Portadown: Carrick Rangers draw keeps alive promotion question
Deemed a day to define the race for runners-up spot, instead the final whistle only served to keep open the question of which side would secure home advantage for the first stage of the promotion play-off process.
Carrick Rangers and Portadown remained, respectively, second and third in the Bluefin Sport Championship divided by four points for both the first and final sounds of the referee’s whistle on Saturday but with the exception the two rivals have around 90 minutes fewer in which to seal second place and, as a result, a narrow edge in the pre-play-off game for a chance at a return to top-flight football.
The match proved reflective of the high stakes as Portadown raced into a well-earned 2-0 lead thanks to Martin Bradley and Adam Salley before Carrick Rangers completed a thrilling fightback courtesy of Caolan Loughran’s double.
Having now battled back on three consecutive league fixtures - bolstered by a Loughran brace on each occasion - another example of Carrick’s fighting spirit failed to cast any fresh light on how the season will finish.
So too, Portadown’s continued inability to close down and close out a game as the weekend draw offered further evidence of the points lost to lapses in both defence and attack which have left the promotion chase in the balance and with Dundela closing the gap to within a win before the two sides meet on Saturday.
“For 90 per cent of the game we were in control and the better team,” said Ports boss Matthew Tipton. “But two basic individual errors from set-pieces cost us which, unfortunately, mistakes by defenders generally lead to goals.
“Carrick will say the same for our first goal and it’s human nature to make mistakes.
“All you have to worry about off a set-piece is to pick up your man and we didn’t do it.
“But we can have a pop as much as we want about centre-backs and marking but also we’ve go to do better off the chances created.
“We are generating enough one-on-one opportunities but also need better decision-making.
“We had three really good chances within minutes of 2-0 and knew if we trusted and believed that, with a bit more quality, we could get them on the counter-attack, which we did but without the extra end product.
“Full credit to Carrick as they didn’t stop going and, having done that so much in recent weeks, they had that belief.
“The players are sick as they know what they put in and know what they got out of it so we just look forward.”
Tipton replaced Niall Currie in the Ports dug-out last year and the current Carrick boss considers progress with Rangers still a rebuilding job.
“Three weeks in a row we’ve come back from really bad positions,” said Portadown-born Currie. “Portadown were the better team right up to 70 minutes, we were second to the ball and they bullied us as first to everything.
“It disappointed me how they wanted it more than us, which I’ve not often had to level at my players.
“But it’s a young squad the team spirit is second-to-none.
“Earlier in the season we would have lost by three or four goals under that same situation.
“We got off to a terrible start to the season and, with 18 new players essentially, it was always going to take time but they’ve come together.
“A top-six finish was our target so we sit so far ahead of schedule.”