Institute building momentum as League Cup semi-final beckons
It's fair to say that Sean Connor has had the desired impact at Institute since his arrival at the end of last month
The North-West side have lost just two out of their last seven matches in all competitions - both to Cliftonville, ironically managed by former Stute boss Paddy McLaughlin - and are into the last four of the Bet McClean League Cup following their 1-0 win over Championship side Newry City away from home last night.
Institute picked up their only Danske Bank Premiership win to date in Connor's second game in charge as they beat bottom side Warrenpoint Town 3-1 on the road, before collecting draws with Ballymena at home and Larne on the road last weekend.
After Joe McCready's early strike booked their semi-final spot on Wednesday, one of Linfield, Crusaders and Coleraine await for the second bottom side and Connor is delighted that their new-found defensive solidity is paying dividends.
"Before I came here, there were a lot of goals being conceded. That's a clean sheet tonight and i think anybody watching would see the shape and the way that we worked on squeezing out together, keep being compact when we haven't got the ball and force teams out wide. I was really pleased with the defensive performance," the Stute boss said after the Newry victory.
"Momentum is massive in football, momentum is massive in life and we're creating a bit of belief in what we're doing now and a bit of trust in each other and that's really important for us going forward.
"I'm just happy to be in the semi-final. It doesn't matter who we get, but it would probably be nice to be at home because tonight was a long journey. Any game is going to be a tough game. We're away to Crusaders on Saturday, so it doesn't get any easier. I thought we played some nice football, but tonight was about grinding it out and getting the result to the put us into the semi-finals and that's what we've done," he added.
"For major parts of both halves, we controlled the game and we controlled the tempo of the game. I felt we started the second half really strongly and I Thought that for the first 15 minutes, we pinned them back and took the sting out of the game. Towards the end, they had four men up front and everything was going long and I thought the back four and everybody defended really well. Did Newry have a chance a chance where you really thought they should have scored? I don't think so."
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On the flip side of the coin, Newry City manager Darren Mullen cut a frustrated figure as his side went out of the competition with a whimper after failing to trouble a well-drilled Stute side on home turf. Having won five out of their previous seven games, including a superb victory away to Glenavon in the previous round of the League Cup, Newry were beaten 3-1 at home to Ballinamallard United on Saturday before their lacklustre display last night.
"This was an opportunity for us, as it was for them, but I thought we could have done more to trouble them. We didn't and I thought it was a lethargic at times and we lacked ideas. We laboured on the ball and we were taking the safe option too many times," bemoaned Mullen.
"When a team is sitting in a defending compactly like Institute were, that's what they want to see. We had a lot of the play in the second half, but I can't remember us ever really troubling their keeper."
Belfast Telegraph Digital