It was billed as the first of six cup finals, culminating in the May 2 showdown against Glentoran, writes Victor Gordon.
But this one-sided ‘top six’ league affair unravelled after just four minutes.
The Ports took the field minus six or seven first-team regulars, due to injuries and suspensions. And to compound their woes, keeper Billy Brennan was red-carded after taking down Cliftonville’s Johnny McMurray inside the ‘box’ in the first attack of the afternoon. The Ports’ main striker Darren Murray had to don the keeper’s gloves and jersey, his first job being to fish hat-trick hero Joe Gormley’s penalty kick out of the net.
After that it was a ‘King Canute’ scenario as the Ports did their best to hold back the relentless red tide.
Peter McMahon was left up front on his own, and played superbly, troubling home custodian Peter Cherrie two or three times. But it was mainly one-way traffic, Cliftonville playing a patient passing game.
You couldn’t blame the Ports for lack of effort, and they held it to 1-0 by half-time. Mustered by central defender Ken Oman, the defence manfully weathered the considerable storm.
But when Gormley added number two after the break with a far-post header and completed his hat-trick from the penalty spot, the inevitable writing was on the wall. Referee Raymond Crangle obviously didn’t see it as a spot-kick, but eventually awarded it, after long deliberations with a linesman. James Knowles had bit the dust as the result of a Ross Redman tackle.
Martin Donnelly completed the scoring on the final minute when he converted a brilliant passing movement to slide home from close-in.
It was a frustrating afternoon for Portadown, the first in the ‘top six’ league series.
Beforehand, the hopes were that the Ports - who started the game in third place and in a European spot - would make the Continental scene via the league route, removing that pressure from the Irish Cup final. But they ended the day in fifth place, with Cliftonville and Glenavon leap-frogging over them, having recorded just one win in their last nine league outings. The dilemma is how to ‘nurse’ all those injured and suspended players through to the Irish Cup final.
PORTADOWN - Brennan, Casement, Redman, Mouncey, McMahon, Mackle, Murray, Oman, Conaty, Lyttle, Richardson. Subs - O’Hara, Twigg, Judge (Mouncey 88m), McElroy (Conaty 36m), Stewart (Richardson 81m).