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Portadown 3 - 3 Cliftonville: McFall turns attention to his battling players

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1,000 not out: Ronnie McFall has managed the Ports for 26 years

1,000 not out: Ronnie McFall has managed the Ports for 26 years

1,000 not out: Ronnie McFall has managed the Ports for 26 years

The old cliche that the next match is the most important never rang truer.

For as the plaudits for Portadown manager Ronnie McFall's 1,000th league match in charge reached a crescendo against Cliftonville on Saturday, he was already thinking of number 1,001 – next Monday's televised encounter at his old stamping ground of the Oval.

He didn't even seem overly bothered that he spent his 'millennium' event watching from the stand – he was serving another touch-line ban – and was consumed by the result, not by the fact that his 26 years in charge at Shamrock has yielded four Irish League titles and three Irish Cups, the only senior trophies in the Ports' 89-year history.

"What's your most cherished memory?" one eager scribe asked. "Don't really know," he replied, and then launched into a eulogy about young substitute Joshua Barton, whose 10 minutes on the field saw him crack home two 20-yard goals and steal a point.

"He's fast and intelligent," McFall drooled. "And he made all the difference. Definitely one for the future."

The ex-Aston Villa midfielder was cock-a-hoop.

"It's a real dream," he said. "This is just my second appearance from the sub's bench and I'm keen on a regular spot. Mind you, Gary Twigg claimed my first as it struck him on the way in. But the officials have credited it to me and you shouldn't argue with the ref!"

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It was tough luck on Cliftonville, who twice led by two goals, but were finally pinned back to a draw, but manager Tommy Breslin made no excuses.

"We'll have to learn to defend better, the way we defended last year to win the league. It'll have to be put right," he said.

The Solitude men handed out a football lesson in the first-half, rewarded as Martin Murray and Liam Boyce teed one another up to score.

Firstly, a Murray cross from the right found Boyce unmarked at the far post and he bent low to head it home from close in. And Boyce gave the final clinical pass for Murray to hammer home after a brilliant sweeping move from the edge of their own penalty box.

But the Ports were let into it after the break when Ronan Scannell executed a madcap hand ball. The ref and linesman somehow failed to spot it, but the fourth official intervened and Darren Murray smashed it home.

And it was refreshing when manager Breslin commented: "Of course it was a penalty, don't know how the ref didn't see it. Everybody else seemed to."

Murray restored the two-goal lead soon afterwards and Cliftonville looked set for three points. But enter young gladiator Barton, and it was levelled with three minutes to go.

In fact, Twigg almost made it a complete 'steal' when he flicked against a post, but that would have been a travesty.

PORTADOWN: Miskelly, Breen, Ramsey, McMahon (Mackle, 73 mins), Murray, Paget (Mouncey, 46 mins), McCafferty, McStay (Barton, 77 mins), Twigg, Friars, O'Connor. Unused subs: Brennan, Rooney.

CLIFTONVILLE: Devlin, McGovern, R. Scannell, Johnston, Donnelly (Doherty, 87 mins), O'Carroll, Seydak (C Scannell 65, mins), Smyth, Catney, Murray (McNeill, 79 mins), Boyce. Unused subs: McNally, McGrandles.

Referee: Mark Courtney (Dungannon)


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