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Blues Return to the Top as Ten Man Glens Falter

The pendulum swings again in this fascinating title race...

Oisin Conaty (left) celebrates his equalizer against Glentoran in the second minute of stoppage time...

Portadown ..... (0)1 .... Glentoran ..... (0)1

This season’s Irish League Championship produced another twist as Portadown found a last gasp equalizer at Shamrock Park to claim their first point under new boss Paul Doolin. Glentoran, on the receiving end, lost top spot to Linfield, who squeezed home 2-1 over Larne at the National Stadium, as you thought they might, following recent setbacks.

Cliftonville remain dogged and refuse to go away, keeping this effectively a three-horse race. The Reds, 3-2 victors at Carrick, are four points behind the top two, who now go into the most anticipated Big Two derby in years on Friday at the Oval, level on points.

At Shamrock Park last night Glentoran had the better of a well-contested first-half in which neither ‘keeper was really troubled. Portadown a full ten points from safety at the outset put in a shift restricting the league leaders to half-chances.

There was a first-ever start for young Harry Murphy at centre-back and after a shaky beginning the 18 year-old could be happy about a performance which contributed significantly to Portadown grabbing a valuable point.

They key moment of the first 45 came on 32 minutes and could have deeper consequences for Glentoran’s title challenge. Paddy McClean, captain for much of this season, launched himself into a challenge on Ports full-back Greg Hall. The Glentoran man was late and referee Evan Boyce, probably also considering excessive force, unhesitatingly flashed red.

Paddy McClean sees red after a robust challenge on Portadown’s Greg Hall. McClean now misses the Big Two derby at the Oval on Friday evening.

McClean’s suspension begins with Friday evening’s showdown with Linfield.

After the interval Glentoran’s ten men continued to take the game to a disciplined, hard-working Portadown, determined to dig in and rely on the counter. McDaid fashioned an opportunity for Jay Donnelly, but the striker’s attempt was brilliantly blocked by Hall.

Donnelly had a frustrating evening, feeding on scraps, mainly high balls into the box, prompting query why Michael O’Connor on the bench throughout, wasn’t required to add aerial presence.

Plum on 61 mins had also gone close before this. His long-range shot found a way to goal bouncing back off Barr’s right upright.

But every now and again Glentoran’s urgency was perforated by Portadown’s willingness to hit on the break whenever possession turned over. Salley was wasteful and inaccurate on a couple of occasions, failing to keep successive volleys low and on 78 minutes Glentoran made hard work of defending a corner that necessitated a goal-line clearance.

But it was finally the introduction of McCartan which led to the breakthrough. The former Irish international took a pass from the excellent Marshall, drove to the bye-line, and with McMenamin and McDaid to aim for, found the former who gleefully converted. The clock showed 86 minutes. A professional, positive and energetic performance by Glentoran finally looked like reaping reward.

There was almost a carbon-copy a minute later when McCartan, repeating his recent heroics but this time having to go it alone, fired narrowly wide. That really would’ve been game-over.

McMenamin celebrates what he thought was an 86th minute winner. It didn’t turn out that way....

But the east Belfast side’s developing resilience was undone in the end by questionable game management. Perhaps the 88th minute introduction of Bigirimana, without an appearance this year, should have been resisted. Clearly designed to shore-up the game, it took McMenamin out, placing added defensive responsibility on McDaid who failed to track Hall, allowing the Portadown defender time and space to cross for Conaty’s unlikely equaliser.

Elation for the struggling Ports two minutes into added time, while for Glentoran, after a mountain climbed, it must have felt like toppling down a ledge or six!

Marshall had taken a knock just prior to Glentoran’s concession and moving uncomfortably, was unable to get close enough to Lavery at the beginning of the move. McDermott’s men looked unbalanced from that point on with McDaid caught between Chatee and Hall, marking neither.

Rocked back on their heels, Glentoran remarkably could have lost it from there. The Portadown goalscorer went through the middle only for McCarey stand up big and win the battle of wits, ultimately saving his side a point after three had looked certain.

Meanwhile at the National Stadium, Linfield predictably bounced back from recent adversity. They had some inept Larne defending to thank for the opportunities which presented goals to Stephen Fallon, an exquisitely executed chip over Devlin, and top-scorer Manzinga who finished a bobbling corner with certainty.

Sandwiched between, Ronan Hale restored parity temporarily, with a close-range finish after a passage of pin-balling in the box.

Big win! David Healy hailed his players’ grit and character after defeating Larne. “We played in a different manner,” claimed the Linfield boss.

Blues boss David Healy hailed his side for “doing what Linfield always do,” in their “response and reaction to [recent] disappointments.”

Tiernan Lynch, “disgusted” not to have taken anything away from the game, looked agitated post-match. “We didn’t deserve to lose that match tonight, but we can’t keep conceding those goals, We just can’t,” decried the Larne supremo.

Line-ups from Shamrock Park -
Portadown: Barr, Hall, Finnegan, McKeown (Warde, 65), Salley, Conaty, Murphy, Smith (Lavery, 46), Doherty, Stedman (Chatee, 76), Mashigo
Bench (not used): Doherty, McCallum, Lavery, Anderson, Cakaj

Glentoran: McCarey, Marshall, Burns (Kane, 37), McClean, Marron, Murray, Clucas, Plum, McMenamin (Bigirimana, 88), J. Donnelly (McCartan, 80), McDaid.
Bench (not used): Glendinning, O’Connor, Cushnie, Jenkins

Referee: Evan Boyce