A sloppy first-half performance cost Cliftonville their place in the Co Operative Insurance Cup as Portadown dumped the north Belfast men out of the competition with a 4-3 victory in a pulsating contest at Solitude last night.
Scoreless from the first leg, the Ports knew an early goal could prove crucial in their quest for a Quarter Final berth and Alan Teggart duly delivered before the same player made it 2-0 on the half-hour.
A Francis Murphy penalty and deflected strike from George McMullan brought the Reds back into it, though, only for a stupendous Andrew Hunter free-kick to restore the visitors’ advantage on the night.
Ciaran Donaghy levelled matters once again but, just when Cliftonville were throwing everything they had at their Championship counterparts, Gary McCutcheon struck in injury-time to seal the win.
The Reds’ second-half display was encouraging but yet again it was a slow start which cost them and Portadown opened the scoring with a vital early away goal after just eight minutes when Teggart nipped in behind a hesitant home backline to lob John Connolly and find the net via the underside of the bar.
The Ports were dealt a blow on the half-hour, though, when influential skipper John Convery was forced off with an injury but, just a minute later, they got the reward their pressure deserved with a second goal and it came thanks to some excellent work from McCutcheon, who held up possession before supplying Teggart, who found the bottom corner.
It was Convery’s replacement, Chris Coleman, who offered Cliftonville a way back into the tie when he chopped down Chris Scannell inside the box just before the interval and Francis Murphy stepped up to convert from the spot.
The leveller came on 55 minutes, though, when Ryan Catney teed up George McMullan on the edge of the area and, while his first attempt was blocked by Coleman, McMullan raced on to the rebound to hammer home, with the ball taking a slight deflection off Hunter on its way past the keeper.
A stunned Ports hit back in sensational style soon later, however, with a strike that had even home supporters applauding. Although the decision to award the visitors a free-kick 30 yards from goal was questioned by most inside the ground, there was no doubting the quality of Hunter’s strike which rocketed into the top corner to return Portadown into the lead.
Cliftonville were once again left searching for two goals to turn the tie around and it was game on 11 minutes from time when Francis Murphy’s corner was brilliantly headed home by Ciaran Donaghy.
That looked to be that as far as goalscoring was concerned with Portadown keen to keep the ball in the opposition corner as the game ticked into injury-time but, from a botched Cliftonville clearance, Gary McCutcheon nipped in to drill into the bottom corner to ensure the Ports’ place in the last eight.
CLIFTONVILLE: Connolly, R Scannell, O’Hara, M Holland, C Scannell, McMullan, Murphy, Smyth, Donaghy, O’Neill, Catney. Subs: Hamill (Catney, 78 mins), Patterson, Downey (Holland, 61 mins), Boyd, Boyce (Smyth, 90 mins)
PORTADOWN: Armstrong, O’Hara, Redman, Hunter, Convery, McCullough, Sproule, McCluskey, McCutcheon, Lecky, Teggart. Subs: Coleman (Convery, 31 mins), Wright, Haire, Topley, Boyle (Teggart, 81 mins)
Referee: Brian Turkington (Bangor).