McFall taking it one game at a time as Portadown target Europe

Cliftonville's Marc Smyth with Portadown's Gary Twigg
Cliftonville's Marc Smyth with Portadown's Gary Twigg

Ronnie McFall admits taking things one game at a time will be crucial to Portadown’s European aspirations.

The Ports ended Cliftonville’s 16-match unbeaten run in the Premiership by claiming their second Solitude victory of the season thanks to Gary Twigg’s 67th-minute goal.

One week on from having their hopes of silverware ended by Irish Cup elimination at the hands of Glentoran, McFall’s side boosted their continental chances with a second 1-0 win in a row – much to their manager’s delight.

“Clean sheets are great for everybody and really lift confidence among your goalkeeper and defenders,” he explained.

“They give you something to build from and, when you have somebody like Gary Twigg in your team, you’ve always got a chance of capitalising on that and putting the ball in the net at the other end.”

The victory lifts Portadown above the Glens on goal difference but still four points adrift of the Euro place that McFall’s injury-ravaged panel are targeting.

“We have a small squad and, when injuries or suspensions hit us, we struggle for numbers,” he added.

“When Joshua Barton cried off in the warm-up, we had to go with four subs on the bench - including Peter McMahon and Tim Mouncey, who aren’t fully fit.

“Keith O’Hara started and he’s not fully fit either after being out for a long time and the same goes for Sean Mackle and Emmet Friars.

“We’re having to play people that aren’t ready and, when you do that, you always risk aggravating things and making them worse but sometimes we’ve no other option.

“Our aim is to qualify for Europe but we can’t afford to look too far down the line, it’s just one game at a time.

“We play Dungannon Swifts next and they’re always up for it against us because it’s a huge derby game for them and, after that, we’ll focus on the next match and that’s the way it has to be for us.”

Opposite number Tommy Breslin was perplexed by Cliftonville’s performance as the gap between themselves and table-toppers Linfield was extended to four points - and almost certainly seven when they tackle basement side Ards this Friday night.

“The players worked so hard and did fantastically well to get themselves into such a good position, so it’s disappointing to have undone some of that by playing as poorly as we did here,” he said.

“I felt our performance [against Ards] on Tuesday night was probably our best of the season and I had been looking us to continue that and carry it into this match but we just didn’t get going. Our passes fell short, our sharpness was off and we didn’t strike up a rhythm. I told the players that we just weren’t good enough all over the park - we didn’t pass it out of defence well enough, our midfield was hesitant at times and our hold-up in the final third wasn’t good enough.”

Despite Cliftonville’s below-par display, they still carved out more than enough opportunities to pocket all three points only to come up against an inspired David Miskelly between the Portadown posts.

After using his legs to deny Liam Boyce on seven minutes, the former Oldham shot-stopper used those same limbs to repel a fierce Joe Gormley effort on 55 minutes and blocked another powerful blast from the striker on 79 before showing cat-like reflexes to claw out Diarmuid O’Carroll’s injury-time header.

The visitors were not without chances of their own, however, and saw Neil McCafferty clip the top of the bar with a long-range drive before Chris Casement’s well-executed free-kick was tipped round the post by Conor Devlin.

Twigg showed the rest how it should be done midway through the second-half when he was on hand to tap the ball over the line from close range after Darren Murray had fizzed a teasing delivery across the face of goal – and, thanks to Miskelly, that would ultimately prove enough to send the Ports home victorious.