Portadown and Ballymena both lost further ground to the front runners of the Danske Bank Premiership in a hard-fought draw where the spoils were rightly shared.
It means that the Ports and United have won just two games apiece from 10 outings and hopes of capitalising on what has, so far, been a lean season for Gibson Cup holders Linfield are fading fast.
Two first-half goals from Ports’ new scoring hero Darren Murray were sandwiched between a third-minute opener by Mark Surgeoner — with Portadown’s rearguard in total disarray — and a penalty by Alan Teggart, who was pulled down by Chris Ramsey after the break.
And while Ports boss Ronnie McFall and counterpart Glen Ferguson made the usual managerial claims that their men should have been victorious, neither man can have any genuine complaints.
Ferguson said: “They depended more on the high ball into the middle, while we played most of the football. Based especially on our second-half display, we should have taken all three points. Sadly, two mistakes at the back led to their goals.”
McFall protested that neither the free-kick leading up to the penalty or the spot-kick were justified.
“The ref awarded several free-kicks — and yellow cards — to players on both sides after they won the ball in hard 50-50 tackles,” he said.
Two of Portadown’s goals resulted in high balls into the centre — delivered with clinical accuracy by Ross Redman — when Murray pounced on flick-on headers, first from Michael McLellan and then from Brian Gartland, with keeper Dwayne Nelson sorely at fault for the second.
But Nelson redeemed himself late in the game with a smashing save from Jamie Tomelty, keeping the honours even.