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Irish Premiership play-off drama awaits this week

Written by on May 1, 2024

The Irish Cup final between Linfield and Cliftonville may take centre stage in the Northern Ireland domestic footballing calendar this week but for the clubs involved in the European and promotion-relegation play-offs there is also a lot at stake.

The end-of-season action begins on Tuesday night, with the first leg of the promotion-relegation tie between Institute and Ballymena United, a game which will be streamed live on BBC iPlayer and the BBC Sport website.

The second leg will also be livestreamed on the same platforms as the Sky Blues aim to preserve their longstanding top flight status and Institute attempt to return to the Premiership.

Kevin Deery’s charges ensured their participation in the matches in dramatic fashion on Friday evening as Michael Harris’s stoppage time goal saw them beat newly crowned champions Portadown 1-0 and leapfrog rivals Bangor and Annagh United in the Championship table to claim runner-up spot.

Their performance this season is made all the more remarkable by the fact that they finished 11th in the second tier last season and were only spared a relegation play-off by Warrenpoint Town’s demotion to the Premier Intermediate League.

This time last year, and indeed in 2022, Ballymena were preparing to face Crusaders in successive Irish Cup finals but it’s a very different story this time for the Braidmen, who ended their league campaign in 11th spot.

“Away at the Brandywell is going to be difficult. Institute are really well drilled, I have a lot of respect for Kevin Deery and what he has done there. He has built a squad from scratch really this year,” said Ballymena manager Jim Ervin.

“They have done really well and they go right to the wire as you saw on Friday night, and they got the winner through Michael Harris, who is a big danger.

“We have our homework done on them, we’ve been to watch them quite a few times, so we know what to expect from Institute. It’ll be a really tough game but it’s one that we look forward to.”

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