Ports ace Michael Gault ready for battle after farewell to Linfield
Michael Gault says he's fit and ready to get Portadown's title charge back on track.
The former Linfield skipper has been a frustrated spectator this season since his high profile switch from Windsor Park this summer.
But a three-match suspension was possibly a blessing for the 31-year-old midfielder as he needed the recovery time after an ankle operation in May.
For many Irish League observers – particularly Linfield fans who have seen Gault blossom into one of the Premiership's top players in the last 12 years – seeing him in the red of Portadown will be strange.
It's very much a new chapter in a career which has included over 20 trophies in 480 appearances for the Blues.
His departure from Linfield, after failing to agree fresh terms with new boss Warren Feeney, shocked the league.
But it was no surprise when a number of managers lifted the phone, including Ports boss Ronnie McFall who decided to raid the Blues for Mark McAllister and Robbie Garrett as well as former Northern Ireland international Gault.
The man who has nine league winners' medals and seven Irish Cup wins to reflect on still has the appetite for silverware.
After coming through 90 minutes of action against Annagh United on Tuesday, Gault feels ready to make a big impact for the mid-Ulster men but it will be McFall's call whether he is handed a starting role against Crusaders at Shamrock Park tomorrow.
His return from suspension is a welcome lift for the Ports after two defeats which no-one would have predicted following their stunning opening day victory over Linfield.
But the good news ahead of the visit of Stephen Baxter's side is that Gault is raring to go.
"We fully understand the fact we are under pressure to put in a challenge for the title but that's why we are here," said Gault.
"Myself, Mark McAllister and Robbie Garrett haven't come here to make up the numbers. We are here to win more trophies. We have won league titles together and the drive and determination to do it again is still there.
"Robbie is one of the best midfielders in the league when he's on form and once the team gels together we will be very strong.
"With guys like Darren Murray and Gary Twigg leading the line you know the goals will come if we can create a few chances. You need good players in your team to win silverware and we have a lot of them."
Gault was thrilled to come through Tuesday's game unscathed.
"It's all about gaining match fitness for me now," he added. "I've been in this league for a long time so I know when I'm fit or struggling.
"The plan wasn't for me to do the 90 minutes for the reserves but I feel fine. I've been doing strength work in training and, although I have been a little rusty, I will get stronger.
"I've had the reigns on me because you don't want to rush things and come back too soon."
The Ports have lost to Cliftonville and Ballymena United since toppling Linfield but McFall is still tinkering with his system as he searches for the winning formula – does he go with three or two up front?
With five players back from suspension there is no shortage of options and Gault believes the tide will turn.
"Our different shapes and formations worked well in pre-season, but the competitive Irish League is a different ball game," added Gault.
"It's hard to keep the momentum going when you are changing shapes but sometimes the players have to adapt.
"But when you are playing alongside very good players you can make things work.
"It's shaping up to be a very exciting title race as a lot of teams have strengthened. You really couldn't call it but, all you can do is try and win as many matches as possible and the league will look after itself.
"Cliftonville, Crusaders and Linfield will be strong and Glenavon have signed well with big (Alan) Blayney in nets too. There's up to six teams who will be thinking they can go for the title."
Gault's Linfield chapter is closed now but after signing a two-year deal with the Ports this summer he's ready for a new challenge.