North Down opened their league programme with a difficult fixture away to Portadown and were unsettled by losing Keith Conway and Melvyn Nicholls just prior to the start of the game.
North Down were slow out of the blocks and Portadown piled on the pressure straight from the off. They forced North Down to give the ball away and a corner won in the second minute was well dispatched by the right back low to Gareth McBride’s right. North Down were unable to get out of their own half and it was no surprise when Portadown increased their lead in the 12th minute. Stephen Dalzell was unlucky to be penalised and a corner was awarded to Portadown. The initial shot was saved but the ball spun onto Mark Linter’s foot and a penalty stroke was awarded. Although the flick was not the most powerful, McBride had committed himself and the ball entered the net.
North Down eventually got into the game and for the remainder of the half won the midfield battle and moved the ball about with confidence. With 10 minutes remaining Dalzell crashed the ball into the circle from the left and Gareth Bailie got in front of his marker for the important deflection past Knipe to make it 2-1 for the hosts at half time.
North Down got the perfect start to the second period. They won a corner in the first minute and Rowan Poots flicked high to the keeper’s left to bring the teams level. North Down continued to look dangerous and 7 minutes later took the lead. Tom Donnan won the ball outside the 25 and weaved his way past several defenders before unleashing an unstoppable reverse shot into the roof of the net for a marvellous goal which must be contender for goal of the season.
North Down were well in control although McBride had to be on his toes to keep a series of corners out. However, the game changed with 10 minutes remaining. Firstly Adam Tate was green carded for a stick tackle and then following a moment of madness by the Portadown keeper tempers flared. North Down coach Aaron Mills received a red card and skipper Phil Wilson also had to leave the field. Reduced to nine men, North Down lost all shape and tried to hold out with all players behind the ball but, with added time being played, Portadown won another corner and scored the equaliser. At this stage Portadown were throwing everything forward as they tried to secure a win. The centre forward had a great chance to get the winner when he rounded McBride but from the top of the circle blasted over the bar with the goal at his mercy.
The final whistle finally sounded after 8 minutes added time. A share of the points was a fair reflection on the game and both teams can move forward with confidence for the remainder of the league programme.