The Danske Bank Premiership is back for another set of matches this weekend with five matches on Saturday and one on Monday night. Like last week, the title challengers have been kept apart in fixtures bar the Monday night fixture when it’s 4th vs 5th when Coleraine host Cliftonville. As normal, the Saturday matches have a 3:00 pm kick-off apart from Larne vs Glentoran which kicks off at 5:30 pm, with the game on Monday night kicking off at 7:45 pm.
Here is a quick overview of this weekend’s fixtures:
The league table currently looks like this:
Carrick Rangers vs Warrenpoint Town
The Belfast Loughshore Arena is the venue for the clash between the side pushing for seventh and the team at the bottom of the table. Both sides have put in some solid performances of late, even if the results haven’t reflected them, and with both bolstering their squads with new talent, fortunes could change for these sides over the next few weeks.
The last time these sides met was at the end of October, where Carrick ran out 1-0 winners thanks to a last-minute winner from Lloyd Anderson. Carrick have impressed many this season under the management of Niall Currie. After being defeated by Linfield the weekend following the defeat to Warrenpoint, they went to Ballymena and won 2-0. This kicked off a run of strong performances for The Gers, but they couldn’t get the result they were looking for, losing 3-1 to Crusaders and 3-2 to Coleraine. They did, however, get rewarded for their resilient performances beating Glenavon 6-2 at home. Since that match, they have gone on to beat Institute twice, Ards in the Irish Cup, and Clintonville last time out, as well as picking up a draw away to Larne. Warrenpoint have looked a better side since the appointment of Barry Gray and have since closed the gap between them and Institute to a single point. They have suffered some heavy defeats to Glentoran, Cliftonville, Crusaders and Coleraine, but have also picked up wins against Ballymena, Institute and PSNI in the cup, as well as claiming a draw against Glenavon,
Last time out was a win for the Carrickfergus side, beating title challengers Cliftonville 1-0 thanks to a 65th minute Lloyd Anderson winner at home. In Warrenpoint’s last game, they suffered a heavy defeat to Coleraine, losing the game 4-0 at home, with recent signing Colm Deasy seeing red in the 86th minute of the game.
A win for either side at the Belfast Loughshore Hotel Arena will be huge at the end of the season. If results go in favour of these sides elsewhere, a win could see Carrick move up to seventh place. A win for Warrenpoint can see them leapfrog Institute into 11th, pushing Stute into the automatic relegation spot, with Warrenpoint having some lifeline with the relegation/playoff against the second-place side from the Championship if a promotion license is granted.
Dungannon Swifts vs Institute
Round four in the Swifts vs Stute rivalry is set to be the main event at Stangmore Park this weekend. These two sides have had some quite dramatic matches as of late, with multiple red cards, bad tackles and controversial goals to only name a few things that have occurred.
These sides met in the Irish Cup 5th round at the beginning of January, with a controversial late winner for Dungannon sealing the victory for the Tyrone side (You can read my match report from the Irish Cup clash between the sides by clicking here). The last time these two sides have met in league action was a 2-2 draw just before Christmas, which ended in four players getting suspended for a brawl, with them returning for the Cup match, before getting a further six-match suspension. Over the Christmas period, Dungannon lost two consecutive games against Glenavon and Crusaders 5-0 before losing to Glentoran 2-0. Institute immediately had an upturn in form after their cup exit, drawing 2-2 with Glenavon. Before that, however, they had a difficult Christmas period after drawing with the Swifts in their last league outing. Stute lost every game they have played since, bar one – a 2-2 draw with Glenavon.
Last time out for Dungannon was away against the current Gibson Cup holders Linfield, with the game ending in a 0-0 draw. Dungannon, however, did have many youngsters on the field, showing that if you’re good enough, you’re old enough for Irish Premiership football. Institute hosted title challengers Glentoran and were defeated 2-0. It was a better performance of Stute than some of their previous matches and with the new players coming into the mix, things are looking on the up for the relegation contenders.
Defeat for either side won’t massively have an effect on their season but it will just make things slightly harder. A win for Dungannon would see them go within four points of Ballymena while they are now seven behind with a game in hand. Institute will remain in the relegation/promotion playoff if they win at Stangmore Park. Warrenpoint are below them by a single point, and Dungannon ahead of them by five points with the Swifts having two games in hand over Stute.
Crusaders vs Ballymena United
It has been two contrasting seasons for the sides that will face off at Seaview. Crusaders currently sit second in the table, one point of the lead. However, they have played one more game that Glentoran above them, and two ahead of Linfield below them. Ballymena currently sit in ninth place, two points of Carrick in eight, with only five points separating Ballymena and Glenavon in seventh.
The last time these two sides met was the beginning of December, where it was the visitors Ballymena leaving Seaview with all three points, with Joshua Kelly scoring an 88th minute winner in a 1-0 win for the Sky Blues. Crusaders struggled for the next few matches after the Ballymena game, picking up only two points of a possible nine with draws against Glentoran, Linfield and a defeat to Cliftonville. They did, however, follow these results with a 5-0 win against Dungannon Swifts and a 4-0 away win to Warrenpoint on New Year’s Day. They have also progressed to the sixth round of the Irish Cup and beat Coleraine and Larne. Ballymena have had mixed fortunes since the last time they faced Crusaders. They claimed wins against Dungannon Swifts and Glenavon immediately after the Crusaders match, but only won one for their next four matches, the Irish Cup tie against Crumlin Star.
Last time out for Crusaders was a 3-0 home win against Larne, with Jamie McGonigle opening the scoring after just three minutes with a penalty, followed by Jordan Owens getting a goal in the 22nd minute of play and McGonigle scoring his second on the half-hour mark. Ballymena played in the County Antrim Shield Final last Tuesday, with a late collapse giving their opponents Cliftonville the win with two goals late into added time. Last time in the league they faced Glenavon and suffered a 3-0 defeat.
