Portadown's Sean Mackle says team will shake up the title race
Glenavon 2 - Portadown 4
Christmas simply can't come quickly enough for Portadown midfielder Sean Mackle.
The man who kick-started the Ports' clinical response at rivals Glenavon reckons that the season of festive cheer will be the right time to best judge if the new-look Shamrock Park outfit are genuine title contenders.
But after scoring the goal to cancel out Glenavon's lead in a pulsating mid-Ulster derby on Saturday, Mackle admits there is no reason why his team, now at the congested summit of the Danske Bank Premiership, cannot still be in the lofty heights come the turn of the year.
"We have made some excellent signings to complement our squad and we demonstrated our class on the day," he said.
"I thought we were always comfortable even when we went behind and in the end we could and should have won by an even bigger margin."
The Ports knocked the old enemy off the top of the tree with this victory but will they be full of Christmas celebrations come December when the campaign usually starts to hot up?
"I don't see why not," says Mackle. "The league hasn't settled down yet. There is no one team putting it up just yet so we have to strive to improve our consistency and maintain this excellent unbeaten run as long as we can."
Now without a defeat in six matches, Ronnie McFall's men are looking every bit a top three team – even more than last season when they forced their way to a fourth place finish.
"There is something very positive about this team," reveals Mackle. "The new faces have come in and added strength. Our defence looks solid."
McFall was satisfied with a second successive derby victory after watching ruefully as Gary Hamilton's side snatched the bragging rights in the first three meetings last term.
"Sometimes derbies are over-hyped," he said. "The secret for players is not to get sucked into all that and let it impair their performance."
Gareth McKeown opened the scoring with a deflected free-kick before Mackle and – sensationally – Chris Casement put the visitors in front.
A Darren Murray penalty made it 3-1 and, while Glenavon were offered hope of a late fightback when Ciaran Martyn deflected an attempted clearance past David Miskelly, Peter McMahon made the points safe.
"We didn't panic and just kept our composure," explained Mackle.
"The work rate was phenomenal and Peter McMahon and Mark McAllister were outstanding. They came together so well to create the chance for me to level it.
"Then we had Chris Casement delivering a fabulous free kick to take us into half-time ahead. I don't think we were really in much trouble after that."
With no Eoin Bradley due to Gaelic Football commitments with his club Glenullin yesterday, the Mourneview men didn't pose enough threat up front, with player-boss Hamilton stating: "It was really disappointing to throw away the lead after working so hard to get in front but we are still up there and in the mix at the top of the table."