Institute edge Ballymena in first leg of promotion/relegation play-off

Institute will carry a slender 1-0 lead into the second leg of the Irish Premiership promotion/relegation play-off against Ballymena United.

Danny Lafferty’s spectacular strike proved the difference between the sides in a tense first leg at the Brandywell.

The former Northern Ireland international found the net with a 25-yard drive just short of the hour mark.

The sides meet again in Friday night’s second leg at Ballymena Showgrounds.

Ballymena almost went in front on 11 minutes when Noah Stewart laid the ball off for Fraser Taylor, whose deflected shot came back off the inside of the post.

Ballymena came close again when Stewart wriggled his way into the penalty area, but he went for goal from an acute angle and his effort hit the side netting.

Institute almost grabbed the lead on the half hour as they worked the ball patiently to right-back Caoimhin Porter, whose long-range drive was tipped away at full stretch by Sean O’Neill.

Porter got into another advanced position just before the interval when O’Neill blocked Jamie Dunne’s initial effort and the full-back’s follow-up effort was diverted behind by Ballymena defender Steven McCullough.

Ballymena had early second half penalty appeals for handball waved away after Sean Brown’s low cross was diverted away by Porter at full stretch, but referee Evan Boyce saw nothing untoward.

The Championship side broke the deadlock on 57 minutes with a goal of sublime quality.

They broke quickly from a Ballymena corner with Michael Harris carrying the ball a long distance before Jamie Dunne teed up Lafferty.

The former Northern Ireland international took a touch before rifling a superb shot beyond Sean O’Neill from 25 yards.

Ballymena pushed hard for an equaliser in seven minutes of stoppage time with Oisin Devlin making a crucial block to keep out Stewart’s effort while Brown’s low shot was saved by the outstretched boot of Fintan Doherty.