By R F Mitchell
North Down travelled to Portadown on 9 March knowing that a victory was a must if they were to secure a play off promotion spot. The squad was strengthened by the return of Paul Adgey and Andrew McKibbin from injury but the late withdrawal of Richard Willis was a disappointment for coach Peter Whyte.
The first 20 minutes saw play confined to midfield with both sides not prepared to take risks as they strived to impose their authority on the game. North Down then committed two terrible defensive mistakes which presented Portadown with two goals in less than a minute. Portadown now played with confidence and the defence had to be on its toes to keep the eager forwards out and eventually Portadown did get a third with 7 minutes remaining in the half. For most sides this would have resulted in Portadown running out easy winners but North Down, encouraged by skipper Steven McGimpsey had other ideas. McGimpsey showed the way when he reduced the deficit with a strong reverse shot from the edge of the circle on the stroke of half time.
The second half was dominated by North Down and Rowan Poots gave them some hope when he hammered home a short corner. Shortly afterwards, quick interpassing saw Simon Watt receive the ball in space on the left side of the circle and he first timed the ball into the net for the goal of the game. North Down now had their tails up and pushed for the winner. With 7 minutes remaining they were awarded a corner which David Shepherd blasted home to the delight of his team mates. Portadown lost their discipline at this stage and had a player yellow carded for dissent. The extra man allowed North Down to press on and with 2 minutes remaining Gareth Bailie was pushed in front of goal and a penalty was awarded. The normally reliable Keith Conway stepped up to the spot but saw his effort saved by the keeper.
Too much back chat resulted in another Portadown player receiving a yellow card leaving the home team with nine players on the pitch. North Down attempted to play out time but Conway, after winning a free, gave the ball away and Portadown went on the attack. Following a clash between players in the middle of the park both umpires saw the incident differently. After a lengthy consultation, a free was awarded to Portadown and even though Peter McKibbin appeared to be pushed to the ground, the ball was smashed into the circle and with the last hit of the game the centre forward deflected the ball into the roof of the net to leave the final score 4-4.
After a superb comeback, North Down left the pitch shattered with their promotion dreams in tatters.