Late drama as George McMullan penalty rescues point for leaders Cliftonville

Cliftonville's Liam Boyce takes on Joe McNeill
Cliftonville's Liam Boyce takes on Joe McNeill

Cliftonville manager Tommy Breslin reflected that his league leaders were a trifle fortunate to salvage a point from this six-goal thriller at Shamrock Park – with the North Belfast men’s equaliser coming on 89 minutes.

The Solitude Reds were forced to rely on a late George McMullan penalty to salvage a dramatic 3-3 draw against the Ports.

“Portadown gave us all sorts of trouble,” he said.

“Their tactics, really, were to play our brand of football and go at the opposition. Strikers Kevin Braniff and Darren Murray in particular caused us real problems.

“Portadown are in a false position in the league table (eighth) and I believe they’ll have a good run-in and finish in the top six.

“We were a bit tame today, a bit laboured, but we came back from 2-0 and then 3-2, which showed real character.”

The late leveller was the result of a moment of madness by Ports substitute Sean Mackle, who felled Ronan Scannell close to the by-line, just a couple of feet inside the box.

Makeshift full-back McMullan cracked home from the penalty spot.

Portadown manager Ronnie McFall didn’t mince his words after watching his side drop two points.

“Scannell was going nowhere and all Sean had to do was stand his ground, instead of scything him down,” McFall fumed.

“There was no argument with the penalty decision, but plenty about the way it came about. Still, we should have had it sewn up long before that.”

There was certainly no argument about the quality of open, attacking football throughout the 90 minutes, although the Mackle folly was one of four faux pas among the half-dozen goals.

There was no mistaking the quality of the first goal, though.

It came on 20 minutes from the classy Kevin Braniff, just returned from injury and back to top form.

Braniff latched onto Murray’s pin-point pass and whipped a great acute effort past Conor Devlin.

The Ports’ second – just after the half-time break from Murray – was the craziest of the lot.

McMullan, in the left-back position attempted a back-pass to his keeper, but instead delivered it to the feet of the lurking striker who rounded Devlin for a real softie.

Then, Ports keeper David Miskelly entered the Yuletide spirit with a couple of gifts, both gratefully accepted.

Firstly, he failed to hold a McMullan free-kick from the right, dropped it at the right foot of Joe Gormey, who drove it home.

And the keeper should have stopped number two when sub Barry Johnston raced through and let rip from about 20 yards – MIskelly was too far off his line, although he managed to get a despairing hand to the ball.

A deft Braniff header seemed to have sealed in for the Ports on 86 minutes when he made space and nodded home a wicked in-swinger of a corner from Ross Redman.

But then Mackle witnessed the red mist and honours were even.

A bitterly disappointed Braniff commented: “We were the better side and should have been two or three up by the break.

“But there were plenty of good points to our game, with several players, including myself, back from injury and getting match fit.

“We’re hoping for a good league run-in. This proves we can live with the best of them.

“We have to build on this and keep picking up points.”