Action from Portadown v Ballinamallard United this season (c) Mervyn Smyth / Ballinamallard United

PREVIEW: BLUEFIN SPORT CHAMPIONSHIP WEEK 25

The weekend’s activity in the Bluefin Sport Championship starts tonight in Bangor but all eyes will be on the top two clash tomorrow at Shamrock Park – we look ahead to all the games.

Friday 17 January 2020

Ards v PSNI (venue: Bangor Fuels Arena; kick-off: 7.45pm)

Ards fought back from behind twice to maintain their unbeaten run under new manager John Bailie as the County Down side moved into fourth in the Bluefin Sport Championship table last Saturday. The weekend’s action starts at the Bangor Fuels Arena on Friday night with the third encounter between these sides this season as the home side will look to complete a clean sweep of league wins, having won the previous two encounters without as much as conceding a goal.

Former Carrick Rangers stalwart Glenn Taggart makes his managerial bow as boss of PSNI, as he will be tasked with keeping the South Belfast club out of the relegation dogfight at the bottom of the division. PSNI were comfortably beaten 3-0 away to Newry City last Saturday – a result which means they are only a point from safety in tenth place and have forward Nathan O’Neill suspended for the trip to Bangor.

Saturday 18 January 2020

Ballyclare Comrades v Dergview (venue: Dixon Park; kick-off: 3pm)

Paul Harbinson’s Comrades missed the opportunity to stake a claim for a place in the top six, as they twice surrendered their lead against Ards last Saturday to only come away with a point. Forward Francis Nolan has made his loan move from Ballymena United a permanent one in the past week – he will be looking to add to his solitary league goal to date this season.

Another postponement for Dergview now leaves the County Tyrone club three games in lieu of their relegation rivals but still only a point from moving out of the dreaded drop zone. Ivan Sproule’s team have not turned out in the league since their Boxing Day defeat to Ballinamallard United, but will be confident there has been little between them and Ballyclare in the meetings this season with two 1-1 draws in the two encounters.

Dundela v Loughall (venue: Wilgar Park; kick-off: 3pm)

The Duns were without a game last week owing to their postponement against Dergview as they subsequently dropped down to fifth in the table, now behind Ards. Winger William Bingham is suspended for the visit of Loughgall. Bryan McCarroll’s men lost the last meeting between these clubs, 3-1, back in October.

Just when it looked like Loughgall were all but drifting out of promotion contention – their 2-1 win against second placed Ballinamallard United cut the gap between the third place Villagers and the Mallards above them to seven points. Dale Malone’s late winner will be just the tonic for Dean Smith’s side as they face another difficult trip to Dundela tomorrow.

Knockbreda v HW Welders (venue: Breda Park; kick-off: 2pm)

Another defeat for Knockbreda last week (to Queens University) keeps the East Belfast outfit still bottom of the Bluefin Sport Championship table. New boss Colin McIlrwath will be now fully aware of the task in hand of preventing Knockbreda from relegation as they go into this home tie against neighbours HW Welders without the suspended Francis Rice.

Welders boss Gary Smyth will be conscious that his side still need to keep picking up league points to avoid being drawn into the pack of clubs threatened by potential relegation. His side start the weekend in ninth place before the short trip into the Castlereagh hills, knowing that they are still without a victory against Knockbreda in the two meetings to date this season – most recently losing 3-2 back in December.

Portadown v Ballinamallard United (venue: Shamrock Park; kick-off: 3pm)

It’s advantage Portadown as the top two sides meet at Shamrock Park. It’s been another rollercoaster week for Matthew Tipton as despite winning and their nearest rivals losing last Saturday to open the gap to six points – it was tinged with the loss of star goalkeeper Bobby Edwards back to his native United States. Tipton has moved to bring in Glenavon forward Stephen Murray to fire the Shamrock Park club to promotion – he is likely to take the place of the suspended Lee Bonis in the starting line-up.

Ballinamallard United were rocked by a late sucker-punch against Loughgall last weekend but can get back on track in this crunch meeting against their title rivals on Saturday. There is no love lost between these two clubs this season as it promises to be another tough encounter for both sides – Harry McConkey has came out on top both times this season, contributing to two of Portadown’s three league defeats to date in this campaign and a third defeat would close the gap at the top to just three points. Ryan Mayse returns on loan from Ballymena United and could be in line for second debut for the Fermanagh side.

Queens University v Newry City (venue: The Dub; kick-off: 2pm)

Peter Thompson’s Queens suffered no Irish Cup hangover when they returned to league action last Saturday – producing another stellar display against Knockbreda, scoring four goals without reply. That win has boosted the Students’ hopes of a remarkable top half finish with the league split looming in their first full season in senior football.

This encounter at the Dub will go a long way to determining who is likely to make the cut for the top six, with Darren Mullen and Newry City currently occupying that berth. City go into this game off the back of a 3-0 win against PSNI last week and won the last meeting between these sides back in November thanks to a single Stephen Moan goal.