Queens University manager Peter Thompson (c) Presseye


The pressure is back on the Bluefin Sport Championship after a week’s break as clubs at both end of the table will be looking for vital points as we look ahead to a full schedule of action.

Ards v Ballyclare Comrades (venue: Bangor Fuels Arena; kick-off: 2pm)

Is the Ards resurgence under John Bailie too little too late for the County Down club, three successive league wins have brought his side back amongst the chasing pack but still remain a full 15 points off second placed Ballinamallard United in the promotion playoff spot. John Bailie has been busy this week with the acquisition of Salou Jallow (Glentoran) and Adam Harwood (Dungannon Swifts) as well as extending the loan agreement for defender Caoimhin McConnell from Cliftonville.

Paul Harbinson’s Comrades were victorious in their Irish Cup exploits on Saturday, winning 2-1 against HW Welders to set up a mouth-watering trip game against derby rivals Larne in the next round. Ballyclare start the weekend in eighth place in the table, out have gone Jake McNeill (Knockbreda) and Lukasz Adamczyk (Moneyslane) this week whilst Tom Mathieson has joined on loan from Crusaders. The last meeting between these sides ended in a 1-1 draw at Dixon Park back in October.

Ballinamallard United v Loughgall (venue: Ferney Park; kick-off: 3pm)

Having reached the Irish Cup final last season, Harry McConkey and the Mallards overcame the first hurdle seven days ago by defeating Dollingstown of the Premier Intermediate League by a single goal. They face another big match in the Championship as second meets third with the visit of Loughgall to Lakeview Park. The last time these two sides met in November, Nathaniel Ferris struck the winner for Loughgall in a 3-2 victory.

Third placed Loughgall suffered a shock cup exit to non-league opposition in Rathfriland last week, Dean Smith must pick up his players to re-focus their efforts on promotion with the huge game against Ballinamallard United. That result made it three defeats in a row for the Villagers who have seen the gap between them and their Fermanagh based opponents open up to ten points.

Dergview v Dundela (venue: Darragh Park; kick-off: 3pm)

Ivan Sproule’s quest to save Dergview’s senior status continues on Saturday against Dundela, the Castlederg club were knocked out of the Irish Cup by fellow strugglers Knockbreda – who have also moved level on points with Dergview in recent weeks. Sproule has two games in hand on his rivals though and will aim to make those games count in the bid for safety.

Dundela have been busy in the transfer window already with the recruitment of Glentoran duo David Fearon and James McCarthy to bolster their squad. Manager Bryan McCarroll could only watch on as his side were overpowered by Crusaders in the Irish Cup last weekend – losing 3-0 at Seaview. The East Belfast club’s early season promotion hopes are hanging on by a thread with the gap currently 14 points to second placed Ballinamallard United – but still plenty to play for in the second half of the campaign.

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

Welders boss Gary Smyth welcomes the league leaders to Tillysburn Park as both sides look to shake off the disappointment of defeats in the Irish Cup. For the home side, they went down 2-1 to Ballyclare Comrades last Saturday and start the weekend in ninth place in the table, still not completely clear of the threat of relegation as the split fast approaches – however a repeat of October’s 2-1 win against the Ports in the last meeting would be welcome for the East Belfast contingent.

Portadown produced a valiant yet unsuccessful performance in the Irish Cup against old foes Glentoran at the Oval, losing on penalties despite the heroics of their own American stopper Bobby Edwards in goal. Matthew Tipton will be boosted by news of a new contract for striker Lee Bonis in midweek, Portadown will aim to maintain their three point lead at the top of the Bluefin Sport Championship this Saturday.

Newry City v PSNI (venue: Newry Showgrounds; kick-off: 3pm)

Darren Mullen and his Newry side produced a fine win against Bangor to keep their Irish Cup dreams alive last weekend and with the possibility of promotion slowly slipping away from the Mourne men – it could be the best way of keeping their season alive this year. The County Down side currently occupy sixth and are in prime position to secure the last seat in the top six ahead of the split – a repeat of the 6-1 mauling by Newry against PSNI back in October would suit the home side.

PSNI still haven’t been able to appoint a permanent manager since the departure of Sammy McFadden to Ards in December – they had assistant manager Phil Lewis in temporary charge for their 3-1 Irish Cup defeat at Milltown to Warrenpoint Town on Saturday. The South Belfast club have dropped perilously close to the drop zone and now sit outside the relegation playoff places by only a single point going into the weekend’s fixtures.

Queens University v Knockbreda (venue: The Dub; kick-off: 2pm)

The most talked about football club in the country will have been Queens University this past week after they produced one of the biggest shocks in Irish Cup history – knocking out reigning Premiership champions Linfield at the Dub. It’s back to league action as Peter Thompson must bring his student heroes down from cloud nine to keep up their ambitions of a top six finish with a win against Knockbreda tomorrow.

Bottom placed Knockbreda have been busy this week taking advantage of the open transfer window to allow Colin McIlrawth to add to his squad for the second half of the campaign. Jonathan Smith (from HW Welders) and Jake McNeill (Ballyclare Comrades) have arrived this week after the East Belfast club secured a blow to relegation rivals Dergview’s season – knocking the Castlederg men out of the Irish Cup last Saturday.