Coleraine aim for top spot in Carrick Rangers clash

Eoin Bradley returns to the Coleraine starting line-up tonight
Andy Watters

Irish Premiership: Coleraine v Carrick Rangers (the Showgrounds, tonight, 7.45pm)

WITH league leaders Crusaders having to wait until Monday night for their next action, Coleraine can take over at the top of the Irish Premiership if they beat Carrick Rangers tonight.

Oran Kearney's men trail the Crues by two points and, after four wins on-the-trot, they will fancy their chances of taking all three points on home turf against a Carrick side that has lost four of their last five in the league.

However, Kearney will have to do without midfielder Ciaron Harