Darren Murray returned from his trial at Inverness Caledonian Thistle to provide everyone a reminder of his value with a goal and central role in Portadown’s 2-1 success at Ballinamallard United.
The match took time to spark into life, with a free-kick by former Loughgall player Aaron Patterson the only early talking point.
Portadown were forced into a defensive reshuffle after five minutes when captain Keith O’Hara required treatment on the sidelines - for what appeared initially a neck injury - before walking back to the dressing room, with Garry Breen his replacement.
The Ports started with Mark McAllister and Murray leading the frontline as Gary Twigg lined out on the right wing.
The front pairing linked up to break the deadlock on 26 minutes when McAllister’s clever pass cut open the Ballinamallard backline and Murray drilled an angled shot beyond Alvin Rouse.
Murray’s growing influence then featured a spectacular half-volley off Twigg’s clipped ball over the top that forced Rouse into an acrobatic save.
From the resultant corner-kick, Ross Redman’s curling delivery to the back post was headed home by Ken Oman off the underside of the crossbar.
Ballinamallard produced some neat passages of play but found Oman and Breen commanding in the air. However, a teasing delivery from the left wing by Jason McCartney between Billy Brennan and his defence was then forced over the line by Liam Martin at a stretch to cut the deficit.
Brennan had to be alert to tip over a free-kick by Michael McCrudden late in the half.
Portadown produced a flowing move after the break as Tim Mouncey won back possession then picked out McAllister with his back to goal. The striker displayed strength to hold off defenders under pressure and feed Redman along the left but the full-back’s cutback to the supporting Sean Mackle ended with a defensive block.
Chris Casement then tested Rouse with a dipping free-kick hit at pace but the Ballinamallard goalkeeper dropped behind it to make the save.
Ballinamallard carved out the best chance of the second half on 65 minutes but McCartney’s back-post shot dropped wide of the far post.
PORTADOWN: Billy Brennan, Chris Casement, Ross Redman, Keith O’Hara, Sean Mackle, Darren Murray, Mark McAllister, Tim Mouncey, Ken Oman, Michael Gault, Gary Twigg. Subs: Garry Breen (on for O’Hara, 5 mins), Jake Richardson, Christian Stewart (on for McAllister, 74 mins), Marcio Soares, Chris Ramsey (on for Mouncey, 90 mins).
BALLINAMALLARD UNITED: Alvin Rouse, Liam McMenamin, Collum McLaughlin, Leon Carters, Emmet Friars, Shane McCabe, Liam Martin, James McKenna, Aaron Patterson, Jason McCartney, Ryan Campbell. Subs: Steve Feeney (on for McKenna, 83 mins), Michael McCrudden (on for Patterson, 33 mins), Adam Leckey, Chris Crilly, Johnny Lafferty (on for Campbell, 73 mins).
Referee: Mervyn Smyth.