NIFL Premiership Preview Matchday 38: Linfield look strong favourites to take home the title

Northern Ireland

This is the final matchday of the regular league season. Relegation, relegation playoff and Europa League playoff participants have all been confirmed. There still remains the matter of confirming the Europa League playoff pairings depending on final league placing and of course, the league title’s destination is yet to be decided.

Portadown will be relegated as the bottom-placed club. Carrick Rangers will compete in a two-legged promotion/relegation playoff against the team that wins the playoff between 2nd and 3rd place in the NIFL Championship.

Cliftonville, Ballymena United, Glenavon and Dungannon Swifts will compete in the Europa League Playoff Semi-Finals. 4th placed will take on 7th placed while 5th placed takes on 6th placed, with the winners meeting in the final to decide who qualifies for next season’s Europa League competition.

All matches kick off at 15:00

Bottom Half

Ballinamallard United v Carrick Rangers

Ballinamallard will finish the season in 10th place and will perhaps take away some disappointment that they couldn’t find themselves in contention for a Europa League playoff spot after such an open end to the season. Carrick have a promotion/relegation battle with an NIFL Championship club to prepare for and will relish an away victory at Ferney Park to boost morale prior to that challenge.

Glentoran v Ards

Glentoran’s 3-0 victory over Portadown may have raised a few smiles around The Oval but it was a case of ‘too little, too late’ as they find themselves condemned to a 9th place finish – a position that would be generally unthinkable around the East Belfast club. Ards have seen their outside challenge for a Europa League play-off place come to an end thanks to results elsewhere, so this match is more about pride than anything else.

Dungannon Swifts v Portadown

Dungannon will compete for a place in the Europa League in the postseason playoffs largely thanks to the goals provided by departing forward Andrew Mitchell. Three wins on the bounce could turn to four as they take on basement club Portadown. There’s not much more can be said for Portadown’s season, the Mid Ulster club tried their best to fight back from a 12-point deduction but were unable to do the improbable and avoid relegation. Interestingly, without the 12-point deduction, Portadown would be competing in the promotion/relegation playoff rather than taking the hit of straight relegation.

Top Half

Coleraine v Ballymena United

You’d be forgiven for feeling this match would be a dead rubber for Coleraine with 3rd place in the league sealed and a cup final to come – meaning that Europa League qualification has already been sealed. However, you cannot expect Coleraine to go into a match against rivals Ballymena half-heartedly. The Bannsiders will hope to bounce back from last week’s defeat to Linfield to give them a boost before their showpiece final. Ballymena’s unexpected 3-0 win over Crusaders kept them in with a shout of finishing 4th in the league and having the more favourable Europa League semi-final pairing.

Crusaders v Glenavon

Crusaders’ loss to Ballymena has seen them give up their advantage in the title race. The Crues had led the league by nine points at one time but now find themselves a point behind Linfield going into the final match of the season. The Hatchetmen will perhaps be confident in their own home fixture but will have to rely on fierce rivals Cliftonville doing them a favour a few miles up the road! Glenavon’s victory over Cliftonville could do nothing for their final league position as results elsewhere have confirmed their place as 6th in the league. The Lurgan Blues have been struggling to find steady form this season but could they have a final say in the outcome of this title race?

Cliftonville v Linfield

Cliftonville’s poor end to the season continued at the hands of Glenavon last week making it four losses in a row in the league. The Reds fans may see themselves as stuck between a rock and a hard place as they hold a strong rivalry with both Crusaders and Linfield, knowing that the outcome of this match will be a major factor in where the Gibson Cup ends up by 4.45PM. Linfield have had a simply incredible end to their season having gone unbeaten in their last 13 league matches and winning 12 of those! The Blues have their eyes set on a League, Co. Antrim and Irish Cup treble and know they simply have to take three points here to check the second trophy off that list – given Cliftonville’s recent form that should be a formality but we all know that no such thing exists in football!