Carl McComb’s injury-time finish helped 10-man Ards extend the fairytale start to life back on the big stage - and add to the Ports’ pain.
Ards entered the match aiming to build on a draw and win from the opening tests on a return to the Danske Bank Premiership for Niall Currie’s men after a two-year absence.
For Portadown, it marked another opportunity to claw back the 12-point deficit imposed on the club by the Irish Football Association disciplinary committee.
On an afternoon which featured sporadic spells of drama - including a red card for Ards’ Johnny Taylor following two bookable offences - the high stakes for both clubs, in a season in which every point holds extra significance, appeared to result in a share of the spoils as the clock moved past normal time.
However, two Ards substitutes combined as Ports goalkeeper David Miskelly could only parry out Jordan Hughes’ free-kick and McComb reacted first with a close-range finish to wrap up victory.
The result pushed Ards level at the top of the senior standings thanks to a seven-point return from the opening three games.
“It was a great reaction by Carl and I am so proud of the players for such a strong start,” said Currie. “We went into the match with five or six out and that put us down pretty much to the bare bones off really a 19-man squad.
“That is now three games played in a week and the goal is to push on and build from the momentum of this brilliant start.
“We know there is going to be plenty of doom and gloom along with the highs over the course of a long season but we must never change our approach of working hard for each other to stay as competitive as possible.
“The only downside for me is another red card, after Joe McKinney’s against Dungannon in midweek, as we cannot afford to lose players that way.
“There was not much in the match overall and I don’t think any side could have had an issue about a draw.”
Ports boss Pat McGibbon was left to reflect on the setback after carving out a string of scoring opportunities across the closing stages.
“It is tough to take as the match was even over the course of the game but we could have scored one or two over the final 20 minutes,” said McGibbon. “We needed to be more clinical once that extra space opened up against 10 men.
“Now it is about getting a positive reaction.”