Portadown 1 Cliftonville 1
The words ‘mixed emotions’ would only go some way to describing the mood in both dressing rooms at Shamrock Park after an exciting and nervy 1-1 draw between the league leaders and the team second bottom of the Danske Bank Premiership table.
The smile on Jethren Barr’s face, however, said more than words could. Despite conceding a 79th minute winner to Cliftonville, the Portadown man is as happy as ... a goalkeeper in mud.
It hasn’t taken long for the Shamrock Park faithful to take the South African shot-stopper to their hearts and that’s mainly down to a string of outstanding performances.
The latest one saw Cliftonville’s run away from home stretch to four games without a win, with one superb save after another.
On another day, without Barr in goal, the league leaders would have won handsomely and Joe Gormley would have had a hat-trick.
First, Barr dashed off his line to make a great stop one-on-one just four minutes after Stephen Teggart had shot the Ports in front.
The keeper then made two more big saves to ensure that the Cliftonville striker didn’t live up to his ‘Joe The Goal’ moniker, either side of Paul O’Neill’s glancing header which grabbed a point for Paddy McLaughlin’s men.
Although the Ports have now drawn their last four home games — the most recent three after leading late on — Barr is revelling in being busy as taking the lead forces opposing teams to lay siege on his goal.
“I am so happy to be here. It is the first time in my life that I am playing in mud like this, so it is really a nice experience,” said Barr, who hails from Pinetown, where even winter temperatures rarely dip into single figures.
“It is cold for me — I have never felt this cold before — but I am really enjoying it. I get a lot of action in matches to keep warm.”
The Ports have now gone 11 games since recording their solitary victory of the season away at Warrenpoint Town — where they travel to next.
Repeatedly letting victory slip from their grasp at home, where they haven’t won in the league this season, is far from ideal, but after taking points from three of the top four, Barr believes that the breakthrough is near, ahead of what is a must-win game at the foot of the table.
“We are delighted with the point. That’s now Linfield, Larne and Cliftonville that we have held at home, but those are all games that we could actually have ended up winning,” he said.
“We have just been unfortunate this season, but the win is definitely coming.
“We need to take that form to Warrenpoint next week and if we do that we can definitely get a win.
“I think we need to have more composure. We get up and then all of a sudden everyone is ‘We’re in the lead. What do we do now?’
“There are a lot of young players in the team. They don’t have that experience of holding onto a lead, but I feel like we are gaining momentum and we are getting that experience as it happens every week.
“I think it is definitely coming and we need it to, especially against a team like Warrenpoint where we have to go and win.”
Cliftonville manager Paddy McLaughlin, too, acknowledged Barr was the difference between a draw and a win that would have put his team four points clear at the top of the table.
“It was nothing to do with our forward play — our forward play was excellent — it was down to the keeper and some last-ditch defending,” he said.
“On another day, if the keeper doesn’t pull two out of the top corner and they don’t take two off the line, you win comfortably.”
PORTADOWN: Barr, McKeown, Hall, Finnegan, Jordan, Ruddy, S Teggart (Tipton, 83 mins), McLeod, Salley, Bonis, Conaty (Warde, 90 mins). Unused subs: Doherty, Anderson, Glenfield, Willis, E Teggart.
CLIFTONVILLE: McNicholas, McDermott, Turner, Addis, Ives, Lowe, Gallagher (McDonagh, 50 mins), R Curran, Kearns (Gormley, 55mins), R Curran, O’Neill. Unused subs: Dunne, Harney, Donnelly, Doherty, Coates.
Referee: Steven Gregg (Ballyclare).
Man of the match: Jethren Barr.
Match rating: 8/10