Portadown manager Niall Currie feels the “shackles are off” midfielder Luke Wilson following the teenager’s two-goal return against Loughgall.
The Ports held the upper hand on two occasions at Lakeview Park to start the Bluefin Sport Championship post-split series with a 2-1 derby win.
“We’ve asked Luke Wilson in the past to hold but you can see he can do anything,” said Currie. “Today it was about having Andy Kilmartin hold and ask Luke to be that box-to-box threat.
“We encourage him to get into the box at every opportunity.
“We’ve been trying to protect him but he has shown how, physically, he can handle the Championship.
“We did try to bring in that box-to-box midfielder but missed out on three targets.
“His first goal was great but his second exceptional and Luke has a great future.
“He’s going to be here for a long time, he loves everything about the club and Luke is ready now.
“The shackles are off Luke now and you can see how it helped our game.
“We got our early goal but didn’t kick on from that as Loughgall dominated us and came back strong.
“It took us at least 30 minutes to really get into the game and I was pretty relieved to come in at 1-1 at half-time.
“But then we limited them to very few chances after the break as we controlled the second half.
“We managed to do in the second half what Loughgall had done to us, although even better, in the first.
“We wanted to place Loughgall under pressure higher up the pitch in the second half and to get the centre-backs turned around.
“We cleared our lines better then but the way we defend is still like a roller-coaster at times.
“We came out then with a wee bit about us and full credit to both sets of players given those conditions.
“No-one knows going into these post-split games who is going to win as every match will be so tight.
“You can see based on Loughgall’s performance today how they will challenge teams, especially at home.
“It is about trying to put together a run.”
Loughgall boss Dean Smith felt frustration at the manner of the first goal - but overall pride in his players.
“We keep conceding goals early either in the first half or second half and it seems to be our Achilles heel this season,” said Smith. “I cannot ask for any more from the boys than that performance today.
“The pitch was a leveller for Portadown, not for us.
“We dominated that first half from 1-0 down but it’s about carrying that into a full 90 minutes.
“Effort-wise it was a top-notch display and on another day we could have been coming away with the points.
“We created enough chances but the second half was about not carrying that forward.
“The second half was more even and, with a wee bit of luck, the ball would drop for us the right way.
“We had to reshuffle but our players are flexible to operate in numerous positions.
“It was a shuffle but it is credit to how they could step in and adjust.
“We are delighted with the business in January and stand in a much better place than eight or 10 weeks ago.
“Once they integrate properly we will be a force in the top six.
“I can only congratulate my players for that performance and, more often than not, we will win rather than lose with effort like on show today.”