Play-off ‘only half-time’ as Annagh promotion bid still alive against Portadown

Although facing an off-the-field gulf with Portadown, in terms of Irish League history, Annagh United manager Ciaran McGurgan is confident Tuesday’s first-leg play-off contest confirmed little can divide the clubs on the pitch.

By Patrick Van Dort
Friday, 6th May 2022, 10:33 am

Annagh will make the short journey from the BMG Arena to Shamrock Park tomorrow night aware only a slender one-goal deficit separates the host side battling to beat the drop and McGurgan’s in-form Championship visitors.

The midweek first-leg meeting provided the packed Tandragee Road venue with a thrilling 3-2 tussle as Portadown held the lead, let it slip and turned the tables with a final flourish.

Now both clubs will line out for a final fixture of the season featuring highs and lows aware a place in the Premiership is on offer at the end of 90 minutes.

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George Tipton battling for Portadown on Tuesday up against Annagh United's Stephen Murray during the Premiership promotion/relegation play-off first-leg clash at Tandragee Road. Pic by Pacemaker.

“I was just delighted we competed for the majority of the game,” said McGurgan on Tuesday after watching goals by Lee Upton and Stephen Murray give Annagh hope of a dream upset with a 2-1 lead before the Ports’ fightback. “In the first half we had chances to kick on and we didn’t, then obviously Portadown regrouped at half-time.

“To be fair, they came out second half and got a reaction so we’re 3-2 down now going into Friday but still we’re still well in it.

“I’m a wee bit disappointed but, looking back, probably a draw would’ve been fair.

“It was a game of two halves - I thought we were super in the first half then Portadown came strong and their subs made a big difference.

“But we’re only one goal behind - so if we get one on Friday then it’s game on.

“I was expecting a second-half reaction from Portadown as they probably realised they were in a tough game.

Then the manager’s got them in at half-time and Paul Doolin has probably given them a bit of the hairdryer treatment.

“Our response to conceding early was massive - going 1-0 down could’ve been curtains but we bounced back and from 2-1 we could have scored another few.

“So we’ll stay positive now for what’s a big game on Friday.

“In the 90th minute we were still putting balls into the Portadown box and I’m just delighted with the performance put in and how they gave a really good account of themselves.”

McGurgan will approach the opportunity to end a first season back at second-tier level with promotion to the top table as ‘only half-time’.

“We’ll be going to Shamrock Park with the same approach again as we created the chances but just didn’t get them in the net,” he said. “If we can put in that performance again at Shamrock I don’t think there’ll be much in it.

“It was all about staying in the play-off and keeping it alive for Friday.

“Shamrock will be packed now on Friday as they know now there’s a game still there - tonight was super for anyone watching it.

“The boys are sitting gutted as they know there was a chance of going into Friday with a draw or even a win.

“So we stay positive - it’s only half-time and all to play for I think.

“Even at 0-0 the longer it goes on they will be edgy on Friday.

“The pressure’s still on Portadown and it’s still a free one for us.”