Irish League fans the true winners as drama returns with Mid-Ulster derby draw
At 1,390, the attendance figure may not merit a place in the Mid-Ulster derby record books but Friday’s dramatic draw will stand as one of the most significant thanks to the welcome return across the turnstiles of Portadown and Glenavon fans.
The key step towards a normal matchday routine for Irish League supporters within coronavirus restrictions saved the major talking points until the final minutes as the Ports took an injury-time lead only for Glenavon to salvage a share of the spoils.
Paul Finnegan sparked wild celebrations in the home end on 91 minutes with a close-range finish to cap a move kicked off by a measured sweeping pass out to the right wing from his centre-back partner Adam McCallum which Ruairi Croskery sent into the danger area.
The away supporters made a short journey back to Lurgan with Michael O’Connor’s superb curling free-kick in reply dominating conversation as the former Northern Ireland international stepped up and left it level thanks to set-piece success.
Gary Hamilton, the current Glenavon boss and former Portadown player, was happy to highlight the role played from the stands.
“It’s great to see both sets of fans back, it’s so important for people’s mental health and brilliant to be able to enjoy a game of football and an entertaining match, a proper derby,” said Hamilton. “The way it ended was a perfect finish for everybody.
“Glenavon fans celebrated like a winner under the circumstances and it was the same for the Portadown supporters when they took the lead and didn’t think we were coming back.
“We had some great games last year without fans but certainly the atmosphere helps when you can celebrate in front of supporters.”
The derby date’s honours even outcome left Hamilton frustrated at failure to gain any rewards for previous play but satisfied at a point from 1-0 down in the closing moments.
“It was frustrating as I thought we were the better team over the 90 minutes and created the most chances,” he said “We dominated the ball for the majority of the game and most of the match was played in their half.
“They put their bodies on the line in front of everything and there was some bad finishing on our behalf...maybe rustiness at the start of the season.
“I said to the players at half-time if we don’t start putting our chances in the back of the net we could pay for it.
“Unfortunately for us, we started to pay for it with only three or four minutes to go in injury-time.
“Thankfully, once again, the boys showed great character to come back and what a free-kick it was from Michael.
“He was different class, he just has that little bit extra, on another level at times from the other players.
“Michael and Matthew Snoddy ran the midfield and were exceptional as two against a three.
“But Danny Purkis has had two good chances in the first half and Matthew Fitzpatrick scored a wonder goal (ruled out for offside) I’d love to see back, Snoddy’s had a chance, Danny Wallace has had a chance, then Andy Waterworth one flashed past the post and Josh Doyle almost got in at the back stick.
“So we had a lot of ball but football shows you can get stung, which we did but, thankfully, there was great desire and hunger to get back and Michael’s great free-kick has got us a point which should have been three points so two dropped but, at that stage, you’ll take the point.
“In derby games you are not going to go through 90 minutes without conceding a chance but we looked solid.
“They were defending with their lives but that’s the other side of the game as well, which they did very well.
“The goalkeeper made some good saves and it summed it up at the end when he’s on the ground and the ball just lands in his hands.
“But at least we are going away with a point and am just glad as there’s no way we deserved to come away with nothing.”
PORTADOWN: Doherty, Hall, Ruddy, McCallum, Finnegan, Tipton, Bonis, Jackson (Salley, 88), Croskery, Teggart, McLeod
Subs (not used): Brown, McKeown, Conaty, Glenfield, Murphy, Creighton
GLENAVON: Brown, Haughey, O’Connor, Purkis (Waterworth, 61), Campbell, Beggs (Doyle, 71), Snoddy, Fitzpatrick, Wallace, Singleton, Ward.
Subs (not used): Hall, Harmon, O’Mahony, Doyle, Garrett
Referee: Ian McNabb
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