Larne's David McDaid (©INPHO/Stephen Hamilton)
Friday, 14 December 2018
With the split edging ever closer there is everything to play for throughout Saturday's Bluefin Sport Championship bill of fare.
Ballinamallard United v. Larne (venue: Ferney Park; kick-off 3pm)
Tiernan Lynch's Larne make the long journey west to face a Ballinamallard United side that have started to come into form following a poor start to the season.
If, after almost suffering a first defeat of the campaign against Dergview a fortnight ago, anyone harboured any thoughts that the wheels had come off Larne's seemingly unrelenting progress they were well and truly put in their place following last week's five goal thumping of nearest challengers Dundela.
David McDaid claimed the match ball with a second half hat-trick to extend Larne's lead at the top to a huge 17 points although, by that stage, Jeff Hughes and David Scullion had already found the net to effectively seal the game.
The Mallards, by contrast, were slipping to their first loss in seven games at home to Loughgall. A goal apiece in the opening ten minutes ensured a frantic start to the game before Gary Liggett knocked home what proved to be the winner for the Villagers early in the second half.
Earlier this season, Martin Donnelly's sweet 60th minute strike into the bottom right corner was the difference between the Mallards and Larne at Inver Park.
Ballyclare Comrades v. Portadown (venue: Dixon Park; kick-off 3pm)
Portadown, in third, are only four points ahead of seventh placed Ballyclare Comrades so this has all the makings of a tense encounter at Dixon Park.
Matthew Tipton's side will have been disappointed by a Mid-Ulster Cup exit to Warrenpoint Town during the week but, in terms of league action, go into this game on the back of last Saturday's 4-3 defeat of Knockbreda thanks to two goals apiece from Sean Mackle and Adam Salley.
Ballyclare are undefeated so far this month following wins over Knockbreda and Dundela before sharing the spoils with bottom of the table Dergview at home seven days ago. On paper some may view that as a disappointing result but when you consider the Castlederg side almost toppled the all conquering Larne a week earlier it can perhaps be viewed in a different light.
Portadown enjoyed the upper hand against Ballyclare the last time the two met, running out 3-1 winners at Shamrock Park thanks to goals from Salley, Chris Lavery and Darren Murray.
Dundela v. Knockbreda (venue: Wilgar Park; kick-off 3pm)
With only one win between them in their last ten combined outings this Wilgar Park clash has perhaps assumed some extra significance for both camps at an important stage of the season.
Dundela are clinging onto second spot in the table but have shipped 12 goals in their last three games in a poor run of form that has allowed the chasing pack to bunch up behind them.
And Knockbreda haven't fared much better. Indeed, they have slipped out the back of the aforementioned pack and find themselves eight points adrift of even securing a place in the top six.
This is the third meeting between the east Belfast sides this season. 'Breda kicked things off with a 3-1 win at Wilgar Park in the League Cup on the opening day before the Duns gained ample revenge with a four-goal stroll at Breda Park in the Championship a month later.
Limavady United v. Dergview (venue: Limavady Showgrounds; kick-off 3pm)
A real six-pointer between the sides currently occupying the bottom two places in the Championship.
They might be propping up the table but Dergview have taken points off runaway leaders Larne and top six hopefuls Ballyclare Comrades in their last two outings so will approach this game with renewed confidence.
Limavady, four points ahead of the visitors, recorded a credible victory over HW Welders a fortnight ago but then ended up empty-handed last Saturday after squandering a two-goal lead at home to the PSNI.
Two goals was the winning margin in the Roesiders favour in the previous meeting this season when Sean McCarron and Robbie Hume struck either side of the hour back in September.
Loughgall v. Carrick Rangers (venue: Lakeview Park; kick-off 2pm)
Locked on 28 points apiece, fourth host sixth in what promises to be a competitive encounter at Lakeview Park.
The Villagers go into the game following last week's victory over Ballinamallard United thanks to Gary Liggett's 55th minute looping header which got them back on track following defeat to the PSNI seven days earlier which had ended a nine-game unbeaten run.
Niall Currie's Rangers will be looking to bounce back after crashing at home to HW Welders, a loss made all the more surprising given that they won three from three before that without conceding a single goal.
There was nothing between the sides when they last came face-to-face at the start of October. Caolan Loughran opened the scoring for Carrick, but Nathaniel Ferris struck moments from the break to ensure a share of the spoils.
PSNI v. HW Welders (venue: Newforge Lane; kick-off 2pm)
Having both scored four goals on the road last week, the PSNI and HW Welders will approach this game at Newforge brimming with confidence.
The Welders swept to victory away to Carrick Rangers thanks, in no small part, to Scott Davidson's second half double. The left them one of five sides within three points of each other locked in an ever gripping and intriguing battle for the runners-up spot.
A week ago, at half-time, the PSNI were staring defeat in the fact. Trailing 3-1 away to Limavady United a second half rally saw the visitors storm back to claim the points thanks to Dylan Wilson and a Tony Tumelty brace.
Last time out the goals and points were equally shared at Tillysburn Park. Kyle Crawford had given the PSNI the lead just after the hour before Luckas Gwiazda levelled with 12 minutes remaining.
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