Portadown are still leading the Bluefin Sport Championship but there is still plenty of football left in the race for promotion starting tonight as we preview the full round of fixtures.
Friday 24 January 2020
Newry City v HW Welders (venue: Newry Showgrounds; kick-off: 7.45pm)
The first game of the weekend is at the Newry Showgrounds, as Darren Mullen’s team look to move closer towards the promotion pack after their win against Queens University last week propelled City to fourth place in the table with a game in hand on all of the teams above them. The border club are unbeaten in five games now since early December but have failed to pick up any points in their previous two meetings with the Welders.
The Welders produced a fine second half performance against Knockbreda last Saturday, coming from behind to win 6-2 with a result that moves them a full eleven points clear of the threat of relegation out of the division. It was a first win in four games for Gary Smyth’s side and their first points of 2020 as they look to win their first game on their travels since the 4-1 victory over PSNI in November but will be without the suspended midfielder Ryan Deans.
Saturday 25 January 2020
Loughgall v Knockbreda (venue: Lakeview Park; kick-off: 2pm)
The Villagers from Loughgall celebrated winning the Mid-Ulster Cup in midweek against Premiership side Glenavon – it was a first trophy as manager for Dean Smith, who must now refocus attentions towards the promotion push in the league. Loughgall start the weekend in third place and despite dropping points in the draw with Dundela, find themselves just seven points off second place with a game in hand on the top two.
Last Saturday’s heavy defeat for Knockbreda leaves the East Belfast club still propping up the Bluefin Sport Championship table – they were defeated by neighbours HW Welders, 6-2. Colin McIlrawth’s side are still level on points with Dergview but have played three games more and carry a vastly inferior goal difference to their relegation rivals. Despite racing into an early lead last week, a second half Welders onslaught condemned Breda to their 15th league defeat of the season.
PSNI v Dundela (venue: Newforge Lane; kick-off: 2pm)
Glenn Taggart ended an eight game losing streak in his first league game as new manager of PSNI with a shock 1-0 victory over Ards last Friday evening. That result could be crucial for the survival hopes of the South Belfast club who are now four points clear of the relegation zone following that victory.
The Duns slipped down to fifth position following their credible draw with promotion chasing Loughgall last Saturday. They have only met PSNI once this season to date, comfortably winning 5-2 back in August with striker Carl McComb bagging four goals at Wilgar Park. Manager Bryan McCarroll will be without the suspended trio of James McCarthy, Owain Beggs and Jordon Morrison for this game – new signing David Scullion from Annagh United could make his debut.
Ballinamallard United v Ards (venue: Ferney Park; kick-off: 3pm)
The Mallards were only seconds away from turning the title race on its head as they had to settle for a point at Shamrock Park and see the gap between them and Portadown remain at six points. Harry McConkey’s Mallards have scored more goals than any team in the Championship and boast the division’s leading scorer in Ryan Campbell (with 20 goals).
John Bailie’s suffered the first defeat of his tenure as Ards manager last Friday evening to PSNI, which eventually left the County Down side resting in sixth position by the end of the weekend’s action and severely denting the lingering promotion hopes. This is the third meeting between the two sides this season in the league and Ards are still unbeaten, having won 3-2 in the last encounter in November when Warren Feeney was in charge.
Ballyclare Comrades v Queens University (venue: Dixon Park; kick-off: 3pm)
With the countdown on until the league split, these two teams will want to stay in contention and not lose any ground on that coveted top six spot. Paul Harbinson’s Ballyclare Comrades are unbeaten since the turn of the year and have gone on a four game unbeaten run, most recently defeating Dergview 2-0 last Saturday to move the East Antrim club into seventh place and within four points of Ards in sixth.
Queens could be forgiven if they had one eye on next week’s mouth-watering Irish Cup tie against Glentoran at the Dub, but manager Peter Thompson will not let complacency creep into the students who have so much to play for in their first season in senior football. They have been defeated twice by Saturday’s opponents already this season (including once on the opening day of the campaign) and will be without defender Josh Corry for the trip to Dixon Park.
Dergview v Portadown (venue: Darragh Park; kick-off: 3pm)
Ivan Sproule’s Dergview managed their first Bluefin Sport Championship outing since Boxing Day last Saturday due to a number of postponements that now leave the County Tyrone side three games behind their peers. Dergview were beaten on the road by Ballyclare Comrades and now face another tough challenge with the visit of Portadown as they look to move out of the relegation zone with only three months left of the season.
Portadown captain Luke Wilson was the hero last week as their fans will be starting to believe this is the year their fortunes are starting to turn. Wilson scored a dramatic late equaliser against promotion rivals Ballinamallard United at Shamrock Park to keep his side six points clear in pursuit of Premiership football. That result came against the backdrop of the welcome news that manager Matthew Tipton signed a new contract extension at the club last week.