PREVIEW: BETMcLEAN LEAGUE CUP QUARTER-FINALS

It’s a big night of quarter-finals in the BetMcLean League Cup tonight, we look ahead to the action as eight teams battle for a place in the last four of the competition.

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

Finalists in the last three consecutive seasons, David Jeffrey will be looking for another run to the League Cup final to put to bet the memories of defeats in the last two showpiece events against Dungannon Swifts (2018) and Linfield (2019). Back-to-back defeats to Linfield and Glentoran in the league have been a blow to the Sky Blues’ form, but they are undefeated against Crusaders in the two meetings this season between the sides, including recently knocking them out on penalties at the same stage of the County Antrim Shield.

It’s been a long seven years since Stephen Baxter and Crusaders laid claim to the League Cup trophy, dating back to their 1-0 win over Coleraine in 2012. They’ve only once been in the final since (2014) and will be looking to progress in the competition having bowed out in the semi-finals to tonight’s opponents last season. Crusaders go into this game uncharacteristically out of form with no wins from their last four games, dating back to their third round tie against Limavady United, last month.

Dundela v Coleraine (venue: Wilgar Park; kick-off: 7.45pm)

Reward for the giant killers in the last round, is a home tie against Coleraine for Dundela. The East Belfast pulled off the shock of the round defeating Larne at Inver Park to progress to the quarter-final stage - the Duns had previously bowed out at the first hurdle of this competitions for the past five consecutive seasons before this campaign. One of only two Championship sides left in the competition, Fourth placed Dundela’s early season form had fallen away in the aftermath of the Larne win, but a 5-0 rout of neighbours Knockbreda will be just what Bryan McCarroll’s side needed ahead of this game.

The Bannsiders just keep rolling on and overcoming every challenge in their path – the latest victory on Saturday was the huge 1-0 victory over Champions Linfield which keeps Oran Kearney’s men top of the Danske Bank Premiership for another week. Still undefeated this season, Coleraine make the trip to Wilgar Park having beaten both Annagh United and Glentoran in the opening rounds. The latest competitive meeting between these two clubs came in 2010 in the Irish Cup, with Coleraine progressing thanks to goals from Stephen Carson and Rory Patterson.

Linfield v Cliftonville (venue: Windsor Park; kick-off: 7.45pm)

It took 11 years for Linfield to finally get their hands back on the League Cup in February, and the competition’s most successful club (with ten wins) will not be in a hurry to relinquish the trophy to their cross-city rivals. David Healy’s men must pick themselves up from their second league defeat of the season on Saturday to Coleraine for another big game at Windsor Park. The Blues have defeated Ballinamallard United and Dungannon Swifts to reach this stage of the competition.

Cliftonville have already had the upper hand on the Blues this year, having won at Windsor Park on penalties in the County Antrim Shield recently. Added to their current second place berth in the Premiership table, only a point behind the leaders – the Reds have enjoyed an impressive start to the campaign and could be primed to add another League Cup to the Solitude trophy cabinet, having won four consecutive League Cups between 2013 and 2016. The two sides have not met in this competition since the semi-finals of the 1998/1999 season.

Newry City v Institute (venue: Newry Showgrounds; kick-off: 7.45pm)

Both sides at the Newry Showgrounds will be looking to capitalise on a fantastic opportunity to progress to the semi-finals of the BetMcLean League Cup. Championship side Newry City were the final side confirm their place in the quarter-finals as they overcame Glenavon last week in the re-arranged third round tie. Darren Mullen’s men have taken some time to adjust back to life in the second-tier, defeat to Ballinamallard United on Saturday keeps the border side in sixth place in the Bluefin Sport Championship, but know a home cup win tonight could really ignite their season.

Institute have never progressed past the quarter-final stage of the League Cup in five attempts but under new manager Sean Connor, will look to book a place in the last four of the competition. ‘Stute have already defeated PSNI and HW Welders en route to the last eight and go into this game off the back of a solid 1-1 draw with Larne at Inver Park on Saturday.

The draw for the semi-finals of the BetMcLean League Cup will be on Saturday evening (2 November) on BBC Radio Ulster’s Sportsound programme from 5pm.