DANSKE BANK PREMIERSHIP: 28 APRIL PREVIEW

The fate of the top and the bottom of the Danske Bank Premiership comes down to this Saturday in the most anticipated day of local football in years.

Ards v Dungannon Swifts (venue: Bangor Fuels Arena; kick-off: 3pm)

There may be only pride to play for between the two sides in County Down as both managers can count themselves lucky not to be dealing with the stress and permutations of the other six fixtures across the league. Both Ards and Dungannon Swifts can be content with their campaigns, the latter particularly so after winning the BetMcLean League Cup in February. A win for Colin Nixon’s Ards side could lift them into an eighth place finish in the Danske Bank Premiership.

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

Ironically the game that kicked off the season back in August is the one that could end with the visitors crowned as Danske Bank Premiership champions for 2018. Stephen Baxter’s Crues travel to the Braid looking to exercise the demons which cruelly derailed their league championship challenge a year ago. Crusaders go into the game with a slight advantage over title rivals Coleraine through goal difference, with both team’s level on points. They will also be buoyed by the coronation of Gavin Whyte as this year’s Ulster Footballer of the Year.

David Jeffrey’s Sky Blues will be all too aware of the danger of Crusaders having lost all four meetings between the sides this season, including the County Antrim Shield final in January. There will be question marks over the selection of defender Kyle Owens, who has been announced as joining Crusaders on a pre-contract next season, as the Sky Blues look towards the Europa League Playoffs to salvage an indifferent season at the Showgrounds.

Glenavon v Coleraine (venue: Mourneview Park; kick-off: 3pm)

It’s been a season of twists and turns and there could still be one last shift as Coleraine travel to Mourneview Park knowing that they must win and their rivals Ballymena United get a result against the Crues. Either way, it’s been a hugely impressive season for the Bannsiders who could take one step towards club immortality with an Irish League and Irish Cup double. Games against Glenavon have been fairly tight for Coleraine this season, with two draws in the last two games with the only win in this fixture going in favour of the Bannsiders back in September.

Gary Hamilton and Glenavon still have plenty to play for themselves as they know that should they secure the third place position they currently occupy, they can potentially secure automatic qualification to the Europa League should Coleraine win the Irish Cup next week, at worst they would put themselves in a position to have both semi-final and final playoff games at their home venue – so there is still plenty left at stake for the Lurgan Blues.

Glentoran v Ballinamallard United (venue: The Oval; kick-off: 3pm)

At the other end of the table it’s last chance saloon for Harry McConkey and the Mallards, just when they thought they had done enough to make their way off the bottom of the table, relegation rivals Carrick Rangers surprise everyone with a shock win at Saturday’s opponents Glentoran to move the Fermanagh men back to the bottom of the table on goal difference going into the final game.

Despite Glentoran’s setback last week, all eyes are firmly on the playoffs for interim manager Ronnie McFall. Whilst their post-split results have been far from inspiring for the East Belfast supporters, progression to the Europa League via the playoffs would be a big bonus for their next manager, as the recruitment drive continues at the Oval.

Linfield v Cliftonville (venue: Windsor Park; kick-off: 3pm)

At Windsor Park, it promises to be a much lower key fixture between the two sides than normal as Cliftonville could be forgiven for having one eye on their return to South Belfast the following week as they take on Coleraine in the Irish Cup final. Linfield though are still locked in a battle with Glenavon for fourth place and a potential route into Europe via third place in the Danske Bank Premiership.

Meetings between the clubs have been tight this year with two wins apiece in the four meetings, with Barry Gray’s Reds holding the bragging rights after their 1-0 win in the quarter-finals of the Irish Cup in March.

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

David McAlinden’s Carrick Rangers came back from the dead last week, having been written off as all but relegated they produced a memorable win over Glentoran to move off the bottom of the table on goal difference at exactly the right time. Clinging onto goal difference, they know they just have to better Ballinamallard United’s result when they travel to face Warrenpoint Town, to avoid automatic relegation and earn a second chance in the Promotion / Relegation Playoffs against Newry City next week.

Following Warrenpoint’s recent survival – Stephen McDonnell was handed the reigns on a permanent basis and will look forward to another season in the Danske Bank Premiership next season.