Three points at Seaview may prove vital for both sides come the end of the season or even the split. Crusaders look comfortable to make the top half split, which is crazy to think that there is slight danger, but that is how tight it is up the top half of the table. Ballymena will want to make a late push for top six, highly unlikely but they will at least want to be going into the split leading the relegation group.
Linfield vs Glenavon
24 and a half miles and 22 points in the league separate these two sides, who have different priorities at this stage of the season. Linfield currently sit in third place but have two games in hand which could see them go top of the table. Glenavon are currently in seventh place and will need to quickly close the seven-point gap on Larne to get into the top group after the split.
The last time these two sides met was at the end of November at Mourneview Park when Glenavon ran out 1-0 winners with a 26th minute goal by Robert Garrett. Linfield have had a strong run of performances since that defeat, beating Ballymena, Larne, Cliftonville, Warrenpoint and Institute. But the standout result is the defeat to Queen’s University in the Irish Cup, along with defeats to Coleraine in the NI League Cup Semi-Final and Glentoran on boxing day. The Blues also dropped points with draws against Crusaders, Coleraine and Dungannon. Glenavon have also had a strong run of performances since they beat Linfield, taking all three points against Institute twice, Carrick and Dungannon Swifts. The standout result was the heavy defeat away to Carrick losing 6-2, but then got the better of The Ger’s when they faced each other again two weeks later. They also picked up a point against Warrenpoint and Institute with both games ending in a draw.
Last time out for Linfield was a 0-0 draw against a youthful Dungannon Swifts side, with Linfield having multiple chances, but lacked the quality needed to finish off the chances. Glenavon defeated Ballymena 3-0 last time out with goals from Conan Bryne, Daniel Purkis and Gregory Moorhouse giving the Lurgan Blues the win over the Sky Blues.
Like every game, this weekend, three points for either side will go a long way for them come the end of the season. Linfield will want to ensure that they go top of the table when they have caught up on the games missed due to their Europa League Qualifying run. They can even go top with a win here if results elsewhere go their way. Glenavon will want to close the gap to Larne in sixth, with the Lurgan Blues hoping to squeeze into the top half group.
Larne vs Glentoran
Two clubs that have had a big financial input over the past few seasons go to battle at Inver Park, with both teams looking to build on their impressive seasons so far. Larne currently sit in sixth place, seven points clear of Glenavon and currently take up the final spot in the top half group after the split. Glentoran went top of the table last weekend, and they also have a game in hand of Crusaders below them.
The last time these sides met was midway through October, for what was their second game in three days as they faced each other in the second round of the County Antrim Shield. It was the exact same result in both these matches with Glentoran getting the better of the newly-promoted side 3-2 away at Inver Park in the league. Two goals from Paul O’Neill in the space of three minutes cancelled out a Mark Randall opener on four minutes. Patrick McClean gave the Glens the lead in the 83rd minute after Sean Graham had equalised for Larne. Since that last match, Larne have been on a decent run of form winning against Ballymena twice, Dungannon Swifts, Glenavon, Warrenpoint, Belfast Celtic in the Irish Cup and Carrick. They also picked up draws against Institute, Crusaders, Cliftonville and Coleraine. Glentoran have gone from strength to strength since they beat Larne, winning against Ballymena twice, Warrenpoint twice, Dungannon Swifts twice, Cliftonville, Carrick Rangers, Linfield, Portadown in the Irish Cup and Institute.
Last time out for Larne was a 3-0 defeat to Crusaders away at Seaview, with a brace from McGonigle and a goal from Owens ensuring that Larne left Seaview empty-handed. For Glentoran, it was a 2-0 win over Institute at the Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium (You can read my match report from this match by clicking here). Goals from Navid Nasseri and Keith Cowan gave the Glens the three points to take back to the oval.
Coleraine vs Cliftonville
This week we have Monday night football, and it is probably the biggest game of the weekend. Coleraine host Cliftonville at the Coleraine Showgrounds in what could be a vital game in deciding where the Gibson Cup ends up at the end of the season, with both teams firmly in the mix. Coleraine currently sit in fourth place, three points of the lead, but have played at least one extra game than those around them. Cliftonville currently sit in fifth, level on points with Coleraine but have a game in hand over the Bannsiders.
These two sides last met just before Christmas with a Conor McMenamin goal in the 83rd minute giving Cliftonville the three points at Solitude. Since that match Coleraine have been on a solid run of form, beating Ballymena, Carrick, Glenavon in the cup and Warrenpoint, with a draw against Linfield and a defeat to Crusaders being the only stumbling blocks in the rise of Coleraine under Oran Kearney. Cliftonville have had a decent run of form as well, beating Crusaders, Larne, Glenavon, Hanover in the Irish Cup and winning the Country Antrim Shield against Ballymena.
Last time out for Coleraine was a 4-0 win over Warrenpoint, with a Jamie Glackin hat-trick and a Matthew Fitzpatrick goal giving the Bannsiders the three points to take back to the Showgrounds. Last Tuesday was the Country Antrim Shield which Cliftonville won in late fashion against Ballymena, with two goals late into added time giving the Reds the win. Before that, they were in league action against Carrick, which ended in a 1-0 defeat with Lloyd Anderson scoring in the 65th minute to give the Amber Army the victory.
This game is massive for both sides, it could almost end either sides’ chance of winning the Gibson Cup, despite it still not even being the split. A win for either side of Monday night can see them go top, but that would require results to go their way over the weekend. There is one thing for sure, this game will mix up the top end of the table no matter what the results are on Saturday.