Irish Cup semi-finals: Ports hope to overcome loss of key duo

Long-serving Portadown manager Ronnie McFall
Ronnie McFall's Portadown side beat Ballymena United on penalties the last time the clubs met in an Irish Cup semi-final in 2010

Portadown hope to triumph in the face of adversity as they prepare to play Ballymena United in their Irish Cup semi-final without two key players.

Defender Chris Casement and midfielder Robert Garrett are suspended after being sent-off in the closing stages of last week's defeat by Dungannon Swifts.

"We have to keep our focus and trust the players available to step up and produce the performance," said McFall.

"We have plenty of experience and quality to hopefully see us through."

The Ports had hoped that Casement may be available for the last-four clash at The Oval (17:30 GMT) after lodging an appeal against his dismissal for a head-butting offence.

"Chris is definitely out for Saturday. Our hope is that the IFA will look at the evidence and Chris avoids a six-game ban down the line," said McFall.

The Shamrock Park club welcome back Keith O'Hara from suspension, while Mark McAllister and Darren Murray are set to feature after both playing an hour with the reserves on Tuesday.

Ballymena have Johnny Taylor, Gary Thompson and David Cushley available after serving bans as they aim to extend a remarkable Irish Cup campaign which has seen them earn injury-time wins over Cliftonville and Harland and Wolff Welders.

Taylor remains a doubt with a foot injury sustained in the dramatic win over the Welders.

Striker Matthew Tipton admits he finds such matches "physically and mentally draining" but adds that the Sky Blues' squad know they have "the mental strength to keep going and keep knocking on the door until the very end".

"Portadown are a good club. I owe them a lot and I owe Ronnie a lot for bringing me to the club," added Tipton, who enjoyed a successful spell with the mid-Ulster outfit before moving on to Linfield.

"If it wasn't for him I wouldn't be where I am today. I have a lot of time for the club and they still have a place in my heart but I have a job to do for Ballymena now."

Saturday's first semi-final at Mourneview Park sees Premiership leaders Crusaders face Glentoran in a Belfast derby.

Crusaders defender Craig McClean says that confidence is high at the Seaview club and there is "a feelgood factor about the club".

"Hard work has been the key to our good form so far, along with good depth to our squad, good strength and experience in all areas of the pitch," observed the full-back.

"We have a real winning mentality and a single-mindedness that we want to succeed. The league is obviously a huge objective, but we want to win the cup too."

Glens goalkeeper Elliott Morris points to his club's great tradition in the Irish Cup, although Eddie Patterson's men have lost all three meetings between the sides this season.

"The club is on the up at the moment - we have a lot of good young players coming into the team and we are getting better all the time," said Morris.

Irish Cup semi-finals - Saturday 21 March

Crusaders v Glentoran (Mourneview Park, 15:00 GMT)

Ballymena United v Portadown (The Oval, 17:30 GMT)

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