George McMullan and influential midfielder Jude Winchester return to the Cliftonville squad for Saturday’s crucial Danske Bank Premiership clash with Portadown at Solitude.
The Reds are locked in a desperate battle to claim a European qualification spot, along with Ronnie McFall’s team. However, Glentoran and Glenavon are also big players in the equation.
“Linfield are currently in second place, but their advantage could diminish very quickly over the final five games, so we must make sure we carry on where we left off last week against Institute,” said Reds boss Tommy Breslin.
“Crusaders appeared to have the title wrapped up, so it’s the European places that are now up for grabs.
“We have three home games, so we must make that count.
“I know Portadown and Glentoran will contest the Irish Cup final next month, which could open up another place, but we want to get there on merit.
“Victory over Portadown would put a bit of daylight between us, so it’s crucial we pick up three points.
“It was good to get a win last week. We had the game done and dusted by the interval, so we must maintain that momentum.
“Our squad will be along the same lines, but McMullan has managed to shake off a knee injury, while Winchester has recovered from a hamstring problem. Both will be added to the panel.”
Ports chief McFall, agrees with Breslin, insisting there is a lot resting on the final five games of the campaign.
He goes into tomorrow’s game without the influential Robert Garrett, who begins a two-match ban -- the legacy of his dismissal against Dungannon last month.
McFall is also waiting on a fitness report on goalkeeper David Miskelly and centre-back Garry Breen, who are both suffering from hamstring injuries.
“Miskelly pulled up in the warm-up ahead of last week’s game at Warrenpoint Town,” said McFall. “Billy Brennan came in and did well.
“Breen’s hamstring also tightened, so he came off early on.
“We’ll assess them ahead off the game, but we’ll be taking no risks.”
McFall argues the battle for third place . . . and the fight for relegation are the big issues going into the final five games.
“The title race is over as far as I’m concerned,” he added. “The battle for third place will be intense.
“Glentoran and Glenavon are right back in the mix, along with ourselves and Cliftonville.
“It’s important to try and pick up as many points as we can, but it will be a difficult job at Solitude.
“There is no doubt there will be a few twists and turns before it is settled.
“At least we still have a double avenue open to us in terms of European qualification, with the Irish Cup final on the horizon.
“But we would still like to get there by finishing third in the league table, so we will keep fighting.”