Cliftonville 'keeper Jason Mooney makes a save on Wednesday night (Picture: Tony Hendron/PressEye.com)
Friday, 12 August 2016
We might only be approaching the third matchday of the new season but already there is a potential title decider to look forward to as last year's top two - Crusaders and Linfield - lock horns at Seaview.
Champions Crusaders have started their defence in blistering form, bagging no fewer than ten goals in their first two games with the deadly duo of Jordan Owens and Paul Heatley already leading the scoring charts with three apiece.
Linfield have been somewhat less impressive thus far, only snatching a late equaliser from their home clash with Coleraine during the week to follow up on an opening day defeat of Ballinamallard United but manager David Healy will be looking to tomorrow's meeting to lay down a marker and to remind Stephen Baxter in the opposing dugout that a potential third straight title will be hard won.
The pair last met back in April when late, late goals from Gavin Whyte and Jordan Forsythe saw the Crues sweep to a two-goal victory, again at Seaview. Indeed, the Blues need to go back two years before that for the last time they picked up all three points from the north Belfast venue.
Just as appetising is the meeting of Glenavon and Cliftonville at Mourneview Park.
Both sides are sitting on four points from their opening two games with Glenavon having fought back from three goals down to earn a share of the spoils at the Ballymena Showgrounds on Wednesday night following up their four-goal thumping of Carrick Rangers at the weekend.
Cliftonville shared four goals with newly promoted Ards before comfortably beating Glentoran at Solitude a couple of days ago so both squads will be approaching Saturday's game with confidence.
The Reds were unbeaten against Gary Hamilton's side last term and will be striving to continue that run into the new season - and there might be a goal or two on offer too, the net has bulged ten times in their last two meetings.
Niall Currie's Ards have adapted to life back in the top flight well so far. After matching the Reds goal for goal on Saturday they then travelled to Stangmore Park to get the better of Dungannon Swifts but will face a stern test in the shape of Portadown.
The Ports kicked their season off on Wednesday evening with victory over Ballinamallard United thanks to goals from Garry Breen and Mark McAllister - and will be boosted by the return of Keith O'Hara and Ken Oman while Ards will be without Joe McKinney following his dismissal during the week.
It's been over two years since the sides last met, 15th March 2014 to be precise, when Portadown came out on top by the odd goal in three at the Bangor Fuels Arena.
The Glentoran duo of Aaron Smyth and Aaron Harmon will face a number of their old team-mates when Carrick Rangers make the trip to The Oval while, in the Rangers camp, it'll be a swift return to east Belfast for Steven McCullough.
It has been a difficult start for Kieran Harding's visitors, having shipped eight goals to date, but their defence might have a slightly less torrid time against a Glentoran side that have only mustered a solitary goal thus far.
Glentoran had the upper hand last season, winning three out of the four meetings between the sides, and this will be a run boss Alan Kernaghan will be looking to maintain.
New Ballinamallard United boss Gavin Dykes has been busy over the summer and completed his transfer business during the week with the acquisition of Gary Armstrong on loan from Sligo Rovers.
His new look side are so far without a point but they will perhaps fancy their chances against a Ballymena United that have leaked nine goals already and will be perhaps shell-shocked after having squandered a very comfortable lead on Wednesday.
Dungannon Swifts will be hoping to their first points on board from Coleraine's visit to Stangmore Park, having won thanks to a Matt Hazley 80th minute goal the last time the pair met in March.
But the Bannsiders will perhaps feel they've something to prove to boss Oran Kearney after having missed out on defeating Linfield on Wednesday night following a strongly protested refereeing decision. They will be without the services of Lyndon Kane after his dismissal against the Blues but will have Neil McCafferty and David Kee available for selection.
Danske Bank Premiership - Saturday 13th August (3pm)