Portadown clocked up a fifth consecutive fixture against Cliftonville without scoring a goal as the defending champions left Shamrock Park with a convincing 2-0 victory.
The Ports entered the game aiming to enhance the hold on third spot in the Danske Bank Premiership table but now sit only a single point clear of Cliftonville following goals by George McMullan and Joe Gormley.
Gary Twigg’s afternoon ended on 65 minutes off a red card following a second bookable offence. It marked one of a number of decisions by referee Tim Marshall that attracted frustration from the two camps.
Ross Redman had to race back and head clear Gormley’s attempted chip off his own line early on but clear sights of goal proved limited during the initial exchanges.
Cliftonville were handed the opportunity to break the deadlock on 19 minutes, however, when Keith O’Hara was adjudged to have fouled James Knowles. McMullan stepped up and slotted home from the penalty spot for a landmark century goal in club colours.
Gormley flashed one drive just past David Miskelly’s post then Twigg steered his header off a Tim Mouncey cross just wide of the mark as both sides worked hard to create openings.
The loss of Mark McAllister to hamstring trouble around the half-hour mark served to increase Portadown’s problems, forcing a tactical reshuffle that introduced Northern Ireland youth international Shea Conaty off the bench and pushed Sean Mackle up alongside Twigg.
Miskelly proved in the correct position at the start of the second half to collect Knowles’ weak back-post header following a Martin Donnelly cross but Portadown then carved out two impressive openings.
The first arrived as a result of the formation switch when 18-year-old Jake Richardson raced along the right and picked out Twigg, with the striker clipping a pass in behind the Cliftonville backline and Mackle racing on but, at the crucial moment, unable to steer his shot on target.
Twigg was then presented with space inside the box but his drive was blocked by a sliding Caoimhin Bonner challenge.
Twigg’s dismissal on 65 minutes for a second bookable offence left Portadown on the backfoot.
The decisive blow arrived 10 minutes after that red card when substitute Jude Winchester raced down the right and cut the ball back for Gormley to convert and bring the striker’s tally to 33 for the campaign.
Miskelly produced late saves to deny Johnny McMurray and Winchester before the final whistle.
Portadown handed league debuts off the substitutes’ bench to both Ken Oman and James Begley.
PORTADOWN: David Miskelly, Ross Redman, Keith O’Hara, Chris Ramsey, Peter McMahon, Sean Mackle, Mark McAllister, Tim Mouncey, Jake Richardson, Gary Twigg, Michael Gault. Subs: Billy Brennan, Ken Oman (on for O’Hara, 63 mins), Shea Conaty (on for McAllister, 31 mins), James Begley (on McMahon, 84 mins), Christian Stewart.
CLIFTONVILLE: Peter Cherrie, Ronan Scannell, Robert Bayly, George McMullan, Martin Donnelly, James Knowles, Marc Smyth, Ryan Catney, Joe Gormley, Martin Murray, Caoimhin Bonner. Subs: Jaimie McGovern, Jude Winchester (on for Bayly, 57 mins), Jay Donnelly (on for Donnelly, 86 mins), Tomas Cosgrove, Johnny McMurray (on for Murray, 84 mins).
Referee: Tim Marshall.