Portadown committed football hari-kari in this six-goal thriller at Shamrock Park — a combination of missed chances and three mistakes that handed league leaders Cliftonville a point they didn’t really deserve.
It was summed up in the Reds' last-minute equaliser when Ports substitute Sean Mackle chopped down Ronan Scannell just inside the penalty box, close to the by-line when there was no danger whatever, and George McMullan cracked home from the spot.
Furious Ports' manager Ronnie McFall said: “All Mackle had to do was stand his ground, but he elected to scythe the man down and that cost us two points.
All of their goals were mistakes on our part. Our goalkeeper David Miskelly should have had the other two. On top of all that, we should have led about three or four-nil at half-time, instead of just the one.
“The most frustrating thing is, we played our best football of the season. We now have most of our injured players back in action, especially Kevin Braniff who's back to his best form.”
Braniff hit two goals in this superb 90 minutes of non-stop attacking play, the only scores that weren't the result of the chap
ter of errors that marked the other four. He opened the Ports' account with a superb left-foot acute effort on 20 minutes, laid on by a long cross-field pass by striking partner Darren Murray.
His second, on 85 minutes —which made it 3-2 for the Ports — was a subtle header from a Ross Redman corner, and it should have been the winner.
“It was all very disappointing,” said Braniff. “But these are just my second and third goals of the season, although I’ve missed quite a few matches, so we'll all have to do better for the rest of the campaign.”
In between the Braniff goals, the errors were almost comedic. The first piece of slap-stick came just after the interval from McMullan whose attempted back-pass to keeper Conor Devlin was, in fact, a perfect pass to predator Murray who rounded the hapless keeper for one of the softest goals he’ll ever score.
Two-nil to Portadown, but then, their usually rock solid keeper David Miskelly — who had pulled off a couple of super saves earlier in the game — changed all that. First, he dropped a McMullan cross at the feet of Joe Gormley who couldn't have missed from all of two yards. And then he was out of position when Barry Johnston raced goalwards and hammered home from 25 yards.
Finally, after Braniff had sent the Ports back into the lead with that well-directed header, came the silly Mackle tackle, the McMullan spot-kick, and it ended all-square.
Said Cliftonville boss Tommy Breslin: “I can sympathise with Portadown's frustration. Frankly, we were lucky to get a point from that one. We were second best, but we fought back from 2-0 and then from 3-2 and that took determination and spirit.
“Portadown are in a false position in the league table (eighth). They should be much higher, and now that they're back to full strength, I think they will move up towards the top six. As far as we're concerned, I feel we have the squad to take the title, but there's a long way to go and we'll have to play better than we did today.
“Portadown made it difficult for us — especially Braniff and Murray up front — and a tough match like this did us nothing but good. These two teams always seem to serve up an exciting match, whether it’s at Shamrock Park or Solitude.”