Crusaders' Jordan Owens and Carrick Rangers' Mark Edgar go up against each other again this weekend. ©INPHO/Stephen Hamilton
Friday, 26 January 2018
The Danske Bank Premiership action kicks off with two games on Friday night this weekend as the pressure starts to ramp up ahead of the 'split'.
Friday 26 January
Glenavon v Warrenpoint Town (venue: Mourneview Park; kick-off: 7.45pm)
The Lurgan Blues welcome Warrenpoint Town to Mourneview Park on Friday night and Gary Hamilton’s side will be buoyant from their victory against Linfield last weekend which moved Glenavon six points clear of the champions as they retain their third place position, but remain 11 points off of the top two.
Warrenpoint picked up a huge three points in their ‘must win’ game against Ballinamallard United last Saturday thanks to Conor McMenamin’s goal moved them ten points away from the bottom of the table. Stephen Murray moved across from Milltown to Mourneview earlier this month and Matthew Tipton is still yet to move to replace the forward in the transfer window.
Ballinamallard United v Cliftonville (venue: Ferney Park; kick-off: 8pm)
The games just don’t get any easier for bottom placed Ballinamallard United. Gavin Dykes’ side have been refreshed with an influx of new faces, but aside from their draw against Glentoran a fortnight ago, results seem to be evading them in their quest to get off the bottom of the league.
Barry Gray’s own ambitions of getting the Reds back into European football will require a win in Fermanagh on Friday evening. New signing Shane Grimes could come into the fold for a Cliftonville side that play on Friday with another huge live Sky Sports broadcast against Glenavon on the horizon this coming Monday night at Solitude.
Saturday 27 January
Ballymena United v Linfield (venue: Ballymena Showgrounds; kick-off: 3pm)
The Sky Blues return to the Showgrounds following their midweek County Antrim Shield final defeat to Crusaders. They face another tough game with David Healy’s reigning Danske Bank Premiership champions back at Ballymena looking to make amends for their 2-1 defeat earlier in the season to the Braidmen.
Defeat to Glenavon last Saturday put the Blues further behind the league leaders and moved them down into fifth, only one place above this weekend’s opponents. Linfield may already have one eye on next season with the announcement of Joel Cooper’s signature on a pre-contract from Glenavon which was announced this week.
Crusaders v Carrick Rangers (venue: Seaview; kick-off: 3pm)
Stephen Baxter’s men return to Seaview having picked up their first and arguably not their last trophy of the season, with the County Antrim Shield. Tuesday’s victory over Ballymena United took the unbeaten run to 21 games and the juggernaut shows little sign of stopping as they chase five trophies this campaign.
Carrick Rangers have had an extra week to regroup following a postponed game against Glentoran last weekend, but will be wary of the 7-1 drubbing handed out in the same game earlier this season. Rangers have gone 15 games now without a win and will have the odds stacked against them this Saturday.
Dungannon Swifts v Ards (venue: Stangmore Park; kick-off: 3pm)
The Swifts will be boosted by the arrival of striker Daniel Hughes from Cliftonville ahead of a big week which includes an important game against fellow mid-table opponents, Ards then their re-arranged BetMcLean League Cup semi-final against Crusaders next Tuesday night.
Dungannon lost last time out to Cliftonville, whilst their opponents this weekend, Ards, picked up a solid 1-0 victory over Ballymena United at the Bangor Fuels Arena that takes the County Down men within a point of Rodney McAree’s eighth placed side with a game in hand.
Glentoran v Coleraine (venue: The Oval; kick-off: 3pm)
It seems a long time ago now back at the start of the season when high flying Glentoran were the only team that came near Coleraine, as John McGuigan’s missed penalty the difference between the sides. Flash forward and the Bannsiders have continued their impressive season, despite losing top spot to Crusaders, the wins keep coming to ensure there is little between the top two in the table.
Glentoran missed the opportunity to capitalise on Ballymena United’s defeat in the race for the top six after their game last Saturday with Carrick Rangers was postponed.