Five games in the Danske Bank Premiership this Saturday – who will be top of the table at the close of play? We preview each of the fixtures.
Carrick Rangers v Warrenpoint Town (venue: Belfast Loughshore Hotel Arena; kick-off: 3pm)
Niall Currie will reflect positively on a good week for his Carrick Rangers side after winning 1-0 against Cliftonville at home and securing the signing of Linfield forward Daniel Reynolds on loan for the remainder of the season. The Carrick boss will be aware that a win against Warrrenpoint Town would open up an 18 point gap that would virtually assure the club of retaining their Premiership status at the first attempt.
It’s all to play for at the bottom of the table though as bottom club Warrenpoint Town once again need to start picking up points. They will be without one of their new signings Colm Deasy through suspension. ‘Point have lost both their previous meetings against Carrick this season without as much as scoring a goal in the two league encounters.
Crusaders v Ballymena United (venue: Seaview; kick-off: 3pm)
Crusaders found their form in a ruthless 3-0 win over Larne last Saturday which keeps Stephen Baxter’s men in the title hunt and only one point off the top of the Danske Bank Premiership table. The protracted transfer of former Northern Ireland Under-21 international Cameron Dummigan from Dundalk was concluded this week and the defender could go straight into the squad for Saturday’s game at Seaview.
Can David Jeffrey pick his Ballymena United side up from their agonising County Antrim Shield defeat on Tuesday night, the Sky Blues surrendered their lead deep into the stoppage time against Cliftonville to lose the Shield decider in dramatic fashion. Much of the midweek focus is on the future of striker Adam Lecky as the transfer window begins to close – but the Braidmen will be keen to hold onto their prized asset and even strike a repeat of the 1-0 league win at Seaview last month.
Dungannon Swifts v Institute (venue: Stangmore Park; kick-off: 3pm)
A proverbial relegation six pointer pits Dungannon Swifts against Institute in a game that could shape the season of either club. The Swifts hold both the home advantage and a five point lead over ‘Stute going into this game – they also produced a fantastic performance in the scoreless draw away to champions Linfield last Saturday that will give confidence to Kris Lindsay’s side. Dungannon Swifts will be without captain Seanan Clucas once again through suspension and will be joined by young defender Caolin Coyle who is also banned for this crucial game.
Institute remain in the bottom two and only a point above basement club Warrenpoint Town. Sean Connor’s side lost 2-0 to Glentoran at the Brandywell last Saturday to take their winless run to ten games in all competitions. This is the third meeting between these two sides in just over a month, as most recently they lost 3-2 in the Irish Cup fifth round but have yet to beat Dungannon in three occasions this season.
Linfield v Glenavon (venue: Windsor Park; kick-off: 3pm)
Despite a disappointing draw with Dungannon Swifts last week, the reigning champions are still primed to return to the top of the Premiership with a game in hand and a two point gap to make up on their title rivals above them. David Healy sought to strengthen his panel once again with the acquisition of Rory Currie on loan from Hearts for the rest of the season – out have gone Andrew Mitchell (Larne) and Daniel Reynolds (Carrick Rangers). Defender Mark Stafford is suspended for the visit of Glenavon tomorrow.
Mixed emotions for Gary Hamilton as he followed up a resounding victory against Ballymena United last Saturday with defeat to Loughgall in the final of the Mid-Ulster Cup in midweek. The impact of new signing Daniel Purkis has been immediate with two goals in his last two league games, his side will be hoping for a similar result to the 1-0 win at Mourneview in November when these sides last met – however the 7-0 drubbing at the hands of Linfield on their most recent visit to Windsor Park will still be raw in the minds of Glenavon players and fans alike.
Larne v Glentoran (venue: Inver Park; kick-off: 5.30pm)
In a later Saturday evening kick-off at Inver Park, a large crowd is expected at Inver Park for the visit of the league leaders. Tiernan Lynch could only watch on as his Larne team were given a Premiership masterclass by Crusaders at Seaview last week, this has prompted another move into the transfer market and today’s unveiling of Linfield midfielder Andrew Mitchell is another signal of intent for the ambitious East Antrim club, who remain sixth in the Premiership table with the split looming.
Glentoran moved back to the top of the Danske Bank Premiership as their 2-0 win away to struggling Institute coincided with results elsewhere going in their favour last Saturday. Manager Mick McDermott has been keen to build on the club’s success and further transfer activity before the window closes looks likely. Glentoran have already won on the road at Inver Park, Paddy McClean’s dramatic late winner live on BBC Two back in October has been part of a superb 14 game unbeaten run in the Premiership that has sparked hopes of a first Gibson Cup since 2009.