IRISH LEAGUE: Battling Portadown hold champions Crusaders

Marcio Soares slots home the equaliser for Portadown against Crusaders. Pic by PressEye Ltd.
Marcio Soares slots home the equaliser for Portadown against Crusaders. Pic by PressEye Ltd.
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The width of the league table may divide Crusaders and Portadown but there was no difference of opinion after this 1-1 draw at Shamrock Park.

Both managers were in agreement that a point apiece proved harsh on a Ports side rooted to the wrong end of the table and without a league win since late December.

Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter described the sound of the final whistle as “music to our ears” based on the pressure provided by the Ports against a side pushing for a third consecutive Danske Bank Premiership crown and with maximum points from 2017 before kick-off.

Jordan Owens had kicked off the evening according to form by breaking the deadlock with 10 minutes on the clock thanks to clever control, a sharp turn and slick long-range drive.

Gavin Whyte and Declan Caddell also came close but Portadown improved as play progressed and Adam Foley tested Sean O’Neill with one golden opening before Marcio Soares grabbed an equaliser.

Soares, a product of the Portadown youth system, left Shamrock Park to join Crusaders last year but returned to his home town in January. He grabbed his first goal of a second Ports spell by battling for Jack Duffin’s upfield punt then taking advantage of Billy Joe Burns’ struggle to clear by slotting home.

“It was the toughest game this season, Portadown were the better team and should have won the game comfortably but for Sean O’Neill,” said Baxter. “We were hanging on the last 15 minutes, that’s how much pressure we were put under and not one team has done that to us this season, not one.”

The Crusaders boss has refused to look too far into the future and his side now hold a seven-point lead over Linfield with eight games on the calendar.

“I’m always disappointed when we don’t play well as a group but we get maybe two performances like that every two years,” said Baxter. “I cannot be over-critical, the players know my feelings on the performance but that’s what has to be done, it’s professional football and the mark of a better side is how you respond.

“We got a point so it’s not all doom and gloom and it’s important we move on.”

In contrast, Currie can only think about the future progress possible by a squad with 1-1 draws against the Danske Bank Premiership’s leading two teams that each finished in frustration at honours even.

“It was as good as it gets to be honest,” said Currie. “Not just the application, energy and enthusiasm, which you need anyway, but the quality of our movement and composure on the ball.

“We hurt Crusaders numerous times and I have to praise every player, across the whole team and the substitutes.

“The atmosphere around the place is good, with a real togetherness and days like this make me so proud to be here at Portadown.

“But we’ve got to make sure we replicate this honesty and desire and, if so, we will never be far away in the future.

“I was so pleased as were brave in terms of our play and magnificent on the deck with that intensity.”

PORTADOWN: Duffin, Carson, R.Larkin, Shannon, Hazley, Henderson, Garrett, Mackle, McGerrigan, Soares (Ferris, 87), Foley (Gardiner, 87).

Subs (NOT USED): C.Larkin, Lyttle, Mulvenna.

CRUSADERS: O’Neill, Burns, Coates (Mitchell, 46), Lowry (Cushley, 65), Carvill (Suarez, 78), Caddell, Forsythe, McLean, Owens, Keane, Whyte.

Subs (NOT USED): Dougherty, Clarke.

Referee: A.Sanat.