As we come to the business end of the Danske Bank Premiership, it is getting interesting to see which of the top teams will play after the split in the top six. This comes with its own rewards. Not just the crowning of the Champions, the top six will slug it out for the all-important money-spinning European slots, and the windfall that comes with them.
Who would have even envisioned that Crusaders could miss the split? Well, as I sit here without blinkers on and with no excuses for their indifferent season, and yes, I say bad, because with two games left before the split – Ballymena and Glenavon sit one point behind them in joint seventh.
So, for this week, I will consolidate the runners to the split.
Sitting healthy at the top of the tree – nine points ahead of second-place Coleraine. The Blues still look the team to beat in this title race. They are currently on a four-game unbeaten run, and last time out, they had a draw away to Larne. The difference between the Blues to everyone else. They are picking up points against teams they should be. They are also picking up points against the teams in and around them. Except for the Glens. Their biggest rivals have got a hold over them this season. But take nothing away from that, the Blues will finish the top of the tree – then the re-build into full-time football will start.
What a great season so far it has been for the Bannsiders. The form guide shows a picture of a team that should be on top of the table. But due to the Blues decent form this season, the Bannsiders have found the South Belfast club a hard team to catch. The Bannsiders biggest threat will be the emergence of a fully competitive Glentoran team. Only two points separate the two teams and the Glens have a game in hand. But in all fairness, the Bannsiders have been faring better against the teams around them rather than the Glens. On Tuesday night, the two teams played out a 2-2 draw at the Oval. An interesting finish ahead for the second spot.
The Glens are now starting to hit a little bit of form. They are now on a seven-game unbeaten run and have their sights fully engaged on that European spot. Personally, I think this is going to be a great finish between the Bannsiders and the Glens. I will put my neck on the line and say that the Bannsiders will – and should take the second spot. But what a season next season should be for the Glens. With the progress, full-time football and another transfer window – this team can only go from strength to strength.
This brings me onto the fight for the rest of the top six spots. Larne and Cliftonville will make the top six in the split. Reason for my thinking. Larne is on 52 points should be enough to see them claim a spot. The Reds, sitting in the fifth position on 50 points, still have a game on the two teams below them. It is theirs to lose.
The real talking point and place for debate is who takes the final spot in sixth place. This is between Crusaders, Ballymena United and Glenavon. Looking at the fixtures, you would say it will be the Crues. But up next for them is Glenavon. They have not fared too well against the Lurgan Blues this season. This game might not go the way they want. Their other game is away to Dungannon Swifts and we know how that ended up the last time the two met. On a plus for the Crues in the two games, the Sky Blues have left. Away to the Blues – then a home derby against the Bannsiders. A big ask indeed. The Lurgan Blues could sneak it if they can beat the Crues this weekend coming. They then have Point and the Blues away.
The top of the table is now shaping itself – but over the next 2-3 games it is going to be all eyes on that sixth spot and who will take.