Ballymena United 2 Portadown 4
Ballymena United succeeded in achieving the near impossible on Saturday by keeping a Welshman quiet but discovered there’s much more to Portadown than just Matthew Tipton.
The forward had been Tweeting his team-mates following his homeland’s rugby victory over Ireland in the morning and it was to be a double celebration for the men in red as the Ports continue to breathe down the necks of Linfield.
Tipton didn’t get on the scoresheet at the Showgrounds but extinguishing this particular source of Welsh fire only allowed Ronnie McFall’s other dragons to wreak havoc at Warden Street.
Kevin Braniff was the Sky Blues’ tormentor-in-chief, even though the visitors looked to have shot themselves in the foot when they threw away a two-goal lead and were then reduced to ten men with Brian Gartland’s sending off.
Gartland had given the Ports the advantage in the seventh minute, with Braniff grabbing the first of his brace with a classy finish in the 27th but, just as they threatened to run riot, United hit back through Alan Teggart and then a Gary McCutcheon penalty, awarded after the Scot was tripped by Gartland.
The former Monaghan United man was red-carded for his troubles and, while many a side would have panicked and tried to dig in for a point, the Ports kept playing their classy football and it paid dividends.
Sean Mackle made the most of Braniff’s clever header to make it 3-2 soon after the restart and, when Denver Gage was also shown a red card for his second yellow of the day, the former Millwall striker bundled in his second with four minutes to go.
That brace means he now joins Tipton in double figures and, with these two banging in the goals, allied with the fighting qualities to make light of their numerical disadvantage, then they won’t be too far away come the end of the season
“Every time we come up here there always seems to be incidents,” Braniff explained.
“At 2-0 up we were cruising, we made a bad mistake in defence and gave away a penalty, but it just shows the spirit in the side at the moment.
“We dug in and got the three points. We still thought that we could go out and beat them, even with ten men, because we believe in ourselves and the team is buzzing.
“We’re sitting at the top along with Linfield at the minute and it’s nice to be there, but we want to be there at the end of the season.”
Life is sweet, even if the Tweets aren’t as welcome, but Braniff is enjoying the blossoming Celtic alliance with Tipton
“He was Tweeting away about that this morning. We gelled right away and, as long as we keep banging the goals in and as long as we keep scoring, we’ll keep playing.”
“That’s ten in ten games and I’d like to get into the twenties and take it from there, but I’m happy enough at the minute and hopefully I can keep on scoring.”
Goals aren’t a problem for Roy Walker’s side, keeping them out is a conundrum, though, that he is still desperately trying to find a solution for.
“I’m tired of hearing and seeing the same things. It’s players. It’s not like we don’t work with them and tell them what to do and show them, we do it harder and more than you could imagine, but it defies absolute logic that we lose shape,” he said.
“I don’t know what to do anymore than what we’ve been doing. We work hard, we see it and point it out. I can go and say the same thing every week. What I could do now is record a DVD and play it because they don’t change.
“When we do our job and do what we’re capable of, we create chances. We had plenty of chances, that’s not our problem. Our problem is not at that end of the pitch, our problem is at the other end, people not doing their basic jobs.
“And no matter how much I have told them and showed them, taking them onto the training pitch and gone through things, there’s a blight on the defending.”