Chris Ramsey and Larne have their eyes on the ball with promotion in sight (c) Presseye


It’s the start of the post split Bluefin Sport Championship season and leaders Larne can take a big step towards promotion if they can overcome their derby rivals. We preview all the action.

HW Welders v Ballinamallard United (venue: Tillysburn Park; kick-off: 2pm)

Harry McConkey pulled off the unthinkable as Ballinamallard United came from the bottom of the league to rise into the top six on the final round before the split against all odds. The Mallards now find themselves in form and only eight points from the playoff places with ten games to go as they look to make the unlikeliest of promotion charges back to the Premiership – a year after relegation from the top flight. They have only lost one of their last eleven league games, winning 1-0 against Ballyclare Comrades last weekend.

The Welders sit only a point above their opponents in fifth place as they only confirmed their place in the top half last Saturday. It’s been four successive defeats in all competitions for Norman Kelly’s side as they will be keen to halt their alarming drop in form and pick up their first points of 2019.

Larne v Carrick Rangers (venue: Inver Park; kick-off: 3pm)

The top two sides in the Bluefin Sport Championship meet at Inver Park on Saturday, as title favourites Larne could take a huge step towards the league championship with a win over their East Antrim rivals. Tiarnan Lynch’s men need only a maximum of five wins from their remaining ten games to clinch the title – they clocked up another three points last time out winning 4-1 against Loughgall.

However it won’t be a formality for the Invermen as Carrick Rangers are one of only two sides to defeat them in the Championship this season, with Niall Currie’s side winning 2-0 back in December. That result has been part of a revitalised Carrick Rangers who are now looking to challenge for pole position for the play-off places and a potential return to the Danske Bank Premiership – they drew 0-0 with Dundela last weekend.

Limavady United v Dergview (venue: Limavady Showgrounds; kick-off: 3pm)

The focus may be on the top two elsewhere, but the bottom two teams are also in action at the Limavady Showgrounds with only a point separating two clubs striving to avoid the drop. Both sides picked up morale boosting wins last weekend which closed the gap to tenth placed Knockbreda to just seven points. It’s Sean Friars’ side that hold the slight advantage of a point over Dergview going into the game.

Ivan Sproule’s men from Castlederg emerged victorious the last time the two sides met back in December with Matthew Kirk scoring the winner at Darragh Park – it was former Northern Ireland winger Sproule’s first victory in charge of his hometown team. They defeated PSNI by a single goal last week to ensure they kept on the coattails of relegation rivals Limavady.

Loughgall v Ballyclare Comrades (venue: Lakeview Park; kick-off: 2pm)

Both these sides must pick themselves up after narrowly missing out on a place in the top half of the Bluefin Sport Championship split on a dramatic weekend of action last Saturday. Loughgall started last Saturday in sixth place but had the unenviable task of having to overcome leaders Larne to secure their place in the top six, and with only one win in their last six games, the bad run of form couldn’t have come at a worse time for Dean Smith and his Loughgall side.

Ballyclare Comrades have been boosted by the return of defender Andrew Long from Bangor. The Comrades were pipped at the post by in form Ballinamallard United to a place in the top half of the table last weekend, but Stephen Hughes’ side must now regroup and ensure they get the points to firstly stay in the division and finish as high as possible.

Portadown v Dundela (venue: Shamrock Park; kick-off: 3pm)

Defender Paul Finnegan has made the move across the Championship from Larne to Portadown as Matthew Tipton looks to bolster his young squad for the run-in and fill the void left in their defence by the retirement of Johnny Flynn before Christmas. The Ports came from behind to defeat HW Welders last weekend and move within a point of second place in the hunt for promotion.

The Duns start the weekend only two points behind their opponents after a scoreless draw with promotion rivals Carrick Rangers last time out. Bryan McCarroll’s side have struggled for form since establishing themselves as the early pacesetters in the division in their first season back in the second tier, they have only one win from their last ten games in all competitions but could potentially move back into second place on Saturday evening if results go their way.

PSNI v Knockbreda (venue: Newforge Lane; kick-off: 2pm)

South meets East in a Belfast derby game at Newforge Lane as either club could take a huge step towards Championship safety with a win. Colin Malone’s PSNI hold a slender one point advantage in the standings over their opponents and victory could potentially open up cushion of eleven points from the relegation playoff place. PSNI were defeated 1-0 by Dergview in their previous outing.

Lee Forsythe’s Knockbreda were also defeated by a team below them last weekend, losing 1-0 to Limavady United. They hold the advantage in the games between the two sides to date this season – winning 3-1 back in September at Newforge, although there has been a 2-2 draw in-between times.

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