Donegal Celtic goalkeeper Declan Brown kept his club’s promotion hopes alive with a dramatic injury-time penalty save in last night’s play-off first-leg at Celtic Park.
History repeated itself as Brown stood face-to-face with David Ogilby, as they did during the 2006 play-off and again the Institute defender was denied his moment of glory.
In the second-leg at Drumahoe four years ago Ogilby drove a spot-kick wide of Brown’s goal — after he’d saved a Kevin Ramsey penalty in the first-leg.
Just as injury-time kicked in last night, it was Paul McVeigh who gifted Institute the penalty, handling the ball in an attempt to clear it with referee Brian Turkington perfectly placed to make the call.
It’s now finely balanced for the second-leg at Drumahoe — the scene of Celtic’s historic promotion to the Premier League for the first time, but it’s advantage Institute, who will justifiably feel they should have left Belfast with more than a stalemate.
John Gregg’s men, superior in physic to Pat McAllister’s Championship runners-up, frustrated Celtic’s diminutive all-action strike force that had recorded 24 goals in a stretch of 11 games without defeat before this encounter.
Gregg’s men didn’t overly trouble Brown early on and the bulk of opportunities that were presented with where products of the home side’s jittery defending.
On the left wing Ryan Semple and Eamon Seydak found themselves busy with the ball as Institute enjoyed a flurry of set-pieces during the first 20 minutes.
One of Semple’s free-kicks, which was cleared by defender Barry Spence, produced a good opportunity for Gary McFadden, but his rushed half-volley curled wide of the Celtic net.
Ironically, it was in Gavin Cullen’s goalmouth that the first clear sight of goal came in the 28th minute when Celtic skipper Stephen McAlorum delivered a dangerous cross that was driven back by Tony Heagney into the path of Ciaran Gargan whose half-volley drifted high over Cullen’s crossbar.
There was a moment of panic in the Celtic rearguard in the 33rd minute when defender Ian Curran presented his former Newry City colleague Sean Friars with the ball just outside the goalmouth. Friars jinked his way forward, but had his effort blocked.
It was a more purposeful home side in the second-half and they largely dominated proceedings, but the game remained disjointed — peppered only by a couple of chances that fell Celtic’s way.
Thomas Lambe forced Cullen to make a smart one-handed save in the 64th minute.
Then striker McVeigh came agonisingly close to scoring with a free-kick in the 73rd minute — the ball whistling past Cullen and his right-hand post.
DONEGAL CELTIC: Brown, Heagney, Lambe, Spence, Curran, McAlorum, Gargin, Bradley, O’Neill, Watson, McVeigh. Subs: Adamczyk (for O’Neill 71) McAllister (Gargin 55), Duff, Cleary, Glenholmes.
INSTITUTE: Cullen, Wray, Seydak, McLaughlin, Boyce, Ogilby, Semple, McFadden, Divin, Friars, Holmes. Subs: Lowry (for Holmes 58), Blackburn, Mullan, Smith, Crown.
Referee: Brian Turkington (Belfast).