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Braniff the ace in pack for Portadown's Europa League trip to Latvia

Ronnie McFall is preparing to pull his trump card from the pack as he aims to take Portadown beyond the first round in Europe for the first time under his management.

The Shamrock Park men were seconds away from taking a 1-0 lead into their Europa League second-leg tie with Skonto Riga, only for the Latvians to strike a last-gasp equaliser after the Ports had Chris Ramsey sent-off.

Now the Ports must score in order to progress, but that doesn’t concern McFall, who still has an ace up his sleeve in the shape of Northern Ireland international Kevin Braniff.

Braniff, who followed up his goal in the 2-1 Irish Cup final defeat by Linfield by appearing in both of Northern Ireland’s summer games against Turkey and Chile, missed the first meeting last week because of a holiday, but he is back now.

His return gives McFall’s men a great chance of making history.

“Kevin Braniff is quality and having him back is a big boost for us,” said McFall (pictured).

“I believe we have a lot of quality in the squad. It’s not something we lacked in the first game, despite being up against a full-time outfit who are a dozen games into their season.

“The only thing missing was match-fitness and having that first leg over us will push us on in that regard. We saw nothing to fear in the first leg.

“I don’t know what information they had on us before the game, but watching DVDs and things like that doesn’t always give you the full picture.

“Hopefully having Braniff back in the team will give them something else to think about.”

Although Linfield saw off Latvian opposition at the same stage in Europe five years ago when they beat Ventspils on away goals, victory would be a major coup for the Ports, who two years ago were contemplating a season in intermediate football.

“What we did last season, in finishing in the top six and getting to the Irish Cup final, was a great achievement for the club,” said McFall. “Getting through in Europe has obvious financial benefits for the club. But there is more to it than that. The confidence that it would give to the players can’t be measured.

“We are very disappointed not to be going there with a lead and I believe we would have if we’d had 11 men on the pitch.

“There is no question that the balance of the tie has switched because of that goal.

“We wanted a clean sheet; it would have been very different if we’d got one.

“But I’m not worried by having to go out there and score.”

As well as Braniff, goalkeeper David Miskelly is back from holi day and will come straight into the team with first leg hero Neil Armstrong unavailable.

Sean Mackle will be in at right-back for suspended Ramsey.

Belfast Telegraph