CRUSADERS 1 PORTADOWN 2
Darren Murray’s double floored champions Crusaders at Seaview – but the striker then saw red to blot his copybook.
The controversial Portadown ace – who is being linked with a move away from Shamrock Park – scored a penalty and a great solo effort, but managed to get himself sent off late on.
Feisty, quick and aggressive, both sides stayed on the attack to make this a season opener worth watching.
Portadown hit pace early on, Gary Twigg circling David Magowan to shoot, but Sean O’Neill saved.
Nine minutes in, Josh Robinson was booked when he scythed down Twigg inside the area, before Murray slotted home from the spot a minute later, sending O’Neill the wrong way.
Newcomer Andy Mitchell’s curling corner was punched away by David Miskelly, before Paul Heatley struck on 15 minutes with what could be a contender for goal of the season.
Rifled from 22 yards after snatching from Robert Garrett, and knocked it in off the near post as Miskelly quickly leapt toward it, Heatley’s speed caught everyone off-guard.
Jordan Owens was flagged offside when he raced to drive a header in behind Miskelly, before Craig McClean’s free kick was just over the bar.
Murray pulled Portadown back into the lead in style, dispossessing BJ Burns, dancing around Robinson and making space to put it round O’Neill. But before play even restarted, he managed to pick up a yellow for dissent.
Sean Mackle unleashed a shot from 30 yards but O’Neill saved and inside injury time, Matt Snoddy turned neatly to shoot, but was denied by Miskelly.
Keith O’Hara pulled off a goal-line clearance six minutes after the break, when Whyte squared it to Heats, before Crusaders came close to levelling.
Clarke’s free-kick took a deflection before falling to Jordan Forsythe, who half-volleyed toward the net’s roof, but Miskelly’s fantastic stop intervened.
Then Chris Casement’s long throw met sub Peter McMahon, who volleyed from eight yards, but saw his effort saved.
Murray was then dismissed for a second booking, after needlessly kicking out at Robinson with seven minutes to go.
Miskelly kept Portadown’s stock with a wonder-save on 90 minutes, somehow pushing McClean’s strike around the post.
CRUSADERS: O’Neill, Burns, Magowan (Clarke, 46), Robinson, McClean, Mitchell, Snoddy (O’Carroll, 68), Forsythe, Whyte, Heatley. Owens.
Subs not used: McKibben, Stewart, O’Carroll, Vauls.
PORTADOWN: Miskelly, Casement, Redman, O’Hara, Ramsey, Mackle, Murray, Oman (Breen, 65), Twigg (Stewart, 75), Garrett, Richardson (McMahon, 54).
Subs not used: Brennan, Soares.
Referee: Arnold Hunter (Maguiresbridge)