PORTADOWN squandered at least six chances against Glentoran on Saturday - and blew a golden opportunity to squeeze into the top six in the Danske Irish League, writes Victor Gordon.
Had they won this vital encounter, they would have leap-frogged the Glens into the top half, but a missed penalty, a litany of missed ‘sitters’ and a top drawer showing by Glens’ keeper Elliott Morris left them outside the upper echelons, four points adrift from Glentoran, who have a match in hand.
“A top six place is still well within our grasp,” disappointed manager Ronnie McFall insisted. “But we really will have to start putting those chances away. We dominated this match from start to finish and yet failed to register a point. It’s hard to take.”
The Ports had everything going for them - the first-half penalty which Sean Mackle struck weakly (Morris sort-of fell to his left and gathered it all-too-easily) and the sending-off of Glentoran’s Jay Magee should have made it a guaranteed three-pointer. The big defender was booked for giving away that 22nd minute penalty for tugging Gary Twigg’s shirt, and made the lonely walk to the pavilion 25 minutes from time for another foul on Twigg. And yet Portadown flopped.
On top of all that, the men from east Belfast hadn’t been paid - again - yet they showed real character and fought like tigers, especially when they were down to 10 men, and repelled everything Portadown threw at them. But the home side depended far too much on the high ball into the goalmouth melee.
The Glentoran goal, by Richard Clarke just before the hour, was so simple. Portadown were caught slumbering at the back when Jimmy Callagher slipped the ball through to Clarke, and he rolled it, via a post, past the stranded David Miskelly.
But, really, it all boiled down to that inept penalty, the third Portadown have missed in succession. Darren Murphy is the elected spot-kicker, but he didn’t appear from the bench until near the end, and when he did, things brightened up.
And yet, Glentoran - for all the Ports’ pressure - could have made it two or three. After the penalty debacle, they raced down-field and Jason Hill, forced a flying save from Miskelly. And Andy Waterworth did likewise with a few minutes left on the clock.
In between, Portadown had, in McFall’s words “enough chances to win three or four matches”, with Braniff either wide of the mark, or foiled by the brilliance of Morris. And the frustration mounted when Clarke netted, totally against the run of play.
Said Glens boss Eddie Patterson, “Yes, Portadown dominated, but you can’t question the commitment of either side. You have to hand it to my players. They proved that they’re playing for the shirt, both in the fact that they weren’t paid, and they waged a defensive battle before and after Jay Magee was sent off. I can’t praise them enough and I hope the club gets its problems ironed out.”
But Portadown have problems of their own, and this game underlined them. The forwards simply aren’t finding the net, and the defence - especially in the central positions - is too apt to switch off and concede vital goals.
It will be costly if they fail to make the top six, with six matches remaining. Playing the title-chasing Linfields and Cliftonvilles is much more lucrative and entertaining than lining up against the relegation-haunted Distillerys and Donegal Celtics of the competition.
PORTADOWN - Miskelly, Mackle (Patton 72m), Redman, Ramsey, Burns (Murray 72m), Braniff, Mouncey (86m), Casement, Gartland, McCafferty, Twigg. Subs not used - McArdle, McNeill.
GLENTORAN - Morris, Ward, Hill, Magee, Birney, M. Clarke, Callagher, Howland Waterworth, R. Clarke, Carson (Kane 77m). Subs not used - O’Hanlon, Murray, Bradley, McComb.
Referee - Raymond Crangle (Belfast).