Institute host Ballymena at the Brandywell in promotion/relegation play-off

Derry side clinched play-off place with win over Portadown

Pacemaker Press 26-4-24
Portadown v Institute - Playr-Fit Championship
Institute's Michael Harris and Portadown's Luke Wilson during this evening's game at Shamrock Park, Portadown.  Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Institute's Michael Harris scored an injury-time winner against Portadown on Friday night to book the Derry side's place in the promotion/relegation play-off against Ballymena (David Maginnis/David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press)
Sports Direct Irish Premiership promotion/relegation play-off first leg: Insitute v Ballymena United (Tuesday, 7.45pm)

Championship side Institute welcome Ballymena United of the Premiership tonight in the first leg of the Sports Direct Irish Premiership promotion/relegation play-off at the Brandywell.

‘Stute bagged a stoppage time winner through Michael Harris to defeat champions Portadown on Friday night to surge ahead of both Bangor and Annagh United, who had begun the evening ahead of the Derry side, to bag the chance of promotion to the top flight.

Having only won two of their post-split games, Institute are not on a hot run of form, but they will be buoyed no end from last week’s exploits.

They will be looking to Letterkenny-man Harris once more this evening for maximum impact. The striker has scored 12 goals this term after making the move from neighbours Finn Harps last summer.

While he has been somewhat a one-man-band in attack, It is defence where Institute have excelled.

Their record of 43 goals conceded from 38 games was the best in the Championship and may be crucial once more against a Ballymena side who have found goals a struggle.

United’s 29 goals scored was only ahead of relegated Newry City and 16 adrift of the next lowest scorers as Jim Ervin’s men failed to find a regular scorer throughout the campaign.

However, after failing to pick up a league win in 2024 until defeating Loughgall away in April, they have gone on to pick up another two victories over Glenavon and Newry in the same month.

This discovery of form has saved the side from a final-day battle for automatic relegation, albeit it was too late to avoid this play-off.

The young Noah Stewart has been the Sky Blues main threat in front of goal; however, the January signing of Calvin McCurry from Ballyclare Comrades has offered a direct threat and asked more questions of opposition defences in the last month than the entirety of the season beforehand.

The sides have not met since November 2019, and Institute fans will not want to be reminded of the history between the two teams. Ervin’s charges have not been defeated by the north-west side in a whopping 15 games.

The last time ‘Stute claimed victory was way back in 2008, some 16 years ago.

It has also been four years since Institute have played premiership football and will be hoping to get a result which gives them a chance of success in Friday night’s return tie on Warden Street.

For Ervin, a loss would not go down well with the travelling faithful, whereas a win would make them big favourites to keep their top-tier status. A big 90 minutes await on Foyleside.