Portadown 1 Linfield 1
It's unlikely that Linfield boss David Jeffrey has moved as swiftly since his long-gone playing days as he did at half-time in this bruising battle when he caught up with referee Mark Courtney.
The whistler had allowed the Ports’ opener just a minute before the break with scorer Sean Mackle, according to Jeffrey, “having obviously pushed Jim Ervin” before the midfielder dispatched the ball into the net.
Goalkeeper Alan Blayney concurred as he stopped in his tracks and allowed Mackle a free run.
Said Jeffrey: “It was plainly a push and I gave Mr Courtney my views as we walked in at half-time. He said he couldn’t give what he hadn’t seen and I have to accept that.
“It makes you wonder what the assistants are doing.
“The TV recording shows an obvious push in such an important match, but we didn’t dwell on it.
“My players went out after the interval and showed what they’re made of — and Peter Thompson’s equaliser showed what a superb predator he is.” Ports manager Ronnie McFall insisted it was “a perfectly good goal,” but had plenty of criticism for Linfield’s equaliser.
“The ball should have been cleared at least twice,” he insisted.
“You can’t allow the ball to bounce around in your own danger area with strikers like Thompson and Mark McAllister around and we paid the price.
“Okay, Linfield may have dominated the second-half, but we created more chances during the 90 minutes and could have taken all three points. I have to be realistic, the bottom line is that we couldn’t afford to lose this one.
“We’re still just four points behind Linfield at the top of the table and still very much on their heels. A seven-point gap would have been so much more difficult to close.”
And Jeffrey admitted that a draw was totally acceptable at Shamrock Park.
“Yes, we played good football on a difficult surface, but when you consider the quality throughout this Portadown side, a draw is very acceptable and we retain the daylight as leaders.
“But we can’t relax. There are loads of games still to be played and football can throw up so many twists. Chasers Cliftonville and Coleraine were both defeated today.”
The game was hectic from the start, with McAllister liveliest among the 22 players during the opening period.
He had three half-chances in the first 15 minutes, but it was Michael Carvill who troubled Ports goalkeeper David Miskelly with two on-target shots on 20 minutes.
At the other end, Jamie Tomelty and Kevin Braniff carved out the best chances, but Blayney was on top form.
The game sprang to life just before the break when Mackle drew two top-drawer stops from Blayney and Chris Ramsey missed a glaring open net from the second rebound.
Then, on 44 minutes, came that controversy when Mackle appeared to send Ervin sprawling, Blayney stopped dead and the net beckoned. First blood to Ports.
Jeffrey insisted: “It was an injustice, but I told the players not to dwell on it, to use it as a spur, and they did just that.
“We totally bossed the second period and Peter’s goal was just reward.”
It came in the 56th minute from a Jamie Mulgrew corner on the right, the ball bobbled around in the Ports box, eventually fell to Thompson and he hammered home from close in.
Linfield continued to press with a succession of free kicks and corners and almost took the lead 10 minutes from time when a header by substitute Aaron Burns clipped the crossbar with Miskelly stranded.
Portadown also created chances, notably Braniff firing one over the top and a goal-bound Mackle effort six minutes from time deflected by brave defensive work.