cross, but the midfielder was unable to score, heading just wide of the goal.
An assortment of Linfield fans resorted to booing, discontent with the amount of times the referee was stopping play, but it wasn’t until a bit later that the entire arena would erupt.
On 63 minutes the Blues grabbed their third goal in a fashion which would inspire much controversy. Stephen Lowry fired well at goal from outside the box, but it was interference from other players that raised questions.
Chris Hegarty and Andy Waterworth were in offside positions as Lowry’s strike nestled into the bottom corner of the goal – the linesman deemed Waterworth to have deflected the ball into the net, while others argued that he was blocking the goalkeeper’s line of vision. The referee stood by his initial awarding of the goal however, despite the linesman’s flag being raised, and Institute manager Paul Kee was sent off the pitch for his reaction to the contentious decision.
The rest of the game was to filter out in a less exciting manner, the previous match events taking their toll on the mood in and around the ground, and in the end Linfield left with the win, although Paul McVeigh and Dwayne McManus created good chances late on.
Full Time: 3-1 to Linfield.