(c) Presseye


The lead in the Danske Bank Premiership changed hands once again in midweek, could we see a new leader come Saturday evening as we look ahead to all six matches.

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

David Jeffrey will be aiming to stop the rot of five successive Premiership defeats which has left them in ninth place in the table. If they can follow up their dramatic cup victory against Warrenpoint with three points at home to Carrick Rangers, they will move up once place above Saturday’s opponents. New signing Joe McCready could make his debut after his move from Institute last week.

Carrick Rangers travel to the Showgrounds with a strong contingent of players with history at Ballymena, but they go into this game off the back of three straight defeats in all competitions, the most recent to Cliftonville on Tuesday evening, as they lost 3-1 at Solitude. Rangers won the most recent fixture between the sides in November but will be without the services of Michael Smith through suspension, and with star striker Stewart Nixon now at Coleraine following a deadline day move.

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

These two sides were drawn out of the hat on Saturday for an Irish Cup quarter-final tie later this month but will hold a dress rehearsal at Solitude first. The Reds got back to winning ways in the league on Tuesday night with their win over Carrick Rangers thanks to Conor McMenamin’s hat-trick. It was a first league victory for Paddy McLaughlin’s men in four attempts as they drop down to fifth in the title race but the win came at a cost as midfielder Liam Bagnall is now suspended following his midweek dismissal.

Despite narrowly losing to Linfield in midweek, the Swifts have seen an upturn in form under both Kris Lindsay since the turn of the year. The gap of six points plus a game in hand on their relegation rivals has been supplemented by progression to the Irish Cup quarter-finals. Cliftonville have won both the previous fixtures between the sides this season without scoring a goal and have forward Michael Carvill suspended for the trip to North Belfast.

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

Gary Hamilton has had plenty to stew over in the ten day’s since Glenavon’s last outing – they have conceded twelve goals in their last two outings, losing 8-1 to Linfield and 4-0 to Glentoran. Deadline day reinforcements arrived in the form of experienced Crusaders defender Colin Coates (who is suspended for the game against his former club). Midfielder Matthew Snoddy, on loan from Crusaders is unlikely to feature against his parent club, with midfielder Robert Garrett also suspended.

Crusaders by comparison have been positively purring since their Boxing Day defeat to Cliftonville – seven consecutive wins have elevated the Crues back up the table into third place and only two points away from the top of the table. Stephen Baxter’s men dispatched of Carrick Rangers with ease in the Irish Cup on Saturday, but will be aiming for their first win on the third attempt to get three points against the Lurgan Blues.

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

The capture of Lithuanian international striker Deivydas Matulevicius has concluded a remarkable period of transfer activity for Glentoran as manager Mick McDermott looks to capitalise on the club’s strong position as they strive for a first Gibson Cup since 2009. Rory Donnelly looks set to make his debut for the club but Seanan Clucas will have to wait for his bow through suspension. Glentoran navigated past a plucky Queens University side in the Irish Cup on Saturday.

Bannsiders boss Oran Kearney could be forgiven for having one eye on next Saturday’s BetMcLean League Cup final but Coleraine still have it all to play for in the Danske Bank Premiership. Stewart Nixon could be in line for a debut for the visitors but fellow deadline day capture Curtis Allen may have to wait for his reintroduction to the fans as he returns to full fitness. Coleraine navigated comfortably past Banbridge Town in the Irish Cup on Saturday past.

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

Time is starting to run down for Sean Connor and Institute in their battle to move out of the relegation zone as they have now gone eleven games in all competitions without a win. It’s been two weeks since the 2-0 defeat to Dungannon Swifts which keeps the North West club rooted to the foot of the table and now eight points from safety.

Larne chalked up another win on Saturday as they progressed to the quarter-finals of the Irish Cup with an extra time victory over Ballyclare Comrades. It’s been a good period for Tiernan Lynch’s side after league wins against Linfield and Glentoran in recent weeks but with a nine point gap between themselves in sixth and the top five, any lingering hopes of a late charge may seem unrealistic to the Inver Park club.

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

Warrenpoint manager Barry Gray will be keen to return the focus to the football after an eventful Irish Cup defeat to Ballymena United last Saturday which sees goalkeeper Mark Byrne suspended alongside defender Dermot McVeigh. Captain Francis McCaffrey is returning to full fitness and could feature in the run-in as Warrenpoint currently sit in eleventh place and a six point deficit to make up in the coming weeks – starting against the reigning champions tomorrow.

The Blues returned to the top of the table once again thanks to Andrew Waterworth’s midweek double against Dungannon Swifts. David Healy’s men have struggled for consistency this season but remain top of the pile despite losing more games than any other team in the top four in the table. Linfield have won both their games against ‘Point to date this season, including a 7-0 rout back in October at Windsor Park.