Football/Soccer

Coleraine midfielder Brad Lyons hails Eoin Bradley return

RETURN: Eoin Bradley returned from injury for Coleraine over Christmas PHOTO Charles McQuillan/Pacemaker Press
Padraig Kelly

Danske Bank Premiership: Coleraine v Linfield (today, the Showgrounds, 3pm)

COLERAINE midfielder Brad Lyons has hailed the return of striker Eoin Bradley as the league leaders prepare to welcome Linfield to the Showgrounds today.

Lyons has had a frustrating festive period as a hamstring injury picked up against Warrenpoint forced him to miss the draws with Ballymena United and Cliftonville while today’s clash comes probably a week too soon.

He is just one of a number of players Oran Kearney has been without, so understandably Bradley’s return over Christmas was most welcome.

“I think it has shown the strength in depth of our squad,” said Lyons. “We have been missing players but still getting results.

“Having ‘Skinner’ back is massive for us, he’s a big personality around the changing room and he’s a big player on the pitch too.”

The Bannsiders finished in third position last season, a massive 24 points behind champions Linfield.

As the 2018 portion of this season begins though, it’s Coleraine who are currently on top, 16 points ahead of today’s visitors.

The bookmakers can’t see them staying there with Crusaders odds-on to overtake them in the coming months, but Lyons said that improving on last season remains the key goal at present.

“We’re always confident in our own ability,” he said.

“We set our targets at the start of the season and we are still going towards those targets.

“To be honest all we want to do is better the season we had last season.

“We’ve had a very good season to date and we’ll just take every game as it comes.

“Results have been going well and we just need to keep it going for the rest of the campaign.”

David Healy’s side were always hanging on in their attempts to retain the Gibson Cup, but successive 2-1 defeats to Glentoran and Crusaders have all but ended their chances of getting back into the title picture.

Despite a poor December, in which they collected just seven points from a possible 15, Lyons said that the Linfield always possess the ammunition to do damage regardless of their form.

“Linfield aren’t going as well as they would like to be but they are always a massive danger.

“They’ve got the players, they’ve got the depth and it’s always going to be a very tough game against them.”

Anything other than a Coleraine win today will almost certainly see Crusaders move into top spot as they should return from their trip to Ballinamallard with all three points.

Stephen Baxter’s side won all six league games in December and have taken 34 points from their last possible 36.

Their opponents, by contrast, have won just once this year, although they did battle back to earn a 2-2 draw with Carrick last time out.

Rangers are also in action today as they host Dungannon Swifts.

A win for Colin Nixon’s side would see them move level on points with Warrenpoint Town.

Elsewhere, Cliftonville have announced that Chris Curran has signed a new long-term deal with the club.

Curran moved from Ballinamallard in 2013 and Reds’ boss Barry Gray said that it was an important signing.

“He’s been a key player for us and will continue to be a key player going forward,” he told the club website.

CRUSADERS’ attempts to hunt down league leaders Coleraine took a significant step forward on Saturday as they left Windsor Park with a 2-1 win over Linfield.

Stephen Baxter’s side got off to the worse start possible as Josh Robinson struck for the hosts in the first minute before Billy Joe Burns drew the Crues level with a goal of the season contender as he blasted home from 35 yards.

Gavin Whyte completed the comeback as he grabbed his 13th league goal of the season in the 80th minute.

League leaders Coleraine suffered their second successive draw after a stalemate against Cliftonville at Solitude.

In truth, Oran Kearney’s side were fortunate to take anything from the game as the Reds wasted a host of chances.

The Bannsiders had Aaron Traynor sent off late on but they were able to hold on for a point.

Glenavon’s Gibson Cup ambitions suffered a huge blow as they lost 3-1 away to Ballymena United.

Like Linfield, they had the perfect start as Sammy Clingan converted a first-minute penalty, but goals from Kevin Braniff, Cathair Friel and Kyle Owens saw United claim the spoils.

Game of the day came at Milltown as Warrenpoint Town and Ards shared six goals.

Darren Murray put the hosts ahead before Michael McLellan and Scott Davidson responded for Ards.

Conor McMenamin pulled the ‘Point level before Craig Millen appeared to grab a late winner for the visitors.

There was still drama to come though as Liam McKenna’s injury-time effort trickled over the line.

In the basement battle at Taylor’s avenue, Carrick Rangers drew 2-2 with Ballinamallard United in an incident-packed encounter.

James McKenna put Ballinamallard ahead before managers David McAlinden and Gavin Dykes were dismissed following an altercation as the teams headed in for the half-time break.

Carrick moved in front thanks to strikes from Michael Smith and Denver Gage, but the visitors earned a point through Joshua McIlwaine.

In Saturday’s other game, Dungannon Swifts and Glentoran played out a goalless draw.

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