FOR the second week in a row it took until the 60 minute mark before Coleraine got fully in their stride as they took on Portadown.
The visitors had the better of the first half and probably should have been a couple of goals ahead by the break. As it stood though they had only Gary Twigg’s 44th minute opener to show for their efforts.
Come the hour mark though the Bannsiders finally found their rhythm and they drew level thanks to a great individual effort by Stephen Lowry.
Kevin Braniff edged the Ports back in front eight minutes later with a superb free kick. Coleraine weren’t about to lie down though and showed the same character as they had seven days earlier at The Oval as Gary Browne teed up Gareth Tommons for the equaliser.
The hosts pushed hard in the closing stages to try and grab the winner, but in the end they had to make do with a share of the spoils.
Oran Kearney praised his side for the character they showed to bounce back twice but he knows they can’t afford to give teams a goal start every week.
“I said to the players at half time that whether it’s our own fault or not the game should have been 2-0 dead and buried against us so whatever shackles they felt they had on them I told them to take them off and go and have a real pop,” Kearney told Times Sport after the game.
“We decided to have a bit of a gamble today and go 4-4-2 and risk it being a little bit more open and it was.
“Portadown started really well and you expect that from them as their strongest eleven is packed full of quality. Their front three of Braniff, Murray and Twigg are different class.
“Being honest we should have been out of it by half time.
“The first goal sort of threw us a wee bit. It probably wasn’t good for the players to see me so frustrated by their goal because they got incensed and everybody got a bit of headloss for a couple of minutes.
“Thankfully Wayne pulled off another great save to folow up the earlier one which he tipped on to the bar and kept us in the game.
“When you go behind in any game you’re always happy coming out of it with something to show for it.
“But just like last week as they game went on we got stronger and we probably did enough to win it in those closing stages.
“Unfortunately we just couldn’t find the winner which is disappointing, but in the same stretch we’ve had a tough start away to the Glens and home to Portadown so to come though those two game unbeaten is pleasing for me.
“It’s nice to see the side has a bit of character to fight back twice from a goal down. But it’s not the sort of habit you want to be forming week in, week out, but there is a wee bit more mental strength there which we have built up over the last couple of years.
“The game lasts 90 minutes and we keep preaching you have got to play the 90 minutes, so going 1-0 down isn’t the end of the world, you have to react to it and thankfully today we did.”
Kearney was annoyed that Portadown’s opneing goal was allowed to stand after Gary Twigg’s foot was raised head high as Howard Beverland challenge.
“I’ve no objection to the fact that there was no contact made, but in the modern day game and even in the Irish League that’s a free kick and everyone knows that’s a free kick,” he said.
“That was my frustration. I’ve no issues with referees missing tight calls like last week’s offside. But for me decisions like that when you have a linesman right beside it and a referee so close to it the linesman should be flagging and the ref should be blowing it up
“They say decisions even themselves out over the course of the season but we’ve had the offside goal last week which took two points off us and now this.
“The first goal in every game is crucial and to go behind to a goal like that and have to work so hard to get back in to the game is frustrating.”
The Bannsiders boss was delighted to see midfielders gareth Tommons and Stephen Lowry chip in with the goals. He admitted that it was important for the goals to be shared around the team this season.
“We have spoken about sharing the goals round the team and we know it has to improve,” he said.
“Gary was unlucky with his shot, but he showed great awareness to square it to Gareth when he could have easily shot again.
“We had a wee pop at Stevie at half time as shot when he should have pass before half time, but thankfully he made the right decision for the goal.”
Despite only having to points on the board Kearney is pleased with how the team is shaping up ahead of this Friday night’s away game at Glenavon.
“Every game in this league is difficult,” he said. “You look at the fixture list and there’s no respite and that’s one of the reason why I want to manage at this level and I said to the players that’s why they should be fighting to play at this level too.
“It’s a quality league full of quality teams you just step from one big game into the next.
“There’s lots of positives for us to build on. The fitness levels are looking really good, we’ve finished really strong in the last two games which is very pleasing.
“We are more than happy with where we are at at this point in time. I think we just need to go ahead now in a game to make it a wee bit easier going in to the final 30 minutes.
“It has been a tough start for us. Portadown have serious attacking quality, it’s frightening when you think about it. It’s certainly a tough day at the office when you come up against players like that.
“Their Their front three of Braniff, Murray and Twigg are different class.
“Kevin always seems to pick his goals against us. The free kick had some serious bend on it. He is absolute quality and any other day I’d be standing applauding it.”