Portadown rewards remain as first Premiership season back enters final fixtures
Portadown hopes of capping a top-flight return with trophy glory may have ended with Tuesday’s Irish Cup exit but rewards remain over the remainder of the campaign.
A 4-1 defeat at The Showgrounds to Ballymena United marked a cup contrast to encouraging league form which provided the Ports with four wins from five previous Premiership outings.
Now Matthew Tipton’s players welcome Warrenpoint Town to Shamrock Park this weekend to kick off the final five fixtures in a first season back on the senior stage since 2017.
Portadown hold a three-point lead over Warrenpoint in pursuit of cementing ninth spot as Glenavon and Ballymena United stand clear in the battle for seventh across the post-split league standings and potential for European football.
In the absence of relegation fears, pride became the main positive focus alongside points for the quartet of Portadown, Warrenpoint Town, Carrick Rangers and Dungannon Swifts.
And Tipton’s message for the closing five fixtures centres on continued gains and a final flourish to seal ninth and establish a firm foundation for future progress.
“The Irish Cup result was obviously disappointing but we must move on and return our focus to getting back on track and extending that good run of league results,” said Tipton. “I can talk to the players - and have done - about potential and what we can achieve together but it only really hits home when they can see the points on the board.
“That’s the reality of football but it has given the players a significant boost over the past few weeks in the league to start getting those rewards.
“It gives the club a lift of course and offers the players that end product for the hard work put in.
“It is coming towards the end of the season but, having won four of the previous five league games, now the challenge to the players is to maintain that consistency across the final five.
“Ninth is the highest position left available to us so the players know the target and will want to go out and continue to deliver.
“My belief in the squad has always been strong but there is no better measure of success than a win.”
The demands of a schedule shaped by the coronavrus pandemic impact has forced Premiership clubs to adjust to a draining routine of regular weekend and midweek meetings.
Attempts to measure minutes and protect players have been admirable across the board and Tipton counts the selection questions as serving up some interesting benefits.
“We’ve had to chop and change the line-up, either due to so many games or injuries as well as tactical decisions,” said Tipton. “But it has been encouraging to see as the season has gone on how different players have adapted to the situation.
“Traditionally, the message to players is someone keeps the shirt if in form but this season we’ve had to make selection changes for different reasons than normal.
“But the clarity remains for the players and they know why, so there’s no mixed messages.
“And we have seen players rise to the challenge of playing in different positions or forming partnerships we had maybe not looked at before.
“To achieve consistency even with making changes to the side so often is a real bonus within our recent form and it’s been great learning something more about players.
“Points towards ninth may be the priority for the remaining fixtures but we also will use these final games to offer chances to some of the younger players to show they can push on with one eye on next season.”
Kick-off 3pm on Saturday.
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