Aaron Duke is hoping to turn 30 memorable minutes into a long-term spot in the starting line-up thanks to his match-defining introduction off the weekend substitutes’ bench.
The Ports striker has found minutes limited across the current Bluefin Sport Championship campaign but enjoyed an immediate impact on Saturday by stepping off the sidelines and playing a part in both goals during the home fightback over Loughgall.
Peter Campbell’s brave stooping header on 60 minutes to convert a Dale Malone cross handed Loughgall hope of derby delight.
However, moments later Duke joined the game and injected an overdue spark into what had been a previous hour lacking life.
Duke showed both speed of thought and strength to steer his header home from the edge of the box beyond the back-tracking Jordan Lyttle and into the empty net after goalkeeper Gareth Buchanan raced out but was unable to clear under pressure from Lee Bonis.
A sliding challenge on Duke then offered the opportunity for Liam McKenna to test Buchanan with an ambitious free-kick that the Loughgall goalkeeper could only parry on to the crossbar - with Duke on hand to smash the loose ball back across the face of goal for Conal McGrandles to divert home and seal home success.
“The boss has been talking to me and I know if the team is winning it’s hard to get back into the side, so it’s about biding your time,” said Duke in the tunnel holding his ‘Man-of-the-Match’ reward. “Hopefully today was my chance to get back in.
“We all know we have to wait for a chance and then grab it so it’s good to get the minutes and win.
“I got a hug too, if the manager’s happy, I’m happy.
“For the first goal I saw the goalkeeper come out and anticipated it. Thankfully, it just got over the defender in time.
“I had to use every neck muscle to make it and it seemed the longest time ever that the ball was in the air.
“Then, Liam’s free-kick came off the crossbar, I put it back in the danger zone and Conal was there to score.”
Victory increased the Ports’ unbeaten run to six successive Championship appearances in pursuit of promotion.
“It may not have been our greatest performance but we will take the three points,” said Duke. “The boys dug in from 1-0 down to get the win, so it was a massive result as Loughgall have been doing well this season.
“It’s a derby and they always give us a hard game. They have good players and are coached really well by Dean Smith and Andy Smith.
“We’ve just got to do our job, which is to win and get promoted - I’m here at Portadown to win trophies.
“It wasn’t nice but you’ve got to get those ugly wins.”
PORTADOWN: Edwards, Crane, Finnegan, McKenna, Salley (Carmichael, 70), McGrandles, Tipton (Lavery, 60), Wilson, McNally, Ferris (Duke, 60), Bonis.
Subs (not used): Glackin, McCullough
LOUGHGALL: Buchanan, Kerr, Scott, Brennan, Lyttle, Ferguson, Malone (Hoey, 76), McCullough (Dallas, 67), Ferris, Gibson (Douglas, 85), Campbell.
Subs: Smith, Rea
Referee: Declan Hassan