Northern Ireland Football League Danske Bank Premiership Preview: Match day 34

Northern Ireland

After match day 33 the league split has been confirmed. The top six teams will play each other again once and the bottom six will play each other one more time.

The team who wins the league will qualify for the Champions League and second place will qualify for the Europa League. The second Europa League spot will go to the Irish Cup winners, unless they finish first or second in the league, in which case the team in third will then qualify for Europa League.

Teams that finish fourth to seventh in the league will qualify for a playoff competition for the final Europa League spot, unless the Irish Cup winners finish seventh or higher, in which case the four remaining teams will go through to the playoff – this is currently the case as both Coleraine and Linfield cannot finish outside of the top six now.

Simple enough, yeah?!

Bottom Half (All fixtures on Saturday 8th April at 15:00)

Ards v Dungannon Swifts

Ards are now safe from relegation playoff worries and will look toward that 7th place position for a European playoff place. The County Down men trail 7th place occupants Dungannon by four points, a deficit that can be massively cut if they win this week’s encounter. Dungannon, meanwhile, will look to put a disappointing Irish Cup Semi-Final loss behind them as they take on Ards on Saturday. The Swifts lead the way in the bottom six but Glentoran and Ards behind them remain within touching distance. There have been 15 goals between the sides in their three meetings this season, including two 3-3 draws.

Ballinamallard United v Glentoran

The Mallards will see 7th place as somewhat out of reach and will more than likely be looking behind them at Carrick in 11th place, as the Fermanagh side hold a points advantage of 8 points over Carrick Rangers at this crucial stage of the season. A crucial win over Carrick kept Glentoran in the race for a European playoff spot, and European football would be a massive achievement for the Glens in what has been a very disappointing season. Ferney Park is a difficult place to travel to and this one will be too close to call.

Portadown v Carrick Rangers

Anything but a win will confirm Portadown’s automatic relegation from the Danske Bank Premiership. The Ports are on a lengthy spell without a win in the league that goes back to December, and the fans will hope that if they are to go down that they at least go down fighting. Carrick’s loss to Glentoran impaired their hopes of climbing away from a possible relegation playoff, but they’ll certainly hope for a better showing on their travels to Shamrock Park against a wounded Mid-Ulster Reds.

Top Half (All fixtures on Saturday 8th April at 15:00)

Coleraine v Cliftonville

Coleraine failed to take advantage of their game in hand against Ballymena, managing only to take a point in a hard-fought 1-1 draw. They do however have an Irish Cup final to look forward to, but if they can consolidate third place in the league then they can assure themselves of Europa League football next season. Cliftonville trail Coleraine by 2 points as they sit in fourth place, and the Reds pulled off a 2-1 victory over Ballymena in their last match in what they hope will be the turning point of this poor end of season period.

Glenavon v Ballymena

Glenavon bowed out of the Irish Cup to Coleraine so will look to bounce back against the Sky Blues to restore some confidence. The Lurgan Blues are currently 6th in the league and assured of their place in the European playoff. Ballymena’s loss to Cliftonville left them eight points adrift of third place and six points behind fourth, which was compounded by their failure to beat rivals Coleraine in their game in hand four days earlier, managing just a point in that game. Both sides will simply be looking to put a good run of form together in preparation for the postseason European playoffs.

Linfield v Crusaders

This one is the tie of the week without any doubt. The Blues confirmed their place in the Irish Cup final with a semi-final victory over Dungannon, but that will be the furthest thing from their thoughts as they take on league leaders Crusaders. Crusaders’ lead at the top has now been cut to a mere four points after their loss to Coleraine. Victory for either side is crucial as to where the Gibson Cup ends up at the end of the season. Linfield have the edge on this encounter so far this season, with a win and two draws in the league and two cup victories, most notably a 3-1 victory in the County Antrim Shield Final.