PORTADOWN’S reward from this hard-fought Irish Cup win is a quarter-final showdown at Coleraine Showgrounds. But the journey north holds no horrors for manager Ronnie McFall.
“To be honest, an away tie will almost suit us, given the difficulty of playing on the heavy surface at Shamrock Park,” said Big Ron. “We emerged from the Ards game with three hamstring injuries, all down to the heavy pitch – Brian Gartland, Chris Casement and Gary Twigg – and we’ll find it easier to play our natural game at Coleraine.
“In fact, this is a talented squad which will play better on a more suitable pitch, for our surface doesn’t lend itself to the passing game.”
Casement, scorer of the vital goal 13 minutes from time, agreed that the pitch made it difficult against Championship leaders Ards, who were unlucky not to eke a draw out of this one. He said: “It was a free-flowing match given the heavy pitch, but Gary (Twigg) and I managed a nice one-two which set up my goal – my first since joining Portadown this season, and it was great to notch the winner.”
The two keepers – Ards’ Graham McKibben and the Ports’ David Miskelly – both had a major say in keeping the score down, with McKibben making a spectacular save from Kevin Braniff after just 15 seconds, and Miskelly doing likewise from Craig McMillan three minutes later.
The Ards keeper then stopped whipped-in volley from Tim Mouncey and made a belter of a double save from Braniff and Ross Redman towards the end of the first period. But on a better pitch, perhaps the frustrated marksmen could have got a cleaner strike on the ball.
Ards – with a more mobile midfield than Portadown – should have hit the net at least once in the hectic finale. A free-kick from James Cully struck the prostrate Miskelly on the head and bounded off to safety. That was on 89 minutes, and deep into injury time, McMillan drove into the side-netting when he should have set up a replay.
Said manager Niall Currie: “I don’t think we should just have equalised. We should have won this match. We took it to them in the second-half, as is our policy, and they had several narrow escapes.
“Maybe we could have been a bit cooler in front of goals, but I’m bitterly disappointed that Portadown are in the final eight and we’re not. To come to Shamrock Park and at least match Portadown was quite an achievement.”
PORTADOWN: Miskelly, Redman, Ramsey, Murray (Mackle 61m), Braniff, Mouncey (Burns 75m), McNeill, Casement, Gartland (Breen 6m), McCafferty, Twigg. Subs not used – McArdle, Lecky.
ARDS: McKibben, Hall, Spence, Nixon (Browne 82m), Cully, Arthurs, McMillan, Dougan, Pike, McDowell (Doyle 70m), Burrows (Moffatt 67m). Subs not used – McIlhagga, Cockcroft.
REFEREE: Raymond Hetherington (Dungannon).