Coleraine manager Rodney McAree welcomes Dungannon Swifts to the Ballycastle Road (c) Presseye

DANSKE BANK PREMIERSHIP: MATCHDAY 21 PREVIEW

The last Danske Bank Premiership action before Christmas starts tonight at the Newry Showgrounds ahead of a massive second versus third clash at Windsor Park on Saturday, we look ahead to all the games.

Friday 21 December 2018

Newry City v Glentoran (venue: Newry Showgrounds; kick-off: 7.45pm)

The Danske Bank Premiership action kicks off on Friday evening at the Newry Showgrounds with a crucial bottom half fixture. Darren Mullen’s Newry City still find themselves in the relegation playoff places after last week’s 1-1 draw with Dungannon Swifts. With the fewest goals scored in the division this season, they have moved to snap up Malahide United striker Karl Moody – but the new signing won’t be available until the transfer window opens.

Ronnie McFall’s Glentoran could go ten games without a win if they fail to get back to winning ways on Friday night. They are just about keeping on the coattails of the top six but need to start picking up points if they are to achieve their early season ambitions of breaking back into the top half come the split. They sat out last weekend’s action due to the weather but have already beaten the border club this season – winning 4-1 back in September.

Saturday 22 December 2018

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

League leaders Ballymena United are gunning for a club record 17 games unbeaten on Saturday against bottom placed Ards, as they continue their pursuit of the Gibson Cup with a two point lead over second placed Linfield going into the weekend’s action. They will also be boosted by the arrival of midfielder Ryan Harpur from Dungannon Swifts.

Colin Nixon’s Ards side now find themselves five points from safety after defeat to Cliftonville at home last Saturday. They have now gone ten games without a victory in all competitions since beating Linfield back in October. In the two meetings between the sides, the Sky Blues have won both encounters at Clandeboye Park.

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

Rodney McAree welcomes his former club Dungannon Swifts to the Coleraine Showgrounds on Saturday and will be keen to bounce back from a dismal showing last Friday night in the live BBC Two NI broadcast against Glenavon. McAree conceded that his side ‘threw the towel in’ during the 4-0 defeat at Mourneview Park. This is the first meeting between the sides since McAree left Stangmore Park to take over from Oran Kearney at the Bannsiders.

The Swifts will be without captain Ryan Harpur who has made the switch to Ballymena United and manager Kris Lindsay will be wary that in the tightly contested bottom half of the table, Dungannon are now only a point from the relegation playoff places after defeat to Crusaders last Saturday.

Crusaders v Warrenpoint Town (venue: Seaview; kick-off: 3pm)

The Crues overcame their blip in form throughout December with a slender 1-0 over Dungannon Swifts last Saturday. That result leaves Stephen Baxter’s side fifth in the table – seven points off the leaders. The North Belfast side will have new signings Rory Hale and Gerard Doherty to come into the side in the New Year as they make a final push to retain the Danske Bank Premiership.

Ninth placed Warrenpoint Town are the visitors to Seaview this weekend, with Stephen McDonnell aiming to keep his side away from the wrong end of the table. The border side will consider themselves unlucky in the last meeting between the sides back in August as Philip Lowry’s stoppage time winner gave Crusaders all three points at Milltown.

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

Paddy McLaughlin’s side were one of six clubs that were forced into a free weekend last Saturday due to the rain, they currently sit in eighth place as the first half of an impressive return to the Danske Bank Premiership draws to a close. They have enjoyed back to back 3-3 draws with Glentoran and Glenavon in their two league games in December that has moved them within two points of seventh placed Glentoran.

Joe Gormley struck twice back in September as the Reds won the last encounter between the sides, 3-0. The Premiership’s top scorer struck twice again last weekend in the victory over Ards that leaves Barry Gray’s side still in the mix for the title in fourth place. Those goals take Gormley to 17 league strikes for the season to date.

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

Arguably the standout fixture of Saturday’s programme is second v third at Windsor Park as Linfield host Glenavon, with both sides desperate not to lose ground on Ballymena United. Linfield’s game against Newry City fell victim of the weather last Saturday as they hold a narrow one point advantage over Saturday’s opponents going into this game. David Healy’s side go into this game having won their last three games in all competitions and could welcome Daniel Kearns back after he featured for the Under-20 side in midweek.

Glenavon returned to form with a scintillating performance in front of the BBC cameras last Friday evening, winning 4-0 at Mourneview Park. They will go into this game with confidence but knowing that speculation has continued to mount on the future of the mercurial Mark Sykes – who looks destined for a move across to professional football in England. The two sides met on the opening day of the season in Lurgan, with Linfield winning 1-0.