After the heroics against Linfield in the Irish Cup semi-final and a tired performance against Larne midweek, the Hoops hoped to bounce back with victory as they welcomed in form Institute to Knockramer Park on Saturday.
Institute, who have shot up the table after a disastrous start, started brightly and controlled the opening quarter of the game without really testing Conor McCorry in the Celtic goals.
Celtic’s first opportunity came on 18 minutes when Brendan Shannon took a free kick that rebounded off the defensive wall and his follow up shot was pushed onto the post by the keeper. After surviving Institute’s lively start, being patient and organized, Celtic’s midfield of McVeigh, Malone and Shannon began to boss the midfield sector and it was no surprise when the deadlock was broken on 31 minutes.
Aaron Haire chased after a long ball from John Cochrane and flicked the ball over the head of the out-rushing goalkeeper and stroked the ball into an empty net. Celtic continued to push forward, Josh Barton causing problems and it was his fierce shot that forced a late corner after a strong save from Marty Gallagher in nets. The resulting corner from Shea Conaty was met by the head of Stephen Hutchinson who hammered it home to make it 2-0 at the interval.
The second half seemed to be going through the motions of a comfortable victory, the only save McCorry made was from a free kick on the hour mark and shortly after this he had to be replaced by Gavin O’Neill after aggravating a leg injury. Celtic’s best chance to increase their lead and kill the game came on 80 minutes when substitute Sean Devlin crossed for Haire but his effort from four yards was blocked by the keeper.
Devlin created himself a shooting opportunity after a skillful turn, leaving two defenders dizzy, and firing from the edge of the box only for Gallagher to again pull off another fine save.
The game had reached injury time when Daniel Wilson slipped in the penalty box knocking over an opponent and the referee awarded, what everyone thought, would be a consolation goal for the visitors. The penalty was dispatched and Institute players rushed to retrieve the ball sensing a further opportunity.
A nervous defence seemed to have held out but after 95 minutes a free kick was awarded to Institute on the half way line and the penalty box was full. The ball was floated in and after a scramble was poked home to the delight of the travelling support. A cruel blow to Celtic’s title ambitions but once again conceding late goals has cost dear.
McLeans Bookmakers man of the match was Brendan Shannon and the match sponsor was Jim McCann Butchers. Next up is a home game on Saturday against Ballyclare Comrades with a 3.00pm kick-off.