Top two clash as Coleraine and Glenavon lock horns in Mourneview Park showdown
Danske Bank Premier League: Glenavon v Coleraine (today, 3pm, Mourneview Park, Lurgan)
THE rock meets the immovable object as Coleraine and Glenavon lock horns in this afternoon's top-of-the-table showdown.
Between them these sides have lost just one of 25 matches this season and that was in their previous meeting which Coleraine won 4-2 and in all Oran Kearney's side have dropped just two points in this campaign (a 0-0 stalemate against Glentoran destroyed their perfect record).
Meanwhile, Gary Hamilton's free-scoring Glenavon side was also held to a draw by the Glens and two more points dropped against Dungannon Swifts since then means they now trail the pacesetters by eight, but with a game in hand they could be within touching distance of top spot if they can end Coleraine's unbeaten run.
“Coleraine have been excellent this season,” said Glenavon player/manager Hamilton.
“Oran has done a great job there and, similar to ourselves, they have a great bunch of young kids and it has paid dividends for both clubs.
“Coleraine have gone out and beaten every team in front of them this season, bar Glentoran, and it's great for the league that country teams, teams from outside of Belfast, are doing so well.
“I've always said that the Irish League needs four teams up there competing and now, about a third of the way through the season, we have that.”
Coleraine boss Kearney has suggested that Glenavon will have a point to prove after they lost 4-2 in the September tussle between these sides at the Showgrounds, but Hamilton disagrees.
“That's over and done with now,” he said.
“They deservedly beat us that day, the better team won and we had no arguments. We didn't play to our capabilities that day but, by the same token, you can only play as well as you're let.
“Truth be told, they probably could have scored a few more but that was our only defeat of the season in the league and our boys have reacted very well to it and done well since.
“If the boys want to get anything out of the game tomorrow they need to be at the top of their game because, looking at all Coleraine's games this season, unless you're at the top of your game you're not going to get anything against them.”
Victory today would leave Coleraine 11 points clear at the top, but Hamilton says it's far too early in the season to talk about season-defining victories.
“We don't talk about that after 13 games,” he said.
“Until we get to the end of January we won't assess where we're looking to get to, at the start of the season our aim was to get to European football. We missed out last season and we want to make up for that, at this minute of time we just want to win as many games as we can until January and then see where we're at.”
Once again, Adam Foley and Caolan Marron will be unavailable after they and fitness coach Gerry Mulgrew were involved in a car accident early last week, so Hamilton names the same squad that won 2-0 at Carrick Rangers.
“There's a good atmosphere around the club as there always is when you're winning games,” said Hamilton.
“The boys will know that if they turn up and play to their capabilities they have a chance of winning the game and that's all you can ask. Hopefully we can get a bit of luck tomorrow and get a good result.”
Ards v Crusaders (today, 3pm)
THIRD-placed Crusaders host struggling Ards (ninth in the table) and victory could push the Crues up to second if league leaders Coleraine beat Glenavon.
Stephen Baxter's men have bounced back impressively after losing at home to Glenavon, with a 5-2 success in the ‘big two' derby against Linfield followed by a routine 2-0 win over Ballinamallard last time out. The sides drew 0-0 when they last met and Ards have found points hard to come by since.
Ballinamallard United v Linfield (today, 3pm)
MISFIRING Linfield brought a three-match losing streak to an end by beating Ards last Saturday. However, the Windsor Park outfit are still 13 points off the pace but travel to Fermanagh tomorrow as hot favourites against a Ballinamallard side that has recorded just one win this season.
That was a 2-0 success against Carrick Rangers back on October 21 but since then the ‘Mallards have lost to Crusaders and runaway league leaders Coleraine.
Cliftonville v Carrick Rangers (today, 3pm)
AFTER losing to bitter rivals Crusaders in the County Antrim Shield on Monday night, Cliftonville will be anxious to return to winning ways against struggling Carrick this afternoon.
The Reds have lost just once – a 2-1 reverse against Coleraine at Solitude – in their last five and will fancy their chances against a Carrick outfit that has failed to find the net in recent defeats to Ballinamallard and Glenavon.
Warrenpoint Town v Dungannon Swifts (today, 3pm)
FIVE points from their last five games represents an upturn in Warrenpoint Town's fortunes and the seasiders may sense that a third victory of the season is there for the taking against a Dungannon side that has lost three in-a-row in the league.
The Swifts hold a six-point advantage over Warrenpoint going into their meeting at Milltown, but the county Down side has shown better recent form and were denied victory last week by a late equaliser from Ballymena's Matthew Shevlin last Saturday.
Prediction: Warrenpoint Town