BLUEFIN SPORT CHAMPIONSHIP: MATCHDAY 18 PREVIEW

There are a number of important games lined up in another big Saturday of Bluefin Sport Championship action, not least the clash between the top two at Inver Park.

Ballinamallard United v. Loughgall (venue: Ferney Park; kick-off 3pm)
An interesting encounter is in prospect at Ferney Park between two of the form teams in the Championship.

Up until their unexpected loss last Saturday to the PSNI Loughgall had been undefeated in their previous six league outings, and had averaged four goals per game in comprehensive victories over Knockbreda, HW Welders and Dergview.

That all changed at Newforge, a game the Villagers management will be hoping was just a blip in fortunes.

Ironically, the Mallards faced the PSNI on Tuesday and enjoyed somewhat better fortunes after goals from Ryan Campbell and Joshua McIlwaine saw them sweep to a three-goal victory, a result which stretched their own unbeaten run to half a dozen games.

Last time out the sides equally shared four goals at Lakeview Park, a game Loughgall twice led but were then twice pegged back.

Ballyclare Comrades v. Dergview (venue: Dixon Park; kick-off 3pm)
Both sides go into this clash at Dixon Park with a renewed sense of confidence following a good seven days which they'll be hoping has put the brakes on a recent poor spell.

Dergview might be five points adrift at the foot of the table but they will be buoyed by last week's performance against runaway leaders Larne at Darragh Park. Leading from the 13th minute and playing for over half-an-hour with ten men, Ivan Sproule's men were only denied the win by a late David Scullion equaliser.

Ballyclare, too, had a good Saturday with a defeat of second placed Dundela after coming from two goals down to claim the points. They then followed up in midweek with a home win over Knockbreda ... two results that came on the back of an almost barren six week spell.

Previously this season Ballyclare defeated Dergview by the odd goal in three in Castlederg, but it took a Jamie Willighan stoppage time winner to do so.

Carrick Rangers v. HW Welders (venue: Belfast Loughshore Hotel Arena; kick-off 3pm)
Third placed Carrick Rangers host HW Welders, in sixth, and with only three points between the sides this is a potentially crucial pre-split game.

Rangers have won five out of their last six Championship outings, keeping clean sheets in the last three and most recently defeated Portadown at Shamrock Park thanks to Michael Smith's penalty brace.

The Welders will have noticed Ballyclare Comrades creeping up behind them in the battle for a top six berth so will be hoping their away form, which has served them so well this term with five wins in their last six, continues.

The sides last met on the opening day of the season when Scott McMillan grabbed the only goal of the game to claim the points for Welders.

Larne v. Dundela (venue: Inver Park; kick-off 3pm)
The top two go head-to-head at Inver Park with both perhaps looking to prove a point following a less than perfect start to December last weekend.

Larne came within eight minutes of suffering their first league defeat of the season at bottom of table Dergview, only to be saved by an 82nd minute David Scullion equaliser.

The Duns had an even worse time at home to Ballyclare Comrades, squandering a two-goal half-time lead by shipping four in the final quarter-of-an-hour.

Goals from Martin Donnelly and Jeff Hughes handed Larne victory at Wilgar Park the last time the sides met, a game which saw the Inver Reds replace Dundela at the top and from which they haven't really looked back since.

Limavady United v. PSNI (venue: Limavady Showgrounds; kick-off 3pm)
Limavady United trail the PSNI by three points at the bottom end of the table, a situation which ensures this game could have far reaching consequences come the final shakedown.

The Roesiders received a massive boost last Saturday when Emmet Friars' stoppage time winner handed them the points against HW Welders, just as the PSNI were securing victory themselves at home to an on form Loughgall.

The pair locked horns most recently in the middle of October with Dale Malone knocking home the winner for the PSNI just before the break.

Portadown v. Knockbreda (venue: Shamrock Park; kick-off 5pm)
An early evening kick-off at Shamrock Park, both the Ports and 'Breda go into the game on the back of defeats in their most recent outings.

Portadown went down 2-0 at home to Carrick Rangers a week ago and then had their hearts broken in the League Cup quarter-final on Tuesday evening when Jordan Stewart struck in added time to hand Linfield victory.

Knockbreda also lost during the week, away to Ballyclare Comrades, and prior to that to Ballinamallard United at Breda Park on Saturday.

Another reversal could see any hopes of making the top six before the early January split slip into the distance while the Ports could go into the game knowing victory would move them back into third spot, depending on results earlier that afternoon.

Last time out Knockbreda twice came from behind to secure a share of the spoils at Breda Park.

For all the latest news from the NI Football League subscribe to our online newsletter by clicking here.