Crusaders and Ballymena United kick off the action this weekend on Friday night (c) Stephen Hamilton / Presseye
Friday, 22 December 2017
It's the final round of Danske Bank Premiership fixtures before Christmas, with some key games in the title race. You won't want to miss any of the action this weekend!
Friday 22 December
Crusaders v Ballymena United (venue: Seaview; kick-off: 7.45pm)
It promises to be a ‘Christmas Cracker’ at Seaview as two in-form teams come to blows on Friday night with plenty to play for! Crusaders and Stephen Baxter are breathing down the necks of Coleraine in their relentless pursuit of trying to recapture the league title and will be looking a repeat of the opening day 4-1 win over the Braidmen at the Showgrounds.
In a dress rehearsal for next month’s County Antrim Shield final – Ballymena United go into this game with only one defeat in ten games, as manager David Jeffrey was quick to remind the media of following last week’s win over Carrick Rangers.
BetMcLean odds: Crusaders win [2/7], Draw [4/1], Ballymena United win [7/1]
Warrenpoint Town v Coleraine (venue: Milltown; kick-off: 7.45pm)
The Bannsiders have travelled from one end of Northern Ireland to the other in the last game as the league leaders visit Warrenpoint Town at Milltown. Matthew Tipton’s men will be brimming with confidence after claiming a point at Windsor Park against Linfield last weekend, which was arguably the team’s reward for some encouraging performances against three of the top five teams in their recent outings. They have now closed the gap on ninth placed Ards to just a single point.
The Bannsiders’ win last week guaranteed they will be number one at Christmas, but will know the task of them over the festive year as they head into what could potentially be an historic year. Games against Ballymena United, Cliftonville and Linfield await in what could be a defining period for Oran Kearney in a quest for the Danske Bank Premiership crown. Saturday
BetMcLean odds: Warrenpoint Town win [6/1], Draw [19/5], Coleraine win [1/3]
Saturday 23 December
Ards v Ballinamallard United (venue: Bangor Fuels Arena; kick-off: 3pm)
There have been changes at Ards this week with the departure of Greg Hall and Gary Liggett from Colin Nixon’s side, this could signal some new faces at the Bangor Fuels Arena in the New Year. Last weekend, the County Down men picked up a point on the road against Dungannon Swifts and will look to go one better against the Mallards, repeating their 2-0 win back in September would do nicely.
The Mallards announced the signing of former Stoke City defender Ryan O’Reilly, it what could be the first of a number of new signings at Ferney Park aimed at getting the Fermanagh off the bottom of the Premiership table after a dismal opening half to the season. Manager Gavin Dykes has still yet to see his side pick up any points away from home this season – could this be a turning point?
BetMcLean odds: Ards win [17/20], Draw [5/2], Ballinamallard United win [13/5]
Carrick Rangers v Glentoran (venue: Belfast Loughshore Hotels Arena; kick-off: 3pm)
Glentoran manager Gary Haveron returns to his former club knowing only a win will do for his side as they look to halt an alarming run of form which seen the East Belfast slip into the bottom six in the Danske Bank Premiership table.
Carrick have been out of luck themselves with nine defeats in succession, including last weekend at Ballymena United when David McAlinden must have thought his side were going to hold onto their lead. They will have to take inspiration from their last meeting in the BetMcLean League Cup when Mark Edgar’s goal was the difference between the two sides, giving Rangers a rare 1-0 win.
BetMcLean odds: Carrick Rangers win [12/5], Draw [5/2], Glentoran win [10/11]
Dungannon Swifts v Glenavon (venue: Stangmore Park; kick-off: 3pm)
Last Saturday was ultimately a missed opportunity for Rodney McAree’s Swifts as their scoreless draw with Ards meant the double blow of creating some distance between their North Down opponents in the table and also draw closer to Glentoran and Ballymena United in the race for the top six.
Glenavon will need to bounce back from a huge title blow, losing 4-3 to Crusaders in a thrilling Danske Bank Premiership clash, which allowed the Crues to move into second place in the table and subsequently move the Lurgan Blues down into fourth position. It won’t be an easy game for Gary Hamilton and his team as they were held to a 1-1 draw in the same fixture against their Mid-Ulster neighbours back in September.
BetMcLean odds: Dungannon Swifts win [16/5], Draw [11/4], Glenavon win [4/6]
Linfield v Cliftonville (venue: Windsor Park; kick-off: 3pm)
The pick of the Saturday games is at Windsor Park, as the Belfast clubs face off in what is undoubtedly a crucial game in each team’s quest for this year’s Danske Bank Premiership title. This fixture always guarantees excitement, including last season’s title decider at Solitude which seen David Healy’s Blues win the title last April. That excitement seems a distant memory for the South Belfast side, as they dropped further points last weekend – drawing at home to Warrenpoint Town.
The Reds have been quietly going about their business and moved into third place with last week’s victory over Glentoran. This took their winning steak to an impressive seven consecutive games, which includes six clean sheets! They also have the advantage of already having beaten Linfield back in September, winning 3-2 at Solitude in dramatic style.
BetMcLean odds: Linfield win [10/11], Draw [5/2], Cliftonville win [12/5]