Belfast Telegraph

Mark McAllister planning to cut Crusaders back down to size

By Graham Luney

When Portadown beat Crusaders 3-2 at Seaview last December, Crues boss Stephen Baxter felt that the mid-Ulster men would go on and win the title.

It didn't quite turn out that way as it was Baxter's side who really shone in the second half of the season to secure the club's first taste of championship success in 18 years.

Portadown's bubble burst during a winter of discontent and their season ended in agonising fashion with defeat to Glentoran in the Irish Cup final.

When the 2015-2016 Danske Bank Premiership campaign kicks off on August 8, both sides will meet again at Seaview in the outstanding tie of the opening round of fixtures and Ports striker Mark McAllister has warned the Hatchetmen they want to be the first club to humble the champions.

"Portadown need to win a trophy next season, that's our big goal," said the former Linfield striker. "At the very least we should be qualifying for Europe and in my opinion, given the quality of the players in the squad, we should be in the mix for the title.

"We did well last season at the start but fell away after Christmas, however we did beat Crusaders three times and there is an understanding we need to get our act together again.

"We'll be determined to win a trophy and qualify for Europe and you could say we couldn't have been handed a tougher start, travelling to Crusaders, but I'll remember our good performances against Crusaders rather than the time we lost 6-0.

"A victory over the champions would be a great confidence boost for us but we will respect them as they have added to the already strong squad they have and they will be confident they can hold onto the title."

The Ports finished 20 points behind champions Crusaders last season and an Irish Cup final defeat to Glentoran rubbed salt into their wounds.

"We took our eyes off the ball and allowed Glenavon to claim a European spot," added McAllister. "We also let ourselves down in the cup final. I know decisions went against us but that's over now and we have to raise our game. We didn't play as well as we can and now it's crucial we have a good league campaign and see some reward."

Portadown's pre-season schedule commences today when the squad meet up but they will assemble under a dark cloud following the news of striker Darren Murray's transfer request, with Cliftonville hoping to net their target.

"I don't know many of the details about Darren's situation but I do know he's a good player who would strengthen any team," added McAllister (pictured). "I hope he stays with Portadown and Ronnie (McFall) will do what he feels is right for the club, that's the main thing."

Linfield will begin their title bid at home to Ballymena United while newly promoted Carrick Rangers travel to Dungannon Swifts on the opening day.

Elsewhere, Glenavon will host Cliftonville while Coleraine entertain Glentoran at Ballycastle Road.

Warrenpoint Town will face Ballinamallard United at Milltown.

The league will again be played over 38 series of fixtures, with the customary late season split of top six and bottom six clubs taking place after 33 matches.

Clubs finishing from third to seventh position will participate in a play-off system for a Europa League spot.

Danske Bank Premiership opening day fixtures (Saturday, August 8): Crusaders v Portadown, Linfield v Ballymena Utd, Glenavon v Cliftonville, Coleraine v Glentoran, Dungannon Swifts v Carrick Rangers, Warrenpoint Town v Ballinamallard United.

Belfast Telegraph


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