Portadown: Matthew Tipton relishing top-flight test on return to Ballymena United

Portadown manager Matthew Tipton.
Portadown manager Matthew Tipton.

Matthew Tipton is hoping Ballymena United’s title commitments can hand Portadown a key cup edge.

Both clubs meet at The Showgrounds in the Irish Cup sixth round this weekend aiming to carry winning league form - from spots sitting second in the respective league standings - into the knockout challenge towards a quarter-final spot.

Ballymena United manager David Jeffrey. Pic by INPHO.

Ballymena United manager David Jeffrey. Pic by INPHO.

The difference in divisions puts the Ports as Bluefin Sport Championship underdogs against high-flying United but that gap offers Tipton one opportunity for optimism heading into the tie.

“We are going for promotion back up to the Danske Bank Premiership, which is important in so many ways but for Ballymena to be chasing the league title, to achieve that would be unbelievable for the club,” said Tipton. “We must look to gain any possible edge and one potential advantage is the chance they just take an eye off the ball for the cup given how things stand in the league.

“However, having played under David Jeffrey before and been at Ballymena during his early days, unfortunately, I know he never takes any match lightly and will hit home the importance of not dismissing Portadown just because we sit in the Championship.

“The progress by David at Ballymena has been superb and every season seems to get better.

“He will want to add more silverware and will have his sights on the Irish Cup no doubt.

“His approach is to field the strongest side in every game and never look too far forward, so when the draw was made I actually considered this the toughest possible because of his focus.

“I do not imagine other Premierships clubs would not respect us but I just know how David never wants to underestimate any opposition.”

Aside from aspirations of Ballymena players letting standards slip, Tipton can also draw on the League Cup performance against Linfield as a touchstone for the potential within his squad.

“We received a lot of plaudits for that game and I’ve always felt this squad can be better equipped almost when going up against Premiership sides because of how we play and prepare,” said Tipton. “But, of course, we still lost to Linfield so it’s about taking those positives but doing everything a little bit better.

“It’s not a distraction, it’s an opportunity to go and enjoy the occasion and we planned for a cup run at the start of the season, with the more games the better for the squad’s development.”

United boss Jeffrey considers competition for places central to that collective momentum.

“We always try to create competition and you get good footballers who understand the principle of competition and they want to get somewhere,” said Jeffrey. “Competition drives them on and the players know that is the case.

“Everyone knows we go forward together and it is vital everyone is on the same page.

“Portadown are sitting second and we know Matthew very well as an astute manager who has done well at Warrenpoint Town and is doing well at Portadown.

“Cup ties are one-off games and the history books are full of so-called surprises.

“We know it is going to be extremely tough when you look at Portadown’s quality.

“We are going to have to be at our best against a fantastic club with a great history.”