A LATE strike by Gary Pettigrew gave Port Glasgow a point in their opening league match of the new season against Benburb.
In a strange quirk of fate, the same two sides were drawn together just 48 hours earlier in the first round of the Scottish Junior Cup.
That tie is to be played in late September, so it would be wrong to consider Saturday’s match as a kind of dress-rehearsal.
But a repeat of the free-flowing football would again leave the fans of both sides reasonably satisfied.
In a game which swung to and fro, it was the Port who opened the strongest, taking the lead after just two minutes.
Kevin McCann got on the end of a Darren Boyle free-kick into the box, and sent the ball across goal, where Tam Jamieson fired into the net from close range.
Jamieson had the ball in the net again a few minutes later but was offside, and Benburb then came close with a fierce shot from Paul Carr which hit the post.
The Port’s Sean Lawrence suffered a back injury in a tackle and had to be replaced by veteran Roland Fabiani.
The enforced change seemed to upset the Port’s rhythm for a spell, and the visitors equalised on 33 minutes, when a shot from Jamie Boyle was saved by Port stand-in keeper Greg Kelly, but the rebound fell to Ryan Livingston, who slotted home.
But the Port bounced back, and Jamie McKenna almost put them back in front, as he broke free on the left and beat two defenders before curling a shot inches past the post.
Another moment of self-inflicted madness then followed, though, with Dylan McLaughlin shown the red card for comments made to referee Tony Fullerton, leaving his side to compete the whole of the second half a man down.
The Port survived an early scare right after the interval, with Graeme McClement nipping the ball away from the Bens’ Kieran Blackwood, who had looked sure to score.
But against the run of play the Parklea men went 2-1 up on 58 minutes, when the Glasgow club’s experienced keeper Robert Tirropoulous fumbled a corner kick from Ross Kearns, and McCann pounced on the loose ball to score.
At the other end the Port’s stand-in keeper Greg Kelly had been impressive, but he, too, committed a clanger when he allowed a weak shot from Benburb’s Jamie Boyle to slip under his body and into the net.
The 10-men Port side were under real pressure now, as scorer Livingston hit the bar with a long-range effort, and it was no surprise when the Bens went 3-2 up in the 79th minute.
Again, though, it was a bit of a gift, when a slack pass by the Port’s Kevin McKay gave the ball away to Lee Lockhart, who ran on and fired a high shot past Kelly.
There looked to be no way back for Port Glasgow, but they battled on and levelled at 3-3 with just eight minutes left.
A Kearns free-kick into the box was only partially cleared by the Bens defence, and Pettigrew swooped to drive a low shot into the net to give the Port a hard-earned draw.
Manager Craig Brown said: ‘’I was really pleased to get the point, especially after playing the whole of the second half with 10 men.
“The boys showed a lot of character, especially as I feel that Benburb are a really good side and will be up there challenging, so it was important that they never got three points on us today.’’ Meanwhile, the manager was pleased with the contribution of stand-in keeper Kelly, a former professional who is now a police colleague of Port defender Fabiani.
Brown added: ‘’It’s just one of these things, that when a keeper makes a mistake it can lead to a goal, but over the 90 minutes he did well, and it was good of him to come down and help us out with our injury situation.’’ PORT GLASGOW: Kelly, McClement, A. Jamieson (Pettigrew 55), Boyle, McCann, McKay (McAfee 85), Kearns, T. Jamieson, McKenna, McLaughlin, Lawrence (Fabiani 18). Sub not used: Nugent.
l Port Glasgow Juniors are sponsored by Regents Vehicle Sales, Greenock, and MAC HSL Ltd.