Coleraine enjoying the view from the top insists Bannsiders boss Oran Kearney
Danske Bank Premiership: Cliftonville v Coleraine (today, 3pm, Solitude)
NO matter what happens at Solitude today Coleraine will end 2017 looking down on the rest of the Danske Bank Premiership, and boss Oran Kearney insists the Bannsiders are making sure to enjoy the view.
Crusaders lead the chasing pack - four points behind with a game in hand - and their St Stephen’s Day win over north Belfast rivals Cliftonville saw them close the gap, with Coleraine held at home by Ballymena United.
Those were the first points the Bannsiders had dropped in the whole of December, and they will look to get back to winning ways when they come up against Barry Gray’s stumbling Reds today.
The Crues look to extend their winning run to six when they travel across the city to take on reigning champions Linfield, and victory would give them serious momentum heading into 2018.
Having sat at the top of the pile for the past four months, however, Kearney couldn’t be happier with where Coleraine find themselves.
And he dismisses the notion that the next two games, against Cliftonville today and Linfield on Monday, could have a major bearing on their Gibson Cup credentials.
“Not at all. Yes it’s Cliftonville, yes it’s Linfield, but all those games provide exactly the same opportunity as the ones before it – the chance to win three points,” said Kearney, whose side already hold two wins over the Reds this season.
“We’re not getting caught up in the furore that everybody else wants to get caught up in. We’re really enjoying it and, I’m telling you, it’s been the easiest four months of my management career.
“I’m at Coleraine seven years and the last four months have been the easiest of that time, it’s been a breeze. Being up around that is exciting, refreshing… people keep talking about pressure and breathing down necks, all that sort of stuff, but we’re just loving it.
“We have boys who have come from Championship teams, boys who were with me at Coleraine three or four years ago when we finished maybe eighth or ninth in the league. That’s pressure.
“Where we are, it’s been so stress free. It’s just about trying to harness that and keep it going.”
The Ballymoney man was philosophical about the St Stephen’s Day draw with David Jeffrey’s Braidmen, with the ahead-of schedule return of forward Eoin Bradley late at least one major positive to come from the game.
Former Derry GAA star Bradley suffered a knee ligament injury back in October and was expected to be out until the New Year. However, he came on for the final 22 minutes against Ballymena and is likely to play some part today.
“He’s back earlier than expected and that’s typical of Skinner because when he sets his mind to something, there’s no turning him,” continued Kearney.
“The rehab he’s put in and the testing we’ve got back in relation to the strength of the leg, it ended up the leg he rehabbed is stronger than the other leg now, he’s done that much work on it.
“He was a big important player for us at the start of the season and it’s great to have him back on board again.
“He was out for two or three months and it’s a big ask on the rest of the squad. Jamie McGonigle in particular has had to carry the can and he has carried in fantastically well, but it’s great to see Skinner coming back now for some extra help.”
IRISH LEAGUE STATS
(all games kick-off at 3pm)
Ballymena United v Glenavon
BALLYMENA United will have taken encouragement from their performances against the top two teams in the Danske Bank Premiership, following up their narrow defeat to Crusaders with a draw at league leaders Coleraine.
Glenavon currently occupy third spot and, having already recorded 6-1 and 4-0 wins over the Braidmen this season, will fancy their chances of another victory at the Showgrounds today.
Odds: H 13/5 D: 3/1 A: 8/11
Cliftonville v Coleraine
CONSECUTIVE defeats to Linfield and Crusaders look to have knocked the stuffing out of any lingering title hopes at Solitude, and the Reds face another huge challenge today.
Table-topping Coleraine already have two wins over Barry Gray’s men this season and, having dropped only two points in the whole of December, will fancy seeing out the year with a flourish.
Odds: H: 7/4 D: 13/5 A: 23/20
Dungannon Swifts v Glentoran
WITH the race for spots in the top six heating up, this is a big game for both clubs. The Glens have already two wins over the Swifts and will be confident of completing the hat-trick after their St Stephen’s Day victory against ‘Big Two’ rivals Linfield.
Glentoran currently occupy sixth spot, with Dungannon and Ballymena United breathing down their necks. A win for Rodney McAree’s men today would make things interesting.
Odds: H: 9/5 D: 23/10 A: 5/4
Linfield v Crusaders
THE St Stephen’s Day defeat to rivals Glentoran looks to have put the tin hat on any hopes of keeping the Gibson Cup at Windsor Park next year, and David Healy’s could fall further behind the chasing pack when they face Crusaders today.
Eleven points currently separate the clubs, although the Blues have a game in hand, and second-placed Crusaders come in with all the momentum having won five games in-a-row.
Odds: H: 13/8 D: 13/5 A: 5/4
Warrenpoint Town v Ards
ARDS have had a festive period to remember, with an away draw against Dungannon Swifts and subsequent wins over fellow strugglers Ballinamallard United and Carrick Rangers easy them away from the bottom.
Colin Nixon’s men - now in ninth spot - may even be looking up at a possible place in the top six and will fancy a third win on the trot against a Warrenpoint side who come into this game on the back of defeats to Coleraine and Glenavon.
Odds: H: 7/5 D: 13/5 A: 7/5