Portadown held all the aces in this hard-fought victory – but they played their card about as convincingly as a beginner in a poker school.
Ballymena had goalkeeper Stuart Addis sent off – rather unfairly – after 20 minutes when he conceded a penalty, which Darren Murray converted from the spot.
The visitors had to throw midfielder Mark Surgeoner between the posts as a result, with the Sky Blues having to play for 70 minutes with 10 men.
Manager Glenn Ferguson wasn’t happy.
“I’m not complaining about the penalty decision,” he said.
“Referee Keith Kennedy got that one right. But Addis made a genuine attempt to play the ball when he brought Murray down – and there were two men covering behind the keeper.
“A yellow card would have been appropriate.
“We had a similar decision go against us recently when we played Ards. The ref got that one right when he let their keeper stay on the field, and all I ask is for consistency.”
Instead of Portadown turning the screw after the Addis sending-off, it was the Showgrounds side that dominated the game.
Even the most fervent Ports fans admitted that United deserved at least a draw against a strangely subdued home outfit.
Manager Ronnie McFall almost said as much when he commented: “We’ve played better and lost this season.
“But three points are the name of the game and that’s all that matters. We took three points from Monday night’s televised game at The Oval, so six points from two games within five days – and not a goal conceded – is good work for any team.”
It was a classic case of the better side losing, although you have to hand it to Portadown’s steely defence for refusing to buckle.
Keeper David Miskelly, Chris Ramsey and Chris Casement were the kingpins, but the back line remained just as steady when Garry Breen was injured and replaced at the heart of things by Keith O’Hara.
And they had loads to do, with man of the match David Cushley involved in just about every United move.
Even before the penalty crisis, he made Miskelly work for his corn with a great save at the near post, and Surgeoner showed his shooting talent with an overhead lick that hit the post and was scrambled away.
But when Surgeoner went into goals, the penalty – plus a late stop from Sean Mackle – were the only times he was called to action, with the Ballymena defence, in which Aaron Stewart and David Munster shone, protecting the stand-in keeper brilliantly.
Late United efforts by Allan Jenkins, Cushley, Neil Lowry and Shane Dolan were repelled by the Ports, whose backs were really to the wall in the final onslaught.
Ferguson added: “I’m very proud of the way they all played under the circumstances. We really deserved at least a point from that game.”