Portadown 3 Cliftonville 3
Both managers bemoaned the fact that their injury-ravaged squads were “down to the bare bones” after this thriller of a draw allowed league leaders Linfield to soar away at the top of the Carling Irish League.
“The Blues are 12 points ahead of us now, and nine above second-placed Portadown,” said Reds manager Tommy Breslin whose team stay in third spot.
“I can’t see them dropping all those points in the top-six run-in. Mathematically, it’s possible, but highly improbable.”
Ports boss Ronnie McFall summed it up: “If we were able to field our best team every week throughout the league, we’d win the Gibson Cup, but we’ve had a glut of long-term injuries, coupled with the usual knocks and suspensions.
Teams like Portadown and Cliftonville just don’t have the large squads for a long league programme — Linfield have.
“Our best hopes lie in a second or third finish and a place in Europe. We haven’t given up, and won’t until it should prove impossible – and that was shown in the spirit of both sides in this great three-all draw.
“It’s a fair result. They missed early chances and our defending was suspect once or twice, but the game certainly gave value for money.”
A great hat-trick by Portadown’s back-in-form striker Matthew Tipton was the feature of the game. “It’s my second of the season,” he said afterwards. “I rarely score with the head, but I did it twice, and that’s indeed rare. I’ve had fitness problems and came back too soon, but now I’m back to full fitness.”
That double-header was completed in the first 15 minutes, and Cliftonville must have been scratching their heads over how it happened. For they missed a couple of sitters in the opening 10 minutes, with Chris Scannell the culprit. He drove the first against keeper David Miskelly and lobbed the second over the bar when he was clear one-on-one with the big number one.
The defensive marking for the Tipton double strike was poor. Firstly, he ghosted in at the far post to convert an Andrew Burns cross, and he was equally unmarked to nod home a Ross Redman in-swinging corner for the second.
Portadown should have made it three when Richard Clarke slewed a great ball across the face of the goal, but Tipton and Richard Lecky both failed to connect. And the first-half ended with Cliftonville’s Barry Johnston clipping an upright, only for the ball to roll across the goal line — it may even have crossed the line — and away to safety.
After a great tackle by the Ports’ Brian Gartland robbed Ciaran Caldwell, Cliftonville pulled one back on 52 minute when Martin Donnelly whipped a free-kick into the danger area, Diarmuid O’Carroll beat Gartland to the punch and slammed home from the edge of the ‘box’.
Then came big trouble for the Ports when Neil McCafferty was adjudged to have up-ended Ryan Catney (pictured) in the penalty area, a second yellow card was waved and off he went. Donnelly slammed home from the spot.
The Ports hit their third when Tipton converted a Chris Ramey head-down from a Clarke free, and this was answered two minutes from time when Catney lobbed Miskelly from 25 yards for a peach of an equaliser.
It all ended in controversy when referee Brian Turkington sent Reds’ keeper John Connolly off — a marginal hand-ball decision at the edge of his goal area in the last of a plethora of card-waving actions by the |whistler.