Crusaders take on Cliftonville with the Danske Bank Premiership in their sights (c) Stephen Hamilton / Presseye
Friday, 20 April 2018
We're heading into the penultimate Saturday of the Danske Bank Premiership season and it couldn't be closer at the top and the bottom of the table as we preview this weekend's games.
Ards v Ballinamallard United (venue: Bangor Fuels Arena; kick-off: 3pm)
Tuesday night marked a seismic shift at the bottom of the Danske Bank Premiership as the Mallards moved off the bottom of the table for the first time in 2018 with a huge win over relegation rivals, Carrick Rangers. Suddenly now Harry McConkey’s side could secure safety from automatic relegation with a win against Ards on Saturday and results elsewhere going their way. This won’t be straight forward though as Ards secured three wins from three games against Gavin Dykes’ side during the regular season.
Colin Nixon has committed to blooding more of his young starlets as the final two games of a reasonably successful season see his side playing only for an eighth place finish with Dungannon Swifts. Planning for next season has already started for Nixon, who only last week turned down the opportunity to manage Glentoran, a club he served with such distinction for many years.
Crusaders v Cliftonville (venue: Seaview; kick-off: 3pm)
The first of two massive games at the top of the table – there is no margin for error in the North Belfast derby as Stephen Baxter’s Crues currently reside in the driving seat of the title race, knowing two wins and they will be bringing the Gibson Cup back to Seaview. The Hatchetmen were back to their best against Linfield last Saturday, but will know full well the damage Cliftonville can cause their neighbours – having defeated Crusaders in their last two games.
Cliftonville could be forgiven for starting to turn their attention to the Irish Cup final in two weeks time as back-to-back defeats to Coleraine and Glenavon have left Barry Gray’s Reds out of contention for a third place finish and a possible direct route into European competition. The incentive now is to catch Linfield in fourth for a potential home playoff tie come May – that’s even if they need it, of course!
Dungannon Swifts v Warrenpoint Town (venue: Stangmore Park; kick-off: 3pm)
It might well be one of the most low key of Saturday’s Danske Bank Premiership penultimate fixtures, but it features two clubs that will be more than content with how their respective seasons have panned out. The Swifts were much lauded for their BetMcLean League Cup win in February and whilst the league form failed to kick on, the securing of sought after boss Rodney McAree on a new long term deal means the Swifts can plan for next season with much optimisim, but they will be without Seanan Clucas for this one, having been sent off in the midweek defeat to Glentoran.
Warrenpoint Town confirmed their Premiership status last Saturday, meeting the objectives of the club following promotion from the Championship last season. The case is now for young interim manager Stephen McDonnell to stake a claim for a permanent chance at managing the County Down side next season.
Glenavon v Ballymena United (venue: Mourneview Park; kick-off: 3pm)
The Lurgan Blues have regenerated their season at just the right time as a draw against Crusaders was followed up with a fine win against Cliftonville last weekend, as they now go into the final two games with a one point advantage over Linfield in the battle for a third place finish, which could prove hugely important when it comes down to the allocation of European places.
After scraping into the top six, David Jeffrey’s side have struggled in their ‘post split’ fixtures to date, with three consecutive defeats including a narrow 1-0 defeat to Coleraine at the Ballycastle Road last weekend. Jeffrey will have one eye already on the playoffs and a potential repeat of last season’s heroics, which will not be good news for Glenavon – who could find themselves facing the Sky Blues again next month.
Glentoran v Carrick Rangers (venue: The Oval; kick-off: 3pm)
There was midweek relief for Glentoran after a turbulent April so far, with a comfortable win over Dungannon Swifts making amends for a their managerial woes and a loss at Warrenpoint at the weekend. Glentoran are also assured of a place in the Europa League Playoffs and will avoid a pre-qualifier.
Carrick Rangers are living dangerously and need to pick up something from their trip to Belfast if they want to remain a top flight football club. It’s been a dismal season for the ‘Gers and the resurgence of rivals Ballinamallard United has only compounded the misery for David McAlinden who is now are in the middle of a run of six consecutive defeats and only one win in ten at the business end of the season.
Linfield v Coleraine (venue: Windsor Park; kick-off: 3pm)
It doesn’t need spelling out that it’s a must win game for Oran Kearney and Coleraine in their penultimate game of an incredible season. They go into the game level on points with Crusaders, having defeated Ballymena in their final home game last weekend, which marked a full league campaign unbeaten at the Ballycastle Road Showgrounds.
They will face a Linfield side who remain the only team to have defeated the Bannsiders in the Danske Bank Premiership this season, but who are fighting their own battles to remain in the hunt for third place in the table with Glenavon. Linfield will be missing Andy Mitchell who was sent off against Crusaders in last week’s 2-0 defeat, whilst former Linfield midfielder Josh Carson is out for Coleraine – also suspended.