SDLP's Joe Boyle left disappointed after another agonising defeat in Strangford
IT was a case of history repeating itself in Strangford, with the parties unchanged and the SDLP's Joe Boyle cementing his unwanted tag as the election's nearly man, after narrowly missing out on a seat yet again.
In his fourth consecutive attempt at an Assembly seat, the popular Ards and North Down councillor - who came within 31 votes of election in 2007 - suffered another agonising defeat in the race for the final seat.
Mr Boyle is understood to have left the count centre at the Aurora Leisure Centre in Bangor before the final declaration, and could not be reached for comment over the weekend.
The Portaferry man had been upbeat earlier in the day after polling strongly in the first count, receiving 2,724 first preference votes.
He had told The Irish News:"This is my fourth Assembly election and on many occasions I have been the last competitor to become the 108th MLA.
He added: "The independents who have been eliminated will transfer to the next highest unionist, but I have a distinct possibility of transfers from the Greens and Sinn Féin."
However, in a nail-biting finish, he was pipped to the post by the Ulster Unionist Philip Smith, who benefited from the surplus transfers of the DUP's Simon Hamilton to overtake Mr Boyle.
Alliance’s Kellie Armstrong took the other seat, replacing long-standing MLA Kieran McCarthy.
The Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt received a round of applause at the Aurora Leisure Centre in Bangor as he offered commiserations to Mr Boyle.
He said: "Democracy can be cruel....the SDLP candidate has stood four times for election and lost four times. He came very, very close. I would like to say how sorry I am."
Earlier in the day, Mr Nesbitt had topped the poll, finishing ten votes ahead of Regional Development Minister Michelle McIlveen, of the DUP.
Despite his commanding victory, Mr Nesbitt cut a forlorn figure as he expressed his fears that his personal vote would deal a fatal blow to his party colleague.
Mr Nesbitt told The Irish News: "On a personal level, I am surprised, humbled and delighted, and I didn’t see it coming."
"I would far rather, however, that I was finishing fifth and Philip sixth than this situation."
The quota was 4,663, the exact number of votes gained by Ms McIlveen, while Mr Nesbitt polled 4,673.
Simon Hamilton followed close behind his DUP colleague Ms McIlveen, with 3,964 first preference votes, while DETI Minister Jonathan Bell received 3,393.
In an unexpected development, Ms Armstrong surged ahead of the chasing pack by gaining almost 600 transfers from the elimination of UKIP’s Stephen Crosby.
The DUP’s ambitious hopes of landing a fourth seat with Harry Harvey were dashed after he was eliminated on the sixth count.
The TUV’s Stephen Cooper ate away at support for the other unionist parties, with 1,407 votes.
Dermot Kennedy, of Sinn Féin, was quickly eliminated after polling just 661 votes.
Strangford saw a 50.25% turnout, up almost 2% on the 2011 Assembly election, with 3,000 more votes cast this time around.
Elected: Mike Nesbitt (UUP), Michelle McIlveen (DUP), Simon Hamilton (DUP), Kellie Armstrong (Alliance), Jonathan Bell (DUP), Philip Smith (UUP).