PREVIEW: EUROPA LEAGUE PLAYOFF SEMI-FINALS

It’s the start of the Europa League Playoffs tonight as four clubs fight it out to take their place in Saturday’s final, we look ahead to both semi-finals.

Glenavon v Glentoran (venue: Mourneview Park; kick-off: 7.45pm)

Glenavon’s late surge was in vain for a shot at automatic European qualification as NIFWA Manager of the Month Gary Hamilton takes his side into the Europa League playoffs. The Lurgan Blues finished third in the Danske Bank Premiership ahead of last year’s Champions Crusaders and earned a home tie at Mourneview Park. Glenavon finished the season strongly with a convincing 4-0 win over Cliftonville.

The other Glens from East Belfast have cause for optimism in a season of change at the Oval. Mick McDermott has come in as manager of Glentoran in time for the playoffs and they will hold no fear after last season defeating Linfield at the same stage en route to the Europa League playoff final, which they eventually lost to Cliftonville.

In the three meetings between the sides this season, Glenavon came out on top twice following the 1-1 draw in the opening encounter of the season at Mourneview Park.

Cliftonville v Coleraine (venue: Solitude; kick-off: 7.45pm)

Reds boss Paddy McLaughlin will be without the suspended Ryan Catney for this game at Solitude as fifth placed Cliftonville welcome the Bannsiders to North Belfast. Five points separated the sides in the final Danske Bank Premiership table. The Reds overcame Glentoran in last season’s Europa League playoff final to qualify for Europe.

Bannsiders boss Rodney McAree has been frustrated with his side’s inconsistent form this season as they finished sixth in the table after having been runners-up the season before and qualifying automatically for European competition. The Bannsiders will be without Lyndon Kane, Aaron Traynor, Stephen Lowry and Aaron Burns through injury however the trio of Stephen O’Donnell, Adam Mullan and James McLaughlin are all available after serving recent suspensions.

It’s been two wins apiece for each of these sides in the Premiership this season, the most recent tie going in favour of the Reds who recorded a 4-2 home almost exactly a month ago in the first of the post-split fixtures.

Tags:  Cliftonville  Coleraine  Glenavon  Glentoran