Action from Linfield v Crusaders this season (c) Presseye

DANSKE BANK PREMIERSHIP: MATCHDAY 34 PREVIEW

The Danske Bank Premiership title could finally be decided on Saturday afternoon, but there’s no shortage of action as we preview six top matches this weekend.

Ards v Glentoran (venue: Clandeboye Park; kick-off: 3pm)

The pressure is back on Ards boss Warren Feeney as the dismal 3-0 defeat to relegation rivals Newry City has meant the North Down club are once again propping up the Danske Bank Premiership table. They host neighbours Glentoran, knowing that they must pick up points with time running out to avoid the drop down to the Championship – but will be without former Glens defender Kym Nelson who is suspended.

Mick McDermott got off to a winning start as new Glentoran boss away to Dungannon Swifts last week. They start the weekend in eighth place and in pole position for the final Europa League playoff spot. The East Belfast men have had the better of this fixture over the course of the 2018/19 season with two wins and a draw in the three previous league fixtures.

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

The Reds will be keen to get back to focusing on football this weekend and the visit of Ballymena United gives boss Paddy McLaughlin the chance to move three points closer to fourth spot in the table should results go their way. Aaron Harkin is suspended for the Solitude side who go into this game in decent form having won four of their last five games since losing to the Sky Blues at the end of February.

Last Friday night’s defeat to Linfield drew a curtain over Ballymena United’s lingering title hopes – but there is still the objective of automatic European qualification to be achieved for David Jeffrey’s side. The Braidmen travel to North Belfast without the injured James Knowles, Cathair Friel and Ryan Harpur but have won the last two meets between these sides and a third could open up a seven point gap on third place, should Crusaders lose elsewhere.

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

Games are running out quickly for Kris Lindsay to propel his Swifts team into contention for the Europa League playoffs – they start the weekend in ninth place and chasing a five point deficit. It’s been five defeats in their last six games for the Tyrone side (including a 2-1 loss to Glentoran last week) as Douglas Wilson will sit out this clash through suspension.

Kevin Doherty continues as interim manager of Institute for the trip to Stangmore Park, his side have had an upturn in form in recent games winning back to back games against Coleraine and Warrenpoint Town. ‘Stute are currently eighth in the table, level on points with Glentoran, but will not be eligible for contention for the playoffs. Meetings between these sides have produced a win apiece and a draw so far this campaign.

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

Gary Hamilton has brought in former team-mate Kyle Neill to his backroom team this week as their recent form has allowed the Lurgan Blues to come back into contention for a shot at automatic European qualification. Sammy Clingan’s late winner against the Crues pulled his side within a point of third place and marked a fourth consecutive league win going into the final stretch of the season.

Rodney McAree’s Coleraine are now looking to the playoffs to salvage a frustrating season of transition at the Ballycastle Road – last week’s defeat to Cliftonville marked a fourth defeat in five games in all competitions as last season’s runners-up now looked consigned to a sixth placed finish in the Premiership table and they have failed to beat Glenavon in any of the three meetings this season.

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

A point is all David Healy’s side need for their 53rd Irish League title at Windsor Park on Saturday. The Blues can clinch the Gibson Cup with three games to spare but only last year’s Champions Crusaders stand in the way. Linfield start the afternoon 16 points ahead of their cross city rivals following last week’s 1-0 win over Ballymena United at the Showgrounds and will be boosted by goalscorer Andrew Waterworth’s new two year contract alongside defender Mark Stafford.

Whilst Stephen Baxter has the luxury of an Irish Cup final to look forward to in three weeks’ time – last week’s defeat to Glenavon has put their hopes of a top two finish in jeopardy. With the opportunity to ensure automatic European qualification through the league still alive, Baxter will not be giving up without a fight at Windsor Park. The Crues defeated Linfield in both the County Antrim Shield and Irish Cup this season but have failed to overcome their rivals in the Premiership games this season.

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

The final instalment of the ‘Mourne Ultimatum’ of the season could prove to be the most important yet as Newry City look to retain their place in the Danske Bank Premiership for next season. Darren Mullen’s side stormed to a huge 3-0 win against relegation companions Ards last weekend that lifted the border side off the bottom of the table by a single point. They will be without both Declan Carville and Stephen Hughes (both suspended) for this important clash.

Neighbouring Warrenpoint Town are safe from relegation and now also out of contention for the playoffs but will be aiming to finish as high up the table as possible and also maintain the bragging rights of the newest local derby in the division – having not lost in the Premiership meetings between the clubs this season.

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