Action from the Linfield v Glentoran game earlier in the season (c) Presseye

DANSKE BANK PREMIERSHIP: BOXING DAY PREVIEW

It's the biggest day of the Danske Bank Premiership calendar as we look ahead to all the derby clashes on Boxing Day in our online preview!

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

The Sky Blues go into arguably their biggest festive derby in a generation top of the Danske Bank Premiership. David Jeffrey’s side capitalised on the teams immediately below them drawing on Saturday to open up a four-point cushion with their 2-0 win against Ards, in turn setting a club record 17 games unbeaten in the process.

Rodney McAree takes charge of his first Boxing Day derby game as he takes his Coleraine side to Warden Street for this sold out encounter off the back of a 2-1 win against his former side Dungannon Swifts. The Bannsiders are currently in sixth place in the league, but are unbeaten in their last seven games against their rivals dating back to Boxing Day 2016.

Cliftonville v Crusaders (venue: Solitude; kick-off: 3pm)

Reds fans will be celebrating the Christmas gift of a new long term contract for club record goalscorer Joe Gormley going into the North Belfast derby against Crusaders. In the short term though, the Reds are without a senior goalkeeper as Brian Neeson’s is suspended following his red card in the 6-4 defeat to Institute last Saturday means Barry Gray will have to dig deep between the sticks as Richard Brush (injured) and Declan Dunne (on loan at Portadown) are unavailable.

Stephen Baxter’s Crusaders go into this game one place and three points ahead of their derby rivals. The reigning Champions are still seven points off the pace but with new recruits already secured for the second half of the season. Two goals from Gavin Whyte (now at Oxford United) decided this fixture last season as Crusaders ran out 2-0 winners at Seaview.

Dungannon Swifts v Glenavon (venue: Stangmore Park; kick-off: 3pm)

It’s not the traditional Mid-Ulster derby for Glenavon this year, but it’s equally important as Gary Hamilton’s Lurgan Blues make the journey to Dungannon Swifts with both clubs fighting their own battles. Glenavon lost some ground in the title race on Saturday with a scoreless draw against Linfield, but have the benefit of having already defeated their opponents twice already this season in both the Premiership and the Mid-Ulster Cup.

Swifts manager Kris Lindsay will be no stranger to Glenavon having started the season as a coach at Mourneview Park before making the move to Dungannon. Lindsay has successfully steered his side out of the relegation zone, but with only a point to spare there is still a long road to go in the second half of the season to ensure survival – they go into the game off the back of a 2-1 defeat to Coleraine at the weekend.

Institute v Ards (venue: Brandywell Stadium; kick-off: 3pm)

They may be the odd ones out of the festive derbies, but there is still a lot to play for at the Brandywell in the bottom half of the table. In their first season back in the Danske Bank Premiership, Paddy McLaughlin’s Institute have been impressing many with their style of football – they moved into seventh place after a stunning 6-4 win over Cliftonville last weekend.

Colin Nixon’s Ards go into this game on a low ebb after another defeat last time out, this time to high flying Ballymena United. The County Down side are currently four points adrift at the bottom of the table and will be without Jonathan Frazer who has left the club to emigrate to Australia and David Elebert who has retired to take up a coaching role at the club.

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

The Belfast Big Two returns with the biggest Danske Bank Premiership attendance of the season expected at Windsor Park. David Healy’s Linfield are gunning for the Gibson Cup in second place and know that a win against their rivals will be vitally important after failing to overcome third placed Glenavon during the scoreless draw at Windsor Park on Saturday past.

Glentoran claimed the bragging rights with a late victory at The Oval last season but the Glens have failed to push on in the last twelve months under Ronnie McFall – as they start Boxing Day in eighth place in the table. The Glens’ game against Newry City was postponed on Friday night after the accident involving the match officials and the extra days of rest will be of huge benefit during a busy period, but they will also be without four players through suspension.

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

It’s the first top flight ‘Mourne Ultimatum’ derby between Warrenpoint Town and Newry City at the Q Radio Arena. The game itself is hugely important for the future of these two sides in the Danske Bank Premiership as local pride. Stephen McDonnell’s Warrenpoint go into the game with a three point advantage over their opponents and are currently in ninth place.

Newry City start the day in the relegation zone, knowing that three points could lift them out and above their rivals. Their game from Friday night was postponed against Glentoran, but there was nothing to separate the two sides in their first Premiership league meeting back in September as Warrenpoint secured a late equaliser to earn a 1-1 draw.

For all the latest news from the NI Football League subscribe to our online newsletter by clicking here.