Linfield and Crusaders do battle earlier this season in the Danske Bank Premiership (c) Presseye


The Danske Bank Premiership action starts tonight from the Ballymena Showgrounds followed by some huge games on Saturday afternoon, we preview all the games.

Friday 20 December

Ballymena United v Glenavon (venue: Ballymena Showgrounds; kick-off: 7.45pm)

In the start of the weekend's action - Glenavon travel to the Ballymena Showgrounds as two of last season's top three look to turn a corner in their disappointing seasons to date. David Jeffrey's men have secured back to back wins against both Crusaders and Dungannon to move back into seventh place and within touching distance of the top half - as a number of their key players have returned from injury in time for the busy Christmas period - Jeffrey will be without defender Johnny Addis tonight through suspension.

Glenavon are level on points with the Sky Blues with only a inferiror goal difference preventing them from moving above tonight's opponents - that could change with three points on the road. Gary Hamilton has bolstered his squad for January with the arrivals of Dylan Davidson (HW Welders), Danny Purkis (East Belfast) and Conan Byrne (St Patrick's Athletic) - the Lurgan Blues have also won back-to-back league games in the last fortnight against Carrick Rangers and Institute.

Saturday 21 December

Carrick Rangers v Glentoran (venue: Belfast Loughshore Hotel Arena; kick-off: 3pm)

It promises to be an emotional occasion at the Belfast Loughshore Hotel Arena as Carrick Rangers return to the field for the first time since the sudden death of Jerry Thompson. Tributes are scheduled to be paid to the midfielder pre-match and his team-mates will be keen to put in a performance in his honour 'Gers captain Mark Surgenor is suspended for ninth placed Carrick Rangers.

Glentoran have proved to be one of the form teams in the division - going nine games without defeat – they had to settle for a point at the Oval last weekend against Crusaders. The nine game run started with the last meeting between these two clubs at the Oval in October, with the Glens running out 3-1 winners thanks to a double Robbie McDaid strike. Defender Joe Crowe is suspended for the trip to Carrickfergus.

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

There’s a meeting of two of the recent Danske Bank Premiership leaders at Solitude as Cliftonville host Coleraine. Paddy McLaughlin’s men have hit a blip in form without a win in three games, losing their last two games to both Linfield and Glentoran which has seen them drop down to fourth in the table, four points behind leaders Linfield. Cliftonville’s game with Carrick Rangers was postponed last Saturday, meaning that midfielder Liam Bagnall’s suspension carries over into this game.

The Bannsiders from Coleraine surrendered their place at the top of the Premiership to Linfield with a draw at Inver Park last Saturday. Oran Kearney’s side have also hit a rocky patch in the league, winning only one of their last five league games which has allowed their grasp on top spot to slip in recent weeks. The two clubs met on the opening day of the season back in August and couldn’t be separated in a 1-1 draw and only two points is the difference going into Saturday’s action.

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

Swifts manager Kris Lindsay was dismayed by his side’s inability to hold onto their lead against Ballymena United last Saturday in what would have been a precious three points for the lowly County Tyrone outfit. Dungannon defeated Institute 3-2 back in August.

‘Stute manager Sean Connor must watch on from the stands alongside striker Joe McCready as the pair serve their respective suspensions. The North West club fell to a disappointing 4-1 defeat to Glenavon that leaves them still in the relegation zone and five points behind their opponents this weekend – victory would be a huge step in the right direction for safety.

Linfield v Crusaders (venue: Windsor Park; kick-off: 3pm)

The game of the day is arguably at Windsor Park as these two Belfast rivals go toe-to-toe for three important points which could have a huge baring in the title race. Linfield have risen to the summit of the Danske Bank Premiership and their 2-0 win away to Warrenpoint Town last Saturday opened up a slender two point gap on second placed Coleraine. Since losing to Glenavon live on BBC Two last month, David Healy has rallied the troops to four league wins in a row but will be without the influential Kirk Millar through suspension on Saturday.

One point from the last six available has meant Stephen Baxter’s Crues have slipped three points behind Linfield in the standings, but they have a golden opportunity to bring that level on Saturday at Windsor Park. Jamie McGonigle was on target yet again last week against Glentoran, but the North Belfast club could only hold out for a point which leaves them in third place. Baxter will be without defender suspended defender Howard Beverland this weekend.

Warrenpoint Town v Larne (venue: Milltown; kick-off: 3pm)

Since their heroics against Ballymena United that took Warrenpoint within a hair of moving off the bottom of the table, they have lost all three games in December across all competitions. The latest of which was the 2-0 reverse against champions Linfield at Milltown on Saturday, that loss leaves Barry Gray’s team still eight points from safety but with plenty of games coming up to make up the deficit – starting with Larne on Saturday.

There’s only been one defeat in the last eight league games for Larne under Tiernan Lynch as they continue to adapt to life in the Danske Bank Premiership, however the Invermen must start turning draws into wins if they are to move up into the challenging pack. Larne will have defensive duo Tomas Cosgrove and Harry Flowers out through suspension.