Cliftonville boss Tommy Breslin accepts champions cannot afford to lose to Portadown

Cliftonville's Martin Murray celebrates as he scores the equaliser against Linfield
Cliftonville's Martin Murray celebrates as he scores the equaliser against Linfield

Cliftonville manager Tommy Breslin concedes his team’s Premiership clash against Portadown at Shamrock Park tomorrow is a ‘must win’ game!

The Reds’ title defence is literally hanging by a thread following their midweek draw with Linfield.

They trail table topping Crusaders by a whopping 11 points with only 10 games of a fascinating contest remaining.

“We need a win at Portadown,” said Breslin.

“The title may be a long way off, so we have to set our sights on a European place.

“Portadown are four points ahead of us, so it’s important to claw some of those points back. It’s a must not lose game for us. There are going to be swings and roundabouts over the next 10 games, or so.”

Breslin hailed the character of his team after the midweek thriller. They pocketed two late goals to grab an unlikely point.

“After the tough few weeks we’ve had, it would have been easy for the boys to down tools,” he added.

“We had quite a few players out injured or suspended, but credit to the guys who came in.

“They gave us a performance. Our first half display wasn’t particularly good. I asked the players at half-time what character did they have.

“I asked them were they going to go out with a whimper or show a bit of bottle. We played really well in the second half, but we didn’t get the early goal we were looking for.

“However, it was another game without a win for us. It’s very frustrating. I can’t remember the last time we won a league game. I think it was against Institute in mid-December. That’s almost two months ago.

“Even though we haven’t lost too many, there have been too many draws in there.

“We’ve been crippled with injuries. I was certainly happy with the point from the position we were in. It still begs the question why we didn’t perform like that in the first half?”

Substitute Martin Murray came off the bench to turn the game on its head, scoring two late goals to help the Reds salvage a point.

“It was no masterstroke. Sometimes substitutions work, sometimes they don’t,” quipped Breslin.

“To be fair, Marty has bided his time. He has been patient. Any time he has come on he has never let us down. It was touch and go whether he started against the Blues.

“I was delighted for him. He has certainly put up a strong case for a starting shirt against Portadown.”

Breslin will have the experienced Marc Smyth and George McMullan back in the squad -- both had to serve a one game ban at Windsor Park, but there is a doubt over midfielder Ryan Catney.

“Smyth and McMullan come back into the squad,” he added.

“Ryan is carrying an injury. We’ll assess him nearer to the game.

“We had a few boys playing their first games of the season at Windsor. Robert Bayly and James Knowles, while it was only Caoimhin Bonner’s second match. So there were plenty of positives from the midweek performance. What we are looking for is more consistency.”

Portadown will be without striker Darren Murray, who began a six match ban on Monday. But skipper Michael Gault, Garry Breen, Robert Garrett and Ross Redman all return from suspension.