Championship side Donegal Celtic did it again last night when they overcame Institute to rocket their way back into local football’s top flight.
The ‘Wee Hoops’ last tasted play-off glory in 2006 and like last night it was the Drumahoe men who fell victim that time.
The Belfast men, having dropped out two seasons ago, missed out on a return to the Carling Premiership last year when they were beaten by Dungannon Swifts, had skipper Stephen McAlorum to thank on this occasion, as he fired home that all important winning goal four minutes from time.
Both sides had to make enforced changes to their starting line-up with the home side bringing in Joe McCready for Paddy McLaughlin, while DC brought in duo Daniel Hanna and Kevin Duff for Ciaran Gargin and Tony Heagney.
In a disappointing opening it was the visitors who seemed to settle more and they had the first shot on target after just 11 minutes, when Thomas Wray lost possession to McAlorum, but his shot was easily saved by Gavin Cullen.
Minutes later a Ryan Semple free-kick found David Ogilby but the big centre-back’s header at the back post failed to trouble Declan Brown.
DC captain McAlorum was inches away from giving his side that all important away goal on 33 minutes, but his long range drive, fizzed just past Cullen’s right hand post, after Gary McFadden’s header clear fell to the midfielder.
Just before the break a super turn by McCready saw himself some space inside the DC area, but a great last ditch tackle by David Hanna blocked the striker’s effort at goal.
John Gregg’s side should have broken the deadlock on 46 minutes when Sean Friars’ deep centre found an unmarked Shaun Holmes, but with the goal at his mercy he headed over the bar.
A lung-busting run by Liam Watson ended with the midfielder’s low drive superbly kept out by a full stretched Cullen.
Gregg made a bold move on 61 minutes when he replaced Holmes with striker Paul Lowry and went with three at the back.
However he was nearly caught out soon after when Barry Spence’s long ball down field found Paul McVeigh, but he blasted wide.
Then, a poor defensive header from Wray fell to Watson, but with his weaker left foot the midfielder blasted wide from 12 yards.
The deadlock was finally broken on 86 minutes when terrible defensive mistakes by Ryan Semple and then Wray saw the ball fall kindly for McAlorum and his fired the ball home to spark wild celebrations.
institute: Cullen, Wray, Ogilby, Seydak, Holmes; Semple, Boyle, McFadden, Friars; McCready, Divin. Subs: Lowry for Holmes (61); McClements for McCready (68); Crown, Blackburn, Ryan.
donegal celtic: Brown, Duff, Spence, Curran, Lambe; McAlorum, Hanna, Bradley, Watson; O’Neill, McVeigh. Subs: Adamzyk for O’Neill (56), Gargin, McAllister, Cleary, McMenamin.
Referee: Arnold Hunter (Maguiresbridge).