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Ronnie McFall has side all fired up to see off champs

By Graham Luney

Ronnie McFall wants his players to retain their focus and hunger ahead of another tough assignment in the Premiership tonight. The Portadown boss watched his side stun Linfield 3-0 at Shamrock Park to begin their league campaign with a bang but there is little time to bask in the glory of that victory with champions Cliftonville in town.

McFall will still be without the suspended Darren Murray, Michael Gault, Emmet Friars, Chris Ramsey and Gary Breen but new signing Mark McAllister linked up well with Gary Twigg on Saturday.

The Blues were surprisingly lacklustre and weak in their opening fixture but Cliftonville, held to a scoreless draw by Glentoran at the weekend, are expected to provide a sterner test.

McFall, though, hopes his new-look squad is up for a title fight.

"You always want to get off to a good start and beating Linfield 3-0 at home at any time is a great result," said the Ports boss.

"There's a lot of football to come of course and teams are still doing transfer business.

"I've been in the game long enough to know that we are in for a really hard game against Cliftonville.

"They are the league champions and it will not be easy by any stretch of the imagination.

"You couldn't predict anything – as I always say that things don't take shape until the new year.

"As long as you are up there challenging around that time that is the target."

It's been an encouraging start, but McFall (pictured) feels his boys are just warming up.

He added: "We have had a good pre-season and considering Linfield would have been a bit sharper from their European ties it was a very good performance. We will just get stronger as the season goes on hopefully.

"Last year we were always short in midfield and the addition of Robbie Garrett and Michael Gault helps us there.

"They were two big signings for us and McAllister gives us something different from Murray and Twigg.

"All these matches are hard tests. You're given Linfield and Cliftonville in the first two matches and then we have to go to Ballymena.

"All the players are two-match suspensions except Michael Gault who is three."

Young starlets Jordan Lyttle and Shea Conaty enjoyed competitive debuts against Linfield and McFall is excited by their progress.

"Jordan was captain of our youth team last year and won the Youth Cup," he added. "He reads the ball well, is comfortable there and didn't look out of place. "Maybe he tired towards the end because of the pace of the game but he produced an outstanding performance for us.

"Young Shea Conaty has just turned 16 and he's one for the future."

Meanwhile Reds boss Tommy Breslin expects Portadown to be a force to be reckoned with as the new Danske Bank Premiership season unfolds.

The Shamrock Park side welcome the Champions back to the venue where the title was clinched last term.

Breslin is braced for a thorough examination of his side's credentials this evening.

"Portadown are a good, strong side who have added real quality over the summer," he said.

"They got off to a great start and will want to build on that by beating us. You always get a very tough game down there and this will be no different but, having just beaten Linfield so well, they'll be even more confident and will want to send out a message about what they're capable of."

The Ports were certainly Cliftonville's bogey side last season, clocking up two 1-0 wins at Solitude and roaring back from 3-1 down to claim a point in the closing stages of their first contest at Shamrock Park.

The Reds did, of course, exact full revenge when April's 2-0 win in Co Armagh not only clinched the Gibson Cup but also ensured the hosts would miss out on European football.

Breslin added: "We'll need to produce a good performance if we want to get anything.

"Portadown are obviously determined to be right in the mix for honours."

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