Braniff's heading Down Under, but Ports are on the up
Cliftonville 0 Portadown 1: Ronnie McFall says his injury-ravaged Portadown side cannot afford to look any further ahead than their next game as they chase down a European place.
With transfer listed Kevin Braniff poised for release ahead of relocation to Australia, Gary Twigg's 67th minute goal helped the Ports end Cliftonville's 16-match Premiership unbeaten run and McFall – who was forced to operate with just four substitutes when Matt Rooney was promoted to the starting panel following Joshua Barton's pre-match withdrawal with an ankle complaint – explained: "We have a small squad and, when injuries or suspensions hit us, we struggle for numbers.
"When Barton cried off in the warm-up, we had to go with four subs on the bench – including Peter McMahon and Tim Mouncey, who aren't fully fit.
"Keith O'Hara started and he's not fully fit either after being out for a long time and the same goes for Sean Mackle and Emmet Friars.
"We're having to play people that aren't ready and, when you do that, you always risk aggravating things and making them worse but sometimes we've no other option.
"Our aim is to qualify for Europe but we can't afford to look too far down the line, it's just one game at a time.
"We play Dungannon Swifts next and they're always up for it against us because it's a huge derby game for them and, after that, we'll focus on the next match and that's the way it has to be for us."
Saturday's victory – Portadown's second of the season at Solitude – lifted McFall's troops into fourth place in the table, above Glentoran on goal difference but still four points off a guaranteed continental slot, while Cliftonville dropped the same margin behind table-topping Linfield thanks to a performance which left boss Tommy Breslin more than a little mystified.
"The players worked so hard and did fantastically well to get themselves into such a good position, so it's disappointing to have undone some of that by playing as poorly as we did here," he said.
"I felt our performance [against Ards] on Tuesday night was probably our best of the season and I had been looking for to us continue that and carry it into this match, but we just didn't get going.
"Our passes fell short, our sharpness was off and we didn't strike up a rhythm.
"I told the players that we just weren't good enough all over the park – we didn't pass it out of defence well enough, our midfield was hesitant at times and our hold-up in the final third wasn't good enough. I don't know how to explain where that came from."
Portadown goalkeeper David Miskelly played a starring role with saves to deny Liam Boyce and Diarmuid O'Carroll either side of repelling two stinging Joe Gormley drives, but opposite number Conor Devlin was helpless to prevent Twigg from converting Darren Murray's cross.
CLIFTONVILLE: Devlin, McGovern, R Scannell, Johnston (Cosgrove, 80 mins), McMullan, Donnelly (O'Carroll, 74 mins), Smyth, Catney, Gormley, Murray (Curran, 64 mins), Boyce. Unused subs: C Scannell, Seydak.
PORTADOWN: Miskelly, Casement, O'Hara, Ramsey, Breen, Mackle, Murray, McCafferty, Twigg, Rooney (McStay, 88 mins), Friars. Unused subs: Brennan, McMahon, Mouncey.
Referee: Mark Courtney (Dungannon)