Portadown 2-2 Glenavon: Glens come back from two goals down to salvage point
Portadown fans paid their own unique tribute to the late George Michael, but it was Glenavon who hit them with a late wham-my to rescue a point from the Mid-Ulster derby.
Among a tuneful rendition of festive hits those decked out in red in the sell-out Boxing Day crowd pledged that manager Niall Currie was the 'someone special' they were giving their hearts to this Christmas.
The Ports were seconds away from jingling all the way to victory over their local rivals, but Glenavon midfielder Mark Sykes made those hearts sink when his 25-yard free-kick sailed over everyone in the box before the bounce beat goalkeeper Chris McGaughey to give the Lurgan Blues a 2-2 draw.
It was a result that looked extremely unlikely when Aaron Haire scored five minutes after half-time to double the Ports' lead after Mark Carson's 25th minute opener.
Ciaran Martyn's header on 76 minutes – just seconds after a Kevin Braniff strike had been ruled out for offside against Guy Bates – gave Glenavon a lifeline and after surviving a number of Portadown counter-attacks the Lurgan Blues scored in injury time for the fourth successive derby in a row.
And manager Gary Hamilton was glad to see that tenacity return to his team.
“The one pleasing thing for me was the character and the attitude.
“It's back to where it was last year. We did this in lots of games last year where we came from being goals down to getting draws and wins and that's the one pleasing aspect because I haven't seen it this year bar maybe against Cliftonville earlier in the season when we came back to win 3-2 at the death that character hasn't really been there, today it was and that's the pleasing thing.
“The negative thing is that we conceded two goals and gifted them a ;ot ot chances in the second half through poor decision making of our own, but when you're 2-0 down you'd take a draw.
The Ports were worth the lead given to them after Mark McAllister played a great ball in behind full-back James Singleton and Carson, raiding forward down the right, got to the ball just before Jonny Tuffey and watch it trickle over the line.
Glenavon finished the first half the stronger, but without overly stretching Portadown goalkeeper Chris McGaughey.
Any momentum that they had built up was crushed five minutes after the break when Stephen Hughes sent the ball forward to Haire, he managed to hold off Caolan Marron as he broke through and his low shot from the edge of the box beat Tuffey low to his right.
Glenavon thought they had got back into the game when they had the ball in the net on 75 minutes, but Bates had strayed beyond the Portadown defence before delivering a low cross for substitute Braniff.
The Lurgan Blues did score a minute later. Andy McGrory delivered a cross into the box from the right wing and Ciaran Martyn arrived later to power a header into the net from close range.
Nathaniel Ferris, Stephen Hughes and Robery Garrett all had chances to put the game beyond doubt and they were left to rue those missed opportunities when Sykes got up after being fouled by Mark McAllister and scored only his second league goal of the season.
“It's a big sickener, but the boys were super,” said Ports boss Currie.
“We got a lot of things right, we got some good performances all over the pitch.
“Unfortunately we were a wee bit naive in our defending for their equaliser. We really needed to be further up the pitch, not defending on our six-yard line, but hopefully we learn.
“I've no complaints with the players, they were superb, but sometimes you don't get what you deserves and I think that's the case.”
PORTADOWN: McGaughey, Carson, Byrne, Shannon, Breen, Parker, Henderson, Garrett, Hughes, McAllister. Haire (N Ferris 74 mins). Subs: C Larkin, C Ferris, R Larkin, Wilson.
GLENAVON: Tuffey, Marshall, Marron, Elbert, Singleton, Hall (McGrory 74 mins), Martyn, Sykes, Cooper (Patton 14 mins), Moorhouse (Braniff 63 mins), Bates. Subs: Neill, Kelly.
Referee: Raymond Crangle (Belfast).
MATCH RATING: 8/10.
Man of the match: Robert Garret (Portadown)