Action from Glentoran v Linfield earlier this season (c) Presseye

PREVIEW: DANSKE BANK PREMIERSHIP - BOXING DAY

It’s the most eagerly anticipated day of the football calendar as we look ahead to the Boxing Day derby games in the Danske Bank Premiership today!

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

There may be 15 points separating these two clubs, but the Boxing Day fixture is almost always too tight to call. Oran Kearney’s Bannsiders have slipped down to fourth in the table after a loss of form which has seen them go four league games without a win, the latest of which was a 1-0 defeat to Cliftonville at Solitude on Saturday.

By comparison, Ballymena United have put their early season woes behind them and have won their last three league games in succession to rejuvenate hopes of a place in the top six. Cathair Friel struck twice on Friday to overcome Glenavon at the Warden Street Showgrounds and he was also on the scoresheet last Boxing Day as The Sky Blues came from behind at home to draw 3-3 in a pulsating derby affair.

Crusaders v Cliftonville (venue: Seaview; kick-off: 3pm)

The North Belfast derby seldom needs any additional billing, but knowing either side could potentially go top of the Danske Bank Premiership come Thursday evening with only a point between them – this game promises to be a blockbuster encounter. The Crues came through a huge trip to Windsor Park without defeat, drawing 1-1 as they go into the Christmas series of games third in the table, but will be without the services of midfielder Jordan Forsythe through suspension.

Cliftonville just refuse to be ruled out of the title running, they struck late through Conor McMenamin on Saturday against Coleraine to move back into second place only two points behind leaders Linfield. They make the short trip to Seaview without recent permanent signing Conor McDermott. It’s a first Boxing Day clash for manager Paddy McLaughlin who will want to avoid the same fate as his predessor Barry Gray, who was in charge for the 5-1 defeat to Crusaders last year.

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

In Mid-Ulster the derby is an important one at the wrong end of the table with both sides vitally in need of three points. Glenavon continue without their traditional opponents Portadown but will be focused on moving up the table as opposed to derby bragging rights. Gary Hamilton’s men took two steps forward and then one back in the past week, losing in injury time to Ballymena United – a result which keeps them in eighth position in the table.

Following a feisty encounter with Institute at Stangmore Park on Saturday, Swifts boss Kris Lindsay is without key duo Douglas Wilson and Seanan Clucas who are both suspended. Michael Carvill struck a late equaliser to earn Dungannon Swifts a valuable point which keeps them outside the relegation zone going into the Boxing Day fixtures.

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

The Belfast Big Two is back and a sell out Boxing Day crowd will be looking forward to the biggest game in the football calendar in Northern Ireland. Glentoran have enjoyed a major resurgence under Mick McDermott this season and go into the game in a fine run of form, just five points off the top of the Premiership. They made it ten games unbeaten in the league in succession with the 1-0 victory over Carrick Rangers at the weekend, Navid Nasseri scoring the only goal of the game.

David Healy’s Blues chalked up a convincing 4-0 win in this same fixture last Boxing Day en route to a 53rd Irish League title, they will know it will be a lot closer this time around at the Oval. Linfield currently lead the Premiership table by two points with games in hand on all their title rivals, although they had to battle for a point on Saturday, coming from behind to draw with Crusaders at home. Influential winger Kirk Milar misses the derby through suspension, but Mark Haughey’s return from injury has been a welcome boost for Linfield.

Institute v Warrenpoint Town (venue: Brandywell Stadium; kick-off: 3pm)

It may not be a derby fixture but there is no shortage of importance in the outcome of this fixture as both teams fight to stay in the division. Four points separates these two sides in the bottom two places, with Institute holding the advantage in the standings and also will have home advantage on matchday. Manager Sean Connor had duo Gareth Brown and Niall Grace sent off after the final whistle on Saturday as tempers flared in their draw at Stangmore Park with Dungannon Swifts.

It’s a virtual must win for Barry Gray and his Warrenpoint Town side if they don’t want to get cut adrift at the foot of the table, defeat could leave them seven points away from their relegation rivals, following their most recent defeat, 2-0 at home to Larne at the weekend past. It was Institute who came out on top the last time these two clubs met in the Premiership, with ‘Point losing 3-1 at Milltown back in September.

Larne v Carrick Rangers (venue: Inver Park; kick-off: 3pm)

Tiernan Lynch delivered the Larne fans an early present on Christmas Eve when the club announced new contracts for key quartet Conor Devlin, Jeff Hughes, Martin Donnelly and David McDaid. They start Boxing Day with a top half place in the standings in their grasp but are closer to the pack below than above as the Invermen continue to make their mark on the top-flight. Tomas Cosgrove is once again suspended and will miss the derby.

An emotional return to action on Saturday past for Carrick Rangers in their first match since the sudden passing of team-mate Jerry Thompson. Despite their best efforts, the 1-0 goal defeat to Glentoran moves Niall Curries men back down to ninth place in the standings as they make the trip to Inver Park without forward Stewart Nixon who is suspended.

Please check official club websites and club social for the latest news on tickets for all today’s games.