A full schedule as regular league football resumes this week. Three games remain until the league splits (except Coleraine and Ballymena who have a game in hand, to be played 21st March).
Ards v Ballinamallard United Friday 10th March 20:00
Both teams have considerable ground on the relegation play-off spot occupied by Carrick Rangers but at the same time neither side can push themselves into the top half of the league before the split happens. That doesn’t mean this won’t be a hard fought battle, the last time these two met in the league resulted in a 3-3 draw in December!
Ballymena United v Portadown Saturday 11th March 15:00
Both teams suffered embarrassing thrashings last weekend in the Irish Cup Quarter Finals to their respective rivals. Ballymena suffered a 4-0 defeat to Coleraine while Glenavon thumped Portadown 5-0. Expect an immediate reaction from both clubs especially since Portadown’s form had picked up prior to last week’s cup humiliation and Ballymena are still on the high of winning a first NI League Cup final.
Coleraine v Glentoran Saturday 11th March 15:00
Coleraine are firmly on a high having beaten close rivals Ballymena 4-0 in the Irish Cup Quarter Finals last week, this was their ninth win in their last ten games! Conversely, Glentoran are a team on the edge of crisis. The Glens retain an outside chance of making it to the European play-off matches and a win here would certainly boost morale after a disappointing 1-0 loss to bitter rivals Linfield in their last league outing.
Crusaders v Carrick Rangers Saturday 11th March 15:00
The Crues went out of the Irish Cup last week with a whimper to fellow Belfast side Linfield and had their gap at the top of the table cut to 7 points following a disappointing draw against basement club Portadown in their last league outing. Carrick are battling to maintain the distance from the automatic relegation spot currently occupied by Portadown at the bottom of the league after the disappointing of a toothless performance in their League Cup Final loss.
Glenavon v Dungannon Swifts Saturday 11th March 15:00
Glenavon will certainly be in good spirits after their emphatic 5-0 victory over fellow Mid Ulster side Portadown but they’ve struggled to find consistency in the league this season. They are currently six points ahead of their opponents in the league and will be hoping to ensure their spot in the top six with at least a point on Saturday. Dungannon will still have work to do to get the top six spot even if they beat Glenavon but three points here will certainly give them the inspiration to push on.
Linfield v Cliftonville Monday 13th March 19:45 live on Sky Sports
Another Belfast derby for live TV and it’ll be at the newly refurbished National Stadium. Linfield are desperately trying to gain ground on league leaders Crusaders so will be keeping a keen eye on the result at Seaview on Saturday. Linfield have only three defeats in the league this season with two of those coming at the hands of Monday’s opponents Cliftonville. The Reds have hit a rough patch of form recently and rather than keeping pace with the top of the league they will have a watchful eye on Coleraine and Ballymena behind them who have that game in hand to play.
Tip for the week
This feature didn’t get off to a great start last week but I’m picking out a double of Ballymena -1 (v Portadown) and Coleraine -1 (v Glentoran) which is an enticing 9/2 for the double, odds provided by A. McLean Bookmakers.