Belfast Telegraph

McFall looks to keep it clean for Portadown's Riga test

By Graham Luney

Ronnie McFall accepts that very little can be done to fuel the dreams of Irish League clubs in European competition but that doesn’t mean his Portadown players will be lambs to the slaughter tonight.

The Ports take on Skonto Riga from Latvia in the first leg of a Europa League qualifier (6.30) at Shamrock Park with the odds stacked against them.

Derry City may have conquered them a year ago but Skonto are 11 games into their season and they’re sitting pretty at the top of their domestic league.

McFall’s men may be in good physical condition but a lack of game time means that match sharpness could be missing.

The Ports beat Banbridge Town 2-0 on Saturday but only a brave and committed defensive performance will frustrate a slicker, more powerful Skonto outfit.

Veteran boss McFall was the Glentoran boss when the east Belfast side reached the second round of the European Cup in the 1981-82 season and faced eventual semi-finalists CSKA Sofia.

After a 2-0 defeat on their travels, Glentoran went 2-0 up in the return leg to force the game into extra-time but CSKA grabbed an away goal and were rewarded with a clash against Liverpool in the next round.

If Portadown progress in the Europa League it would represent an astonishing achievement and McFall is hungry to, at least, give it his best shot.

“The European matches always capture my imagination as you are visiting different countries and testing yourself against teams from a very different culture,” said McFall.

“We are delighted to be on this stage as we were playing in the Championship a year ago.

“Unfortunately the task facing Irish League clubs is a huge one but we can’t do anything about that. The southern clubs play in the summer but apart from a few good European performances their league has not really thrived and attendances have been down. I just hope the players give a very good account of themselves though we will be without David Miskelly and Kevin Braniff who are on holiday.

“Alan Snoddy gave us a DVD which is dated June 12 so we have studied that and they look a decent side. They are doing well in their league and there is no doubt they will be strong.”

The Ports have home advantage for the opener — and they will need to make it count.

“Hopefully we can keep a clean sheet and perhaps nick a goal,” added McFall. “But they are well into their season which gives them a big advantage.

“The standard of football is similar but they are full-time as well, which is also a big plus.

“But we have prepared ourselves as best we can. I would expect them to go looking for an away goal but hopefully we can deny them that.”

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