Portadown fans are praying that Crusaders can go on to lift the Irish Cup and throw a European lifeline to their Shamrock Park heroes – after a throw-in faux pas helped set the Crues on the path to victory and an almost certain £100,000 windfall.
Saturday’s 3-1 win means the Seaview side are set to capture third spot in the league at Portadown’s expense and head off to Europe next season.
But if they take the Irish Cup – and book that route to the Continent – it could leave a vacancy for the Ports, should they finish fourth in the table.
Portadown led 1-0 as the first half entered added time and linesman Richard Storey flagged for a Ports throw-in.
But whistler Tim Marshall overruled his assistant – wrongly as shown on TV repeats.
It led to ex-Ports striker Gary McCutcheon planting the ball in the back of the net to cancel out Darren Murray’s opener.
Further goals from Jordan Owens and Paul Heatley completed the victory for Crusaders.
Portadown boss Ronnie McFall fumed: “It was obvious that the ball came off the head of a Crusaders player. But the referee – who in my view had a diabolical game – overruled him, and they scored a goal at a crucial time of the game.
“We were the better side over the first half, but that obvious mistake got Crusaders tails up, and we paid the price. It’s hard to take with so much at stake, with Europe being well within our grasp. But we’ll just have to move on.”
McFall didn’t get much sympathy from Crues manager Stephen Baxter.
“The move after the throw-in started at the far end of the pitch, and they had every opportunity to deal with it,” he countered.
“These decisions happen in every game and you have to accept them and move on. You can’t blame a throw-in so far away from your danger area for conceding a goal. It was bad defending from them.”