Andy Waterworth scored a hat-trick the last time Linfield met Cliftonville (c) Presseye

DANSKE BANK PREMIERSHIP: MATCHDAY 22 PREVIEW

It's the final round of fixtures for 2018 in the Danske Bank Premiership today, we look ahead to all the action.

Ballymena United v Newry City (venue: Ballymena Showgrounds; kick-off: 3pm)

The league leaders managed to emerge with their unbeaten record intact from a gruelling Boxing Day thriller against Coleraine which ended 3-3. That is 18 games in succession without defeat for David Jeffrey’s side going into a game against Newry City who have been defeated twice during this formidable run.

Darren Mullen’s Newry still find themselves in the bottom two but cannot seem to get the rub of the green in recent weeks. They were undone by a dramatic late derby draw with Warrenpoint Town on Wednesday and now have to face the league leaders without experienced defender Darren King who was sent off in that match. Newry start the day in the relegation zone but only a point behind tenth placed Dungannon Swifts with a game in hand.

Cliftonville v Linfield (venue: Solitude; kick-off: 3pm)

There’s never a dull moment when Cliftonville meet Linfield and there’s plenty on the line at Solitude for the clash of the day in the Danske Bank Premiership. The Reds will be licking their wounds following a mauling from rivals Crusaders in the derby, five goals conceded with six the previous Saturday against Institute will give concerns to Barry Gray over his defence.

Second placed Linfield ran out comfortable winners in their game against Glentoran in midweek and closed the gap on the league leaders to two points as David Healy sets his sights on the Gibson Cup. It’s the seventh and final game of a hectic December for the Blues who will take inspiration from their 4-1 win against the North Belfast Reds back in November at Windsor Park with Andy Waterworth bagging a hat-trick.

Dungannon Swifts v Ards (venue: Stangmore Park; kick-off: 3pm)

Another valuable point for Kris Lindsay and Dungannon Swifts during the week against Glenavon keeps the County Tyrone side out of the relegation zone by a single point going into this crunch game against basement side Ards. The two sides have played out two draws to date this season with six points separating the hosts from the visitors.

Ards’ long trip to the Brandywell on Boxing Day proved fruitless, as the 1-0 defeat to Institute keeps Colin Nixon’s side rooted to the bottom of the Danske Bank Premiership table. It was a fourth successive defeat for the North Down side who are now without a win in 12 games in all competitions – 2018 can’t end soon enough at Clandeboye Park.

Glenavon v Institute (venue: Mourneview Park; kick-off: 3pm)

Gary Hamilton’s Glenavon just cannot find any form of late, as they left it late to rescue a point against Dungannon Swifts in midweek. They remain in third place but still five points off the pace having previously been the early pacesetters in the league. The Lurgan Blues will hope to finish December in style having only won once in their five league games.

Institute continue to impress many onlookers with their performances and another win against Ards in midweek has established them in seventh place in the table. Hopes of a playoff spot or better may well depend on the future of sought after talisman forward Michael McCrudden – who was on target from the penalty spot for his 15th league goal of the season – only Joe Gormley of Cliftonville has scored more.

Glentoran v Crusaders (venue: The Oval; kick-off: 3pm)

Glens boss Ronnie McFall publicly lambasted his players for their performance against Linfield as the East Belfast side slumped to another defeat in what is turning out to be another disastrous season at the Oval. Their ninth defeat of the season leaves the club five points off the relegation places in eighth place and they will be without the services of forward Robbie McDaid who became the latest Glentoran player to be sent off this season.

Crusaders by comparison produced a five star performance that will send alarm bells ringing around the league that the reigning Champions are suddenly back in business after an indifferent first half of the season. Stephen Baxter’s men moved level on points with Glenavon in fourth place but with new faces already signed and waiting for the transfer window to open it could be another big year for the Crues.

Warrenpoint Town v Coleraine (venue: Q Radio Arena; kick-off: 3pm)

Stephen McDonnell's Warrenpoint picked up a last minute point against neighbours Newry City on Boxing Day to keep them in ninth place in the table. A point at home to Coleraine will ensure that the 'Point go into the New Year away from the relegation zone - they will be aiming to repeat the 2-1 win against Saturday's opponents they enjoyed last month.

The Bannsiders also drew their midweek clash with a late goal - but were unfortunately on the wrong side of the equaliser and had to settle for a point against Ballymena United. Rodney McAree will be hoping to end a memorable 2018 on a high with a win that could move them up to fifth, provided results go their way.

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