Sub Stephen Garrett spared Cliftonville’s blushes in Drumahoe, when netting a late, late winner to devastate Institute at the death.
The home side’s failure to cover the ball after conceding a free-kick in a dangerous area cost them dearly, new recruit Davy McDaid playing Garrett in with a clever pass and the sub made no mistake in the 91st minute.
And this defeat will be hard to take for the newly promoted side who had battled to bounce back to level matters on two occasions.
It was a sickening finish to a game in which a share of the spoils would have been fair given the balance of play.
Indeed, the home side went agonisingly close to taking the lead after just 50 seconds when Stephen O’Flynn diverted Dwayne McManus’ pass narrowly past the upright.
But the ‘Reds’ new signing, McDaid, opened his account almost immediately when passing Marty Donnelly’s low cross into the net from close range within the opening two minutes.
However, ‘Stute restored equality in the 9th minute when Declan McKeever found the net when Stephen Curry played him in, his shot taking a deflection off the body of Marc Smyth.
As the game ebbed and flowed, Cliftonville moved back into the driving seat in the 16th minute. Graham Crown’s header was pcked up by Donnelly and his incisive pass sent Chris Curran scampering clear to drive the ball past the advancing Michael Doherty.
Two minutes later Institute were presented with a glorious chance when a fluent move saw Stephen O’Flynn’s deft touch send Darren McCauley clear but the winger dragged his shot wide when he really should have done better.,
A curling effort from Donnelly in the 22nd minute when superbly touched wide of his far past by Doherty as Cliftonville began to force the issue.
And in the 25th minute, McDaid produced a moment of magic when his reverse pass sent Donnelly clear but the lively winger failed to hit the target in a one-on-one situation.
As play swung from end to end, Institute amazingly levelled for a second timed in the 28th minute. Young Ben Doherty troubled the Cliftonville defence when racing into the area, but he appeared to miskick and when the loose ball fell to O’Flynn he set up Curry up who blasted it high into the net for 2-2.
All level at the break, ‘Stute prepared to enjoy the benefits of the wind at their backs in the second half but there were very few goalmouth incidents.
Paddy McLaughlin played a captain’s role for Institute in the 83rd minute when he raced back to get a block on Garrett’s shot.
But it was Garrett who had the final say with that late, late winner.
Institute: Doherty, Crown, McLaughlin, Walsh, Curry, Forker (Ballard, 77), McManus, McKeever, McCauley (Young, 90), O’Flynn (Thompson, 67), Doherty.
Cliftonville: Devlin, Johnston, Flynn, Curran, McMullan, McDaid, Donnelly (Garrett, 77), Seydak, Smyth, Catney (Knowles, 77), Gormley (Murray).
Referee: Arnold Hunter (Maguiresbridge)