Peter McMahon’s touch of class helped Portadown edge past 10-man Ballymena United at Shamrock Park with a 3-2 success.
McMahon flashed a first-time shot beyond Dwayne Nelson with the outside of his right boot from outside the area after a clever Mark McAllister flick off Gary Twigg’s searching pass.
A positive start by Portadown served up a reward on eight minutes when Ross Redman’s corner-kick delivery towards the near post was met by Ken Oman’s commanding header.
However, the visitors produced a rapid response to level on 10 minutes following good work between Gary Thompson and David Cushley before Neal Gawley worked space to steer in a low left-foot shot.
Within seconds the afternoon’s third goal was added to the scoreboard as Portadown placed Ballymena under immediate pressure. Gareth Rodger was robbed tight on the line, with McAllister’s low cross converted at the second attempt by Sean Mackle.
David Miskelly and Michael Gault combined to protect the lead as a Cushley drive bounced off the Ports goalkeeper before his team-mate hacked away the rebound.
Miskelly and Oman then cleared the threat after Matthew Tipton’s pass was fired goalwards by William Faulkner.
Ballymena’s Tony Kane picked up two bookings inside three minutes - the second a forceful aerial challenge that left Gault prone on the ground and in need of treatment - to increase the visitors’ problems.
Ten-man Ballymena finished the first half with an injury-time equaliser confirmed by the referee’s assistant.
Miskelly saved a Tipton shot and the loose ball dropped for Cushley, with Portadown surrounding the Ballymena playmaker in the box. Cushley managed to poke the ball out of the pack and Tipton eventually directed home a shot from on the ground that crossed the crowded line.
The second half sparked into life when Chris Casement tested Nelson with a long-range free-kick then Robert Garrett raced across at the other end to block Cushley’s shot after neat footwork by Thompson.
Portadown introduced Darren Murray off the substitutes’ bench for the closing stages, with three strikers in the home line-up against the determined visitors. Murray was involved in the action within minutes but his looping header cleared the crossbar.
However, McMahon had the final say to seal victory for the hosts.
PORTADOWN: David Miskelly, Chris Casement, Ross Redman, Keith O’Hara, Peter McMahon, Sean Mackle, Ken Oman, Mark McAllister, Robert Garrett, Gary Twigg, Michael Gault. Subs: Billy Brennan, Darren Murray (on for Mackle, 75), Garry Breen, Marcio Soares, Tim Mouncey.
BALLYMENA UNITED: Dwayne Nelson, Anthony Kane, Gareth Rodger, Johnny Taylor, Jim Ervin, Neal Gawley, Gary Thompson, Allan Jenkins, William Faulkner, David Cushley, Matthew Tipton. Subs: Stephen McBride (on for Gawley, 39), Mark Magennis, Darren Henderson (on for Faulkner, 86), Matthew Ferguson, Kyle McVey (on for McBride, 53).
Referee: Raymond Hetherington.