It's all to play for at both ends of the Danske Bank Premiership this weekend, starting tonight at the Newry Showgrounds as we preview the fixtures.

Friday 11 January 2019

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

Darren Mullen’s men know they need to start winning games to be in with a shout of survival as they are without a victory since November. Their Irish Cup exit to Larne on Saturday past allows the Mourne men to focus on staying in the division but with the joint lowest goals scored in the division, they will need to find someone to put the ball in the net against the in-form Crues – something that they failed to do in their two defeats to the North Belfast side this season.

It’s been a huge transfer window for Crusaders as Stephen Baxter has shown his intent to retain the Gibson Cup this season. The capture of Ronan Hale from Birmingham City to compliment his brother Rory takes the January transfer acquisitions to four as the Crues start the weekend in third place but could go level on points with leaders Linfield with a win on Friday night against Newry City. Saturday 12 January 2019

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

It’s been two defeats in the last ten days as the Sky Blues aim to regroup having come out of the longest unbeaten run in the club’s history at the end of 2018. Progression in the Irish Cup against Dundela was followed up by a narrow 2-1 defeat in the semi-final of the County Antrim Shield to Linfield in midweek.

Kris Linday’s Swifts are the only team to take points off the Sky Blues at home in the league this season, drawing 1-1 at the Showgrounds back in October. Seanan Clucas was the unlikely matchwinner in last week’s Irish Cup win over Cliftonville which will give the Stangmore Park side the impetus to kick on and move away from the drop zone – they currently occupy tenth place with a four point cushion over Newry City.

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

It was a tough week for Reds boss Barry Gray, who survived the Irish Cup exit to Dungannon Swifts with the backing of his club’s board to remain in the Solitude dugout. The North Belfast side now must focus their attentions on the league and getting back to winning ways after five consecutive defeats in all competitions. Their last win was ironically against Ards back in December at Clandeboye Park.

Life at Ards in 2019 hasn’t been plain sailing either for Colin Nixon, as his side were unceremoniously knocked out of the Irish Cup by Bluefin Sport Championship side Carrick Rangers last Saturday. Coupled with their New Years’ Day defeat to Linfield – they start the weekend two points adrift of next placed Newry City, having played two games more than their relegation rivals.

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

There’s a big clash at the Ballycastle Road Showgrounds in the race for Europe as fourth placed Glenavon travel to Coleraine. The Bannsiders will have been rocked by the news of Darren McCauley’s transfer-listing but new signings Ben Doherty and Jamie Glackin may feature in the league for the first time, they defeated HW Welders to comfortably progress in their defence of the Irish Cup last Saturday.

The last time these two teams met in front of the BBC Two cameras, the Lurgan Blues put Coleraine to the sword winning 4-0, but since then Gary Hamilton has lost the jewel in his crown to Oxford United – so Glenavon go into the game without Mark Sykes and without a win in the four games since that win over Coleraine, but will be encouraged by a morale boosting 5-0 win against Irish Cup minnows Rosemount Rec.

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

It’s six games unbeaten in the Premiership for Paddy McLaughlin’s Institute side who are now eight points above Saturday’s opponents. The North West are now looking above them with their eyes on the six point gap between them and the top six, a lot will depend on their ability to hold onto 18-goal captain Michael McCrudden who has been starring for ‘Stute this season.

Gary Smyth takes charge of Glentoran for the first time in the Danske Bank Premiership since the departure of Ronnie McFall. Despite defeat to Crusaders in the Irish Cup last Saturday, there were some encouraging signs that there is life left in the Glens yet. However, it’s 13 games without a win for the East Belfast side who are in danger of being pulled deep into a relegation battle this season.

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

The league leaders hold a slender one-point gap over Ballymena United at the top of the table but will not have it easy against a Warrenpoint Town side who nearly snatched a victory in their last visit to Windsor Park, but for a late Andrew Waterworth equaliser.

Stephen McDonnell was a guest on this week’s BetMcLean Football Show and he will bring Chelsea goalkeeper Jared Thompson in for his league debut as they look for a first ever league w over the South Belfast club.