BALLINAMALLARD United are hoping their home form at Ferney Park will be key in overcoming the league leaders when Institute visit this Saturday.

The Mallards have made their home ground something of a fortress in recent weeks, with Knockbreda following in the footsteps of recent visitors Portadown and H&W Welders in departing Fermanagh with nothing to show for their efforts. Next up for Canning’s team is the in-form Institute, who are unbeaten in the league since Christmas, but the manager reckons home advantage could be the deciding factor.

“Our home form has been decent,” said Canning. “We have scored 13 and conceded one in the last three home games, so we have been decent at home and we can look forward to the game. Institute are deservedly sitting top of the league, but both games between us this season only finished one nil.

“I felt when we played them in the Brandywell, shortly after I came in, we were picking from a very depleted squad but we were unlucky to lose to a 94th minute deflected goal.

“I expect it to be as tight again, but there is more pressure on Institute now. They are fighting for the title and they can’t really afford to be dropping points with Portadown, Dundela and Bangor all breathing down their necks and with games in hand. We want to win the game and we still have our sights set getting into the top six, and this is a big game for us in that sense, but I think the pressure is on Institute.”

Among the visiting squad are several familiar faces making a return to Ferney Park. Jamie Dunne rejoined his old club last week and is expected to make his first Institute appearance at his old home ground, and ‘Stute have also signed several ex Mallards in an active January transfer window.

“They have signed well in the window,” admitted Canning.

“Ex Ballinamallard players BJ Banda, Shane McGinty and Jamie Dunne all came in January. Mikail Kennedy is there, and they have also added Daniel Lafferty, who played for Burnley in the Premier League not that long ago and is a full Northern Ireland international. They have had a superb window. You add those players to what they already have and it will be a very difficult, tough game.”

Ballinamallard will take confidence from their performance against Knockbreda last week. Six different players got their names on the score sheet as they thumped the Belfast side, and Canning was happy with the performance of his team against the league’s basement club.

“It felt like a job well done on Saturday,” said the boss. “There was no elation or huge celebration, but it felt like a professional job. With our home form in recent weeks, coupled with the position they are in in the league, everybody expected us to win. It’s not too often this season we have gone into games as favourites and it can sometimes be easier going in as an underdog, but the players managed that well.

“We needed to be professional and give Knockbreda respect, and we did that in terms of how we prepared and how we went about the game. The performance was good from the start. 2-1 at half time left us a wee bit nervous but we had played well and dominated and created lots of chances and could have scored one if not two more goals.

“In the second half there was a 15 minute spell where we ran away with the game. You can’t be disappointed on a day when you score six goals because it doesn’t happen very often.”

Canning will welcome captain Aaron Arkinson back into the squad for Saturday’s game against the league leaders. Peter Maguire is not expected to have recovered in time, and Aaron Smyton and Nick Collen will both have late fitness tests.