A stunning free-kick from Curtis Allen snatched a late victory for Glentoran who had to come from a goal down to beat Portadown at The Oval.
Portadown took the lead through a first minute Marcio Soares goal but Allen put the game on level terms before dispatching his winning set-piece beyond the reach of the impressive David Miskelly.
The victory ensured that Alan Kernaghan’s men secured a top-six finish as they are nine points ahead of seventh place Dungannon with only a couple of fixtures remaining before the split.
On a bright but bitterly cold afternoon in East Belfast, fans inside the stadium were left bewildered when neither side emerged from the tunnel to start the game at 3pm. After a few minutes, an announcement was made over the tannoy loudspeaker that the kick-off had been delayed due to the Portadown team not having the correct kit. The hold-up did the Glens no favours and they found themselves picking the ball out of the net almost straight after kick-off.
Portadown forward Mike Withers latched onto Barry Holland’s misdirected header and charged to the by-line before whipping a dangerous ball across the face of goal. The ball found its way into a crowd of players in the six yard area and it was bundled over the line by Ports striker Mario Soares.
The Shamrock Park outfit almost doubled their advantage in the 17th minute when Sean Mackle played the ball into the path of Mark McAllister. The Portadown attacker hit a wicked shot at goal which had Elliott Morris at full stretch and the Glentoran stopper was relieved to see the ball hit the side netting.
Pat McGibbon’s men were in the ascendancy and it took some good goalkeeping from Morris to stop them doubling their advantage in the 28th minute. Ports midfielder Mackle evaded a challenge and burst into area before dispatching a low hard drive at goal which was turned around the post by Elliot Morris with a smart one-handed save.
The Glens finally fashioned a chance in the 30th minute but it never bore any fruit. The lively Curtis Allen turned his marker on the edge of the box but first time shot trickled well wide of the left hand post. The Glentoran faithful were becoming restless and their disapproval seemed to spark some life into their side.
Just when it looked as though the Glens would be going into the half-time interval trailing the game, Curtis Allen volleyed home an equaliser in stoppage time. Jay Magee lofted the ball into the Portadown area where it was flicked on by McCaffrey and Curtis Allen was on hand to smash the ball home from 10-yards out. The Oval erupted as Alan Kernaghan redrafted his half-time team talk.
The Glens almost inflicted a copycat goal upon Portadown straight from the kick-off at the start of the second half. Fra McCaffery broke down the right-hand side and shot across goal was well saved by David Miskelly before the ball was scrambled out of play for a throw.
The Portadown keeper became a central figure in the game when he twice denied the Glens in successive minutes. Johnny Addis tried his luck with a powerful drive from distance which Miskelly did well to smother in the 51st minute. The Portadown stopper was called into action barely sixty seconds later when he denied Jay Magee who hit a similar effort.
Probably the best save of the lot though came in the 58th minute when the agile Ports keeper brilliantly saved McCaffrey’s header. Glens full-back Barry Holland whipped a delightful ball into the box which McCaffrey steered towards the top right-hand corner with a glancing header but Miskelly tipped the ball around the post impressively with his finger tips.
Alan Kernaghan’s side spurned a glorious opportunity to take the lead in the 72nd minute when David Scullion put the ball into orbit from six yard out. Glens substitute Stephen McCullough made a great run from full-back before playing a delightful one-two with Curtis Allen and putting the ball on a plate for Scullion who uncharacteristically skied the ball when it looked easier to score.
After a hand ball on the edge of the area, Portadown midfielder Sean Mackle received his marching orders for double-booking in the 85th minute. The player was dismissed by referee Lee Tavinder after needlessly kicking the ball away then using foul language toward the official after an initial booking.
Just when it looked as though the Glens had wasted their chance to win the game, the prolific Curtis Allen gave his side the lead from the resulting free-kick. The Cock n’ Hens number 9 set the ball down then dispatched a glorious free-kick into the top left-hand corner of the goal from all of twenty-five yards.
The result secured a top-six finish for the East Belfast outfit while Portadown were left languishing in ninth position after their eighteenth defeat of the season.
Photographs by Thomas Sewell
Glentoran: Morris, Holland, Kane (capt), Addis, Magee, Caldwell, Rice, Scullion, Lavery, Allen & McCaffrey.
Subs: McCullough for Kane, Morrow for Rice and Patton for Lavery. Unused: Hogg & Gibson.