Controversy centre-stage as errors define Ports’ final chance for trophy

Garry Breen after the final whistle.INPT19-281.
Garry Breen after the final whistle.INPT19-281.

After 38 weeks of football and 44 senior league and cup fixtures, Portadown’s season was defined by a 30-second passage of play on the final weekend.

It was an afternoon of small moments but big decisions as the off-field controversy that dominated the weeks leading up to Saturday’s Irish Cup final extended on to the football pitch.

The showpiece day of the Irish League season was supposed to serve as a celebration of everything good about our game. Instead it became defined by regret and recriminations.

It took 30 seconds exactly from Willy Garrett’s left-foot backpass to David Scullion’s match-winning left-foot shot. The fact that the spotlight has turned from the game’s only goal to decisions by the match officials in that period offers an insight into the sense of injustice felt by Portadown.

Post-match debate has been dominated by analysis and opinion after referee Ross Dunlop and his team opted not to award a professional foul or red card against Garrett when the Glentoran defender appeared to obstruct Michael Gault’s clear path to goal. Officials also failed to stop play when goalkeeper Elliott Morris lifted the backpass, with the subsequent kick launching an attack that ended with Scullion steering a shot beyond David Miskelly - as Portadown struggled to regroup, with Gault stranded at the opposite of the pitch, appeals dismissed for handball outside the penalty area and focus centred on the events beyond the team’s control.

Portadown also had two penalty appeals waved away across an afternoon of frustration.

The fear of making a mistake is often a key characteristic of a cup final. Unfortunately, Saturday’s match will be remembered by many as an example of mistakes not by players but those charged with the responsibility of the rules’ application.

Although it should not diminish the scale or impact of the errors admitted this week by a match official, questions must also be asked in private within the Portadown camp.

The high stakes of silverware, European qualification and significant financial rewards added to the pressure but pre-match talk centred on the desire to grab the opportunity.

A run of just four wins in the 17 Danske Bank Premiership fixtures since league leaders Portadown lost to basement-based Warrenpoint on December 12 left the long-term development centred on a single cup result.

A Portadown performance similar to the blistering cup defeats of Linfield and Ballymena United in previous rounds could have placed the final outcome in the hands of the team. This Portadown group has been most effective when on the frontfoot and using momentum to force mistakes and create chances.

The 53 minutes of play leading up to the Gault incident and 40-plus minutes following the goal produced a single significant save from Morris, as he acrobatically pushed over Garry Breen’s header.

Weather conditions played a part as strong winds and heavy rainfall reduced the game’s showpiece to a battle against the elements and opposition. However, Portadown struggled to find a path past the Glentoran defence.

Ultimately, if one win was proposed as a foundation for progress towards a future sustained league challenge, then failure to achieve that goal must lead to an internal discussion as to the way forward without the financial and mental benefits of cup success.

PORTADOWN: David Miskelly, Chris Casement, Ross Redman, Keith O’Hara, Garry Breen, Peter McMahon, Sean Mackle, Michael Gault, Mark McAllister, Gary Twigg, Robert Garrett. Subs: Billy Brennan, Chris Ramsey, Darren Murray (McAllister, 72), Shea Conaty, Jordan Lyttle.

GLENTORAN: Elliott Morris, Willy Garrett, Marcus Kane, Calum Birney, David Scullion, Curtis Allen, Jordan Stewart, Niall Henderson, Stephen McAlorum, Stevie Gordon, Barry Holland. Subs: Fra McCaffrey, Aaron Hogg, Johnny Addis (Henderson, 88), Kym Nelson (Stewart, 92), Danny McKee.

Referee: Ross Dunlop.