RONNIE McFall has praised the club’s old hands and young guns as the Ports go marching towards European football in the face of an ever-increasing injury list.
The Portadown manager has expressed his admiration at the spirit on show during two demanding Belfast trips inside four days. Defeat to Linfield at Windsor Park confirmed another Carling Premiership title for the city club but Portadown left the pitch deserving of plaudits for a display full of determination.
Tuesday’s Easter test against Crusaders epitomised the desire within the depleted Ports as McFall’s men survived constant second-half pressure to pick up victory at Seaview.
Now Portadown welcome Glentoran to Shamrock Park tomorrow (Saturday) aiming for a vital victory to hit the 71-point mark that should secure a spot in Europe.
Coleraine, currently fourth in the table, require maximum points to reach 71 and the Ports currently enjoy a superior goal difference. Portadown now hold a three-point lead over third-placed Cliftonville thanks to Easter results.
“No-one will do you any favours in this division and you must earn every single point,” said the Ports boss. “We entered the Linfield match with nine players out then lost David Miskelly to what looks like another cruciate injury.
“If so, that would be the third this season at our club and you think it is a terrible campaign if you lose even one player to such a severe injury.
“Chris Ramsey also pulled up with hamstring trouble on Saturday.
“Andrew Burns then had to come off against Crusaders due to a torn thigh muscle which, again, will put him out for the rest of the season.
“It really is unbelievable and it is also hard to see how players like Kevin Braniff and Jamie Tomelty will be fit for the remaining fixtures.
“I would love to sit and say such-and-such a player will be available for Saturday but, as it stands, I am scrambling around trying to get names to make up the teamsheet never mind trying to manage the injuries from one game to the next.
“However, the one positive to come out of this injury run has been how those players called on have stepped up under such difficult circumstances.
“We deserved something out of the Linfield match but lost 2-1 to a late blow.
“Getting the early goal against Crusaders was a big lift and we still created a few chances despite struggling in the second half to get it out of our box.
“We showed our character and it is a sign of how much the players want to finish the season with European football and in second place.
“That is our objective but I also think they deserve it for such good form over the season despite the horrendous injury run.”
McFall lined out on Tuesday night with a substitutes’ bench featuring five players promoted from the reserves. Matthew Brown, a teenage winger, started both Belfast fixtures - with Stefan Woolsey coming off the bench at Windsor Park - and Stephen Acheson was asked to operate out of position across the backline.
“It is a difficult situation in which to throw in a teenager but Matthew did well in both games and could even have scored.
“We have used players like Jordan Gilmore, Shane McKinney and Stefan Woolsey now this season, plus Stephen Acheson was asked to step in at left-back then right-back.
“Stephen had a really good pre-season with us and is a strong centre-back with good presence but he also adjusted really well in both recent games.
“Massive credit must also go to Richard Clarke and Keith O’Hara, two experienced players who give everything to this club.
“I phoned Keith on Monday just to see how he is recovering from his groin problem but once he was aware of our injury list he put his name forward.
“He basically played against Crusaders on one leg and Richard has also been excellent.
“Tuda Murphy stepped in at short notice against Linfield and had an outstanding game on Tuesday during that Crusaders pressure.
“However, he is a top-class goalkeeper and that experience is vital as Tuda has the right attitude in terms of remaining patient then grabbing the opportunity when it comes.”
Kick-off on Saturday will be 3 o’clock.