BOXING DAY PREVIEW

While supporters will have asked for a lot of things this Christmas, the present they really want is those precious three points on Boxing Day and the bragging rights that come with them.

Boxing Day is still the most anticipated round of fixtures in the Danske Bank Premiership season and we have six games kicking off at 3pm on Monday.

Cliftonville  v  Crusaders

In what could potentially be the game of the day, the North Belfast derby takes place at Solitude with Cliftonville aiming to close the gap on leaders Crusaders to three points.  The Reds have won six league games in a row, conceding just once, and head into this game full of confidence. 

Memories of the last game between the two will be fresh in the minds of both sets of players and Crusaders will want to start this game the way they finished the last clash between the sides.  Gerard Little’s side held a comfortable 3-0 lead in their last meeting with Crusaders at Seaview in October only to collapse in remarkable fashion in the last 25 minutes to lose 4-3. It might be hypothetical but if Cliftonville had gone on to win that game in October, they would be level on points with the Crues at the top of the table right now.

Crusaders are unbeaten in 10 Premiership games and know that a victory on Boxing Day would put them nine clear of the Reds and potentially end any title hopes Cliftonville might have.

Linfield  v  Glentoran

Linfield will be aiming for a fifth Boxing Day victory in a row when Glentoran head to Windsor Park on Monday.  The Blues have won the last four festive derbies 2-1 and with recent form, David Healy’s side go into this game as firm favourites to keep that run going.  With five wins in a row in all competitions Linfield will hope for the victory that will keep the pressure on Crusaders at the top of the table ahead of their anticipated clash on New Year’s Eve.   

Gary Haveron’s Glentoran have lost their way in recent weeks with only one win in their last seven games. One positive Glentoran can take, despite their recent indifferent form, is that they have found the net in 15 of their last 17 games in all competitions including scoring in seven away fixtures during this time. If any game can motivate the Glens it is this one.  

Ballymena United  v  Coleraine

Ballymena’s recent extra-time League Cup win against Coleraine was their first in their last six meetings and David Jeffrey will want a repeat performance from his players on Boxing Day.  It took a 90th minute goal to defeat the Sky Blues on Saturday after an excellent performance at Windsor Park, but before that result United had won their last three games in all competitions.

Coleraine’s 1-1 draw with Ards on Saturday ended a four-match losing run.  These defeats came out of the blue for Oran Kearney’s men, who had lost only once in their previous 11 outings. He will be demanding that his players get back to winning ways soon and there is no better time to do this than on Boxing Day against your fiercest rivals.

Portadown  v  Glenavon 

Although this game is traditionally very hard to call, Glenavon have now gone six games without defeat in this derby so must go into this game as many people’s favourites.  A solitary Kevin Braniff strike gave Gary Hamilton’s side a hard-fought 1-0 win in October but they come into this game after losing their last two outings.

Portadown won their first game in eight attempts last Saturday with a convincing 2-0 win against Dungannon Swifts which will give them a much-needed confidence boost ahead of Boxing Day, but Niall Currie will be asking his side to keep their heads against Glenavon with the Ports recent disciplinary record in this derby.  There have been eight dismissals in the last seven Mid-Ulster derbies with just one of these red cards being shown to a Glenavon player. 

Believe it or not, you have to go back to 49 years to find the last time Portadown lost to Glenavon at Shamrock Park in this festive fixture and new boss Niall Currie and his team will be doing all they can to keep this amazing run going.

Dungannon Swifts  v  Ballinamallard United

This Boxing Day meeting has only been a fixture since 2012 with a win a piece and two draws in the four times it has been played.

Dungannon had been in decent form of late but suffered a 2-0 defeat last Saturday at Portadown after winning three of their previous four Premiership games.  Ballinamallard finally got their first win in 10 attempts last weekend with a confidence-boosting 2-1 win against Glentoran.

They have met twice already this season with Dungannon winning 6-1 in the League Cup at Stangmore while Ballinamallard won 2-0 in the Premiership fixture at Ferney. In the 18 times these sides have met since 2012, there has only ever been one away win. This came for the Mallards on Boxing Day in 2012 at Stangmore Park.

Carrick Rangers  v  Ards

Carrick Rangers host Ards at the Belfast Hotel Loughshore Arena with the visitors looking to go 13 points clear of the home side if they can grab the win.  Despite losing to Cliftonville last time out, Carrick played very well with the 3-0 scoreline perhaps flattering the Reds. Manager Aaron Callaghan will be reminding his side of their fantastic 1-0 League Cup Semi-Final win last week away Glenavon and ask for another performance like that against Ards.

A 3-1 victory for Ards in October gave them the 3 points in their only Danske Bank Premiership meeting this season.  Newly installed manager Colin Nixon is no stranger to the pressure of Boxing Day games and will be stressing to his players that a win would be a massive result against a side ten points ahead of them in the table.

Danske Bank Premiership – Monday 26 December – 3pm

Ballymena United  v  Coleraine

Carrick Rangers  v  Ards

Cliftonville  v  Crusaders

Dungannon Swifts  v  Ballinamallard United

Linfield  v  Glentoran

Portadown  v  Glenavon