IRISH LEAGUE: Ballyclare protect league lead with home win over Portadown

Ballyclare Comrades manager Clifford Adams.
Ballyclare Comrades manager Clifford Adams.

Gary Brown’s second-half strike helped Ballyclare Comrades bank three points at the expense of struggling Portadown and cement a slot at the head of the Bluefin Sport Championship standings.

Brown took advantage of a defensive slip to steer in Comrades’ second goal of the afternoon on 48 minutes.

Portadown manager Niall Currie.

Portadown manager Niall Currie.

It proved the final goal but arrived within minutes of Portadown having equalised during a frantic start to the second half at Dixon Park.

Adam Salley raced clear of the Comrades offside trap within seconds of the restart after the interval and produced a composed finish to make it 1-1.

Comrades had held the upper hand entering half-time courtesy of a clever inswinging free-kick by Sammy McIlveen from wide on the left which deceived Portadown goalkeeper Chris McGaughey after a well-timed jump by another home player allowed the low curling shot to find a path into the corner of the net.

It proved a deserved lead for Comrades that came following bright early play off the back of the previous fixture’s 4-1 defeat to Newry City AFC.

Adam Gray had an early shot which lacked power before two headers in quick succession by Jason Johnston confirmed his aerial threat.

McGaughey managed to stop McIlveen’s long-range drive then Adam McCart cleared the crossbar from an unmarked position in the penalty area.

The goal on 26 minutes capped that positive start before Portadown, playing a 3-5-2 formation, regrouped.

Teenager Alberto Balde released Mark Carson and the wing-back’s cross was met by Darren Henderson but without the power to trouble Comrades goalkeeper Paddy Flood.

Ross Larkin then managed to connect to Kyle Neill’s free-kick but Flood proved on hand to save.

The second half sparked into life with those early goals for Salley and Brown before play settled into a period of few talking points.

The closing stages, however, featured sustained Portadown pressure in search of a second equaliser.

Adam McCallum could only flick over the target a cross by substitute Andy Kilmartin then Flood was called into action twice in quick succession.

The Comrades shot-stopper failed to gather Salley’s initial shot but recovered to smother as Neill slid goalwards.

Neill then raced in soon after as Flood got his hand to Carson’s drive but the effort proved too high.

Portadown came close to conceding a third on the counter-attack but McGaughey pulled off a smart stop to deny Thomas Robinson.

However, the final whistle signalled a well-earned win for high-flying Comrades and consigned Portadown - who entered the season as title favourites - with a seventh defeat of the league campaign.

BALLYCLARE COMRADES: Flood, Youle, McCart, McQuitty (Woods, 79), Dobbin, Gray (Parker, 81), Robinson, Brown, McIlveen, Nixon (Barr 86), Johnston.

Subs (not used): O’Hanlon, Rodgers.

PORTADOWN: McGaughey, Carson, Neill, Larkin, McCallum, N.Henderson (Kilmartin, 70), Brennan, Wilson, D.Henderson, Salley, Balde (S.Lavery, 70).

Subs (not used): Duffin, Ferris, Holmes.