The last matches before Christmas kick off this weekend with Crusaders getting the proceedings underway on Friday night at home to Coleraine before the remaining five games on Saturday afternoon.

Stephen Baxter’s Crusaders sit proudly at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership, five points clear, as Coleraine head to Seaview on Friday night (745pm).  The Crues had a weekend off last Saturday due to a failed pitch inspection at Carrick, but have now gone unbeaten since the opening day of the season, including a 1-1 draw with nine-men away to the Bannsiders in September.

Oran Kearney’s Coleraine side have seen results slip having lost three on the bounce after going 13 unbeaten in all competitions. However the Bannsiders still find themselves in third place in the table and a win at Seaview would certainly get them back on track ahead of the big games on Boxing Day.

Glentoran welcome Cliftonville to the Oval in a fixture that mirrors the same weekend last year when the hosts won 2-1.  Alan Kernaghan’s team were beaten by Portadown on Monday in a remarkable game that ended 5-3 at Shamrock Park, but if the Glens can shore up their defence they seem to have no trouble scoring having netted nine times in their last three outings.

Cliftonville are still to taste defeat since Gerard Lyttle took over in September having gone 12 games unbeaten (W9 D3) in the Premiership and with five victories in a row the Reds are entering the important Christmas period high in confidence.

Ballymena United face Linfield at the Showgrounds in the first of three meetings within the next three weeks after drawing each other in the Irish Cup and booking their respective places in the County Antrim Shield Final as well.  United have been involved in plenty of high-scoring matches of late, averaging over five goals per each game in their last four outings (For 11, Against 11).

Linfield have experienced a severe dip in form in their last six Premiership games taking only four points during this time, including a draw against 10-man Ballinamallard Utd last Saturday.  The Blues did however beat the Sky Blues 4-0 back in August at Windsor Park.

Glenavon welcome Warrenpoint Town to Mourneview Park with their eyes firmly set on the teams above them in the table. Gary Hamilton’s side have won five of their last six league games and have kept a clean sheet for two games running for the first time since early September.

Warrenpoint fell to an extra-time defeat to Cliftonville in the Semi-Finals of the JBE League Cup in midweek, but although they lost they will surely have more belief that they can match any team in the league over 90 mins.  With a vital game against fellow relegation strugglers Carrick on Boxing Day, Barry Gray will want to build on their midweek performance when they face Glenavon.

Dungannon Swifts are at home at Stangmore Park for the visit of Portadown. Rodney McAree’s team sit third from bottom and have found points hard to come by although their performances have not necessarily been reflected in their results. They have lost seven of their last nine league games, but have only been beaten by a single goal in each of these games.

Portadown have won their last two games against both Linfield and Glentoran, scoring seven goals in the process and have closed the gap to the top six to just three points.  

Ballinamallard United will host Carrick Rangers at Ferney Park for the second time this season after the game was reversed due to Carrick’s pitch being unplayable.  The Mallards lost 3-1 to ten-man Carrick in September but the form of both teams has reversed since then with Saturday’s hosts coming off the back of a morale-boosting draw away to Linfield.  Carrick have now lost their last four games in all competitions.

Danske Bank Premiership

Friday 18 December – 745pm

Crusaders  v  Coleraine

Saturday 19 December – 3pm

Ballinamallard United  v  Carrick Rangers

Ballymena United  v  Linfield

Dungannon Swifts  v  Portadown

Glenavon  v  Warrenpoint Town

Glentoran  v  Cliftonville