Coleraine host rivals Ballymena United in a vital Danske Bank Premiership clash this weekend (c) Lorcan Doherty / Inhpo


There's only three games to go and the two front runners are suddenly neck and neck in the Danske Bank Premiership with only goal difference seperating the sides as we preview Saturday's fixtures.

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

The great escape is still on for Harry McConkey’s Mallards! They have pulled themselves within just two points of Carrick Rangers with four games left to play. They could leap frog their East Antrim rivals with a win against the Swifts going into next Tuesday crunch re-arranged showdown between the bottom two sides. The Fermanagh side were 2-0 winners against Warrenpoint Town in their most recent fixture.

Dungannon Swifts manager Rodney McAree celebrated signing a new contract at Stangmore Park with a win against Carrick Rangers last Saturday. The BetMcLean League Cup holders will want to end the season with a flourish and not slip out of eighth place in the table to Ards as they look to build towards next season.

Carrick Rangers v Ards (venue: Ferney Park; kick-off 3pm)

It’s been a turbulent week off the field for Ards, but supporters of the County Down men can go into Saturday’s game against Carrick Rangers with the comfort of knowing manager Colin Nixon has committed his future to the club, after rejecting the advances of Glentoran to sign a new three year deal.

The home side go into this game with their top-flight status now hanging in the balance for the next four games at least. Defeat to Ards would confirm their place in the relegation playoff places at least, but also give a resurgent Ballinamallard United the chance to capitalise on their poor form which has seen four league defeats in a row since the end of February. Cliftonville v Glenavon (venue: Coleraine Showgrounds; kick-off 3pm)

It’s a must win at Solitude for the battle for third place against Glenavon as the Irish Cup finalists look to go level on points with the Mourneview Blues. Barry Gray’s Reds came out second best in last Saturday’s Irish Cup final rehearsal at the Coleraine Showgrounds and will pick themselves up for their final three games this weekend.

The Lurgan Blues have endured a tortuous run of form since their Irish Cup exit to Loughgall in March but showed signs of their true talent with a hard fought draw against Crusaders at Seaview last week. There hasn’t been much to choose between the sides this season with two draws in the last two meetings between the sides, but Glenavon picked up the only win between the sides earlier in the season.

Coleraine v Ballymena United (venue: Coleraine Showgrounds; kick-off 3pm)

It’s become one of the biggest derby days in years between the two sides as Coleraine know there is no margin for error against their long standing rivals, Ballymena United, at the Ballycastle Road this weekend with the Danske Bank Premiership title on the line. The Bannsiders came from behind to overcome Cliftonville last weekend and in doing so capitalised on Crusaders’ draw to go level on points at the summit of the table, with only goal difference now separating the sides.

Unsurprisingly Oran Kearney has had the better of his former mentor David Jeffrey during meetings between the sides this season, winning twice and drawing once. It was announced this week that defender Kyle Owens has signed a pre-contract with Crusaders but the manager will be looking to keep his players both fit and focused for the Europa League playoffs in the coming weeks.

Crusaders v Linfield (venue: Coleraine Showgrounds; kick-off 3pm)

Another huge game at Seaview as the outgoing Danske Bank Premiership champions visit the league leaders with the title hanging in the balance. Darren Murray’s absence may have affected preparations in their dropped points against Glenavon last season but expect nothing less than a positive reaction from Stephen Baxter’s side as they welcome their rivals to North Belfast.

The two sides have played out some epic encounters this season alone, since going toe to toe for the Gibson Cup last season. Linfield’s form has been far from their dominance this time last year, but David Healy will hope to have found some rhythm in his side at the right time as they can count the past week as ultimately positive with a win against Ballymena United and the contract extension for defender Jimmy Callacher in the bag with three games to go.

Warrenpoint Town v Glentoran (venue: Q Radio Arena; kick-off 3pm)

Two sides with interim managers but two clubs with entirely contrasting atmospheres in the past few weeks. In the wake of Matthew Tipton’s depature rookie Warrenpoint Town manager Stephen McDonnell has galvanised his team and has almost led the club to top-flight safety in the border club’s first season back in the Danske Bank Premiership.

In the other dugout Ronnie McFall is on the home straight for his final few games as Glentoran’s interim boss as they look set to have a last hurrah in the European playoffs come May. It’s been a difficult week in East Belfast with public failure to land a permanent new manager, the pressure will be on the players to quell the frustrations on the pitch with three points at the Q Radio Arena.