Champions Crusaders return to the scene of last year’s triumph on Saturday, but the two big games at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership table are both in Mid-Ulster this Saturday.

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

The Crues return to the scene of their dramatic Danske Bank Premiership tile triumph last April, but that will seem all but a distant memory for Stephen Baxter’s side. Crusaders lost their fifth league game of the season last weekend against Coleraine but go into the game still in third position after their indifferent start to the season, they bounced back in midweek to progress to the semi-finals of the County Antrim Shield with an extra time victory over Cliftonville.

David Jeffrey’s Ballymena United also progressed past Ballyclare Comrades in the Shield in midweek and are still unbeaten since their return to the Showgrounds at the start of the month. The Braidmen start the game only a place and a point behind last season’s champions as they could call upon Ghanaian Under-20 international Basit Umar who made his debut against the Comrades.

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

Rodney McAree will be relieved to get his first Premiership victory last week thanks to Gareth McConaghie’s free-kick that was enough to see off Crusaders. They welcome the other half of North Belfast tomorrow in a repeat of the 2018 Irish Cup final, which the Bannsiders dramatically won back in May.

Aaron Burns scored the late winner between the two sides back in August as Cliftonville continued their misfortune against the North West side. The Reds bounced back last Saturday to comfortably defeat Newry City, but since then found themselves knocked out of the County Antrim Shield in extra time to neighbours Crusaders on Tuesday.

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

It’s been a positive week for Swifts manager Kris Lindsay ahead of another huge Premiership clash against his former club. Dungannon followed up their away point at Ballymena United with a comfortable 4-1 win against Banbridge Rangers in the Mid-Ulster Cup during the week.

The Blues may have recorded a welcome victory over rivals Glentoran in the County Antrim Shield, but their blip in form will need to be quickly overcome against the Swifts on Saturday if they want to continue their push to regain the Gibson Cup. Last week’s shock defeat to Ards was David Healy’s first defeat of the season and the first time they had conceded two goals in a single game all year.

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

Suddenly Glentoran go into this game off the back of three consecutive defeats and now find themselves in the bottom half of the table after what has been considered an encouraging start to the season at the Oval. Ronnie McFall’s side suffered a midweek reverse to rivals Linfield at Windsor Park in the Shield.

Ards also came back down to earth after their Premiership heroics last weekend against Linfield, with defeat to Championship pacesetters Larne in the County Antrim Shield quarter-finals. Colin Nixon’s side moved out of the bottom two with their first win against Linfield since 1997, secured by Mark Kelly.

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

It’s eighth v ninth in the Danske Bank Premiership at the Q Radio Arena as Warrenpoint Town host Institute. Stephen McDonnell’s resurgent ‘Point may have finally suffered defeat to Cliftonville at Solitude last Saturday, but bounced back with a derby win against rivals Newry City in the Mid-Ulster Cup on Tuesday night.

Paddy McLaughlin’s Institute have adapted well to life in the Premiersihp and picked up their first away win of the season last week against Newry City which moved them just three points away from the top half of the table. They travel back to South Down this weekend in search of another similar outcome having defeated Portstewart in the North West Cup during the week.

Glenavon v Newry City (venue: Mourneview Park; kick-off: 5pm)

Gary Hamilton’s Lurgan Blues continue to top the Danske Bank Premiership by a point over Linfield, following last week’s hard fought 2-1 win over Glentoran. Saturday’s game at Mourneview Park kicks off at the later early evening slot of 5pm and the home side will be without Rhys Marshall who is suspended for the game.

Newry City are in desperate need of form and points having dropped into the bottom two after defeat to Institute at home last weekend. It was a fourth defeat in a row for Darren Mullen’s side who haven’t won since the start of September in the Premiership.

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