Portadown men’s firsts closed out the Kirk Cup group stages on Saturday with a 3-2 reverse away to Instonians.
With semi-final progress beyond reach, Portadown coach Mark Evans opted to use the tie as part of preparations for the men’s Premier League debut.
Instonians entered the season as favourites within many camps for a league-and-cup domestic double.
Portadown tackled the challenge with spirit despite the hosts’ reputation.
Captain Johnny Brown slotted into the backline and helped to guide play from a deep position.
Instonians enjoyed the greater share of possession but Portadown’s focus centred on working hard in the face of any increased attacking pressure.
Portadown’s confidence levels increased as play progressed - with Stewart Kirkland, Zach McClelland and Adam Stevenson strong within midfield.
Instonians took the lead on 20 minutes following a lapse in concentration by Portadown.
However, the visitors got back on track with a rapid response due to Brown’s free to release Gareth Titler along the left. Titler moved past the Instonians goalkeeper and picked out Croft for a fine finish.
Jamie Knipe produced some smart saves as Portadown attempted to claim control, with a second for the away side arriving in the final moments of the first half.
A well-worked short corner routine ended with Brown steering home Stevenson’s pass.
Both sides remained dedicated to attacking play in the second half, with Croft close after clever individual skill but unble to produce the finish.
A combination of Knipe and the frame of the net helped Portadown stay on top but Instonians grabbed the advantage with a quickfire goal double.
Weekend teamsheets are as follows:
Seconds v Instonians fourths (home, start 1 o’clock): Players to be notified.
Thirds v Antrim thirds (home, start 2.30): Players to be notified.