It took 25 minutes for this tie to warm up — and after that it was thrilling, intriguing fare, climaxed afterwards by the Ports drawing holders Crusaders in the quarter-finals.
This one was billed as the match of the round and during those first, scrappy 25 minutes, it looked anything but a thriller.
But once Tim Mouncey headed the Ports into the lead, it went from cold to red-hot — especially when veteran Peter Hutton pulled it back to 2-1 for the Solitude men near the end and the Ports held on with their finger nails.
But manager Ronnie McFall insisted it should have been an easier passage.
“We gave that goal away. Our goalkeeper threw it in,” he stormed in a post-match interview.
A little unfair perhaps, as David Miskelly palmed the ball against his crossbar when he should have tipped it over and Hutton bundled in from all of a yard.
“Still, a win is a win and we’re into the quarter-finals,” McFall added.
“Crusaders have beaten us three times in the league, we’ve beaten them twice in the Co-operative Insurance Cup, so maybe we’re a better cup team. I would have preferred a home draw, though.”
Cliftonville’s Eddie Patterson insisted his side didn’t perform in the first-half, but deserved at least a draw based on their second-half showing.
“Still, if we show that sort of form in the league run-in, we’re in with a real shout,” he added.
“I gave them a talking-to at half-time and I have to say they responded. We didn’t deserve to lose.”
Portadown forged ahead on 25 minutes when Richard Clarke charged through, his shot was beaten down by Connolly and Mouncey pounced to nod home from five yards.
Soon afterwards, young Ports winger Alan Teggart was stretchered off after he sustained a chest injury in a collision with Connolly and was replaced by Johnny Topley.
Gary McCutcheon banged in number two just before the break. After he was bundled over, he jumped back onto his feet, turned brilliantly and cracked home from 16 yards.
Cliftonville came out, cannons roaring, in the second-half and came within an ace of scoring when Ciaran Donaghy left rip from 12 yards, but Miskelly repelled it out superbly.
Chris Scannell also came close when he latched onto a Liam Boyce pass and fired wide.
The Hutton goal came five minutes from time and they really should have equalised at the kill when Chris Scannell put Mark Holland through, but he shot straight at Miskelly with a goal at his mercy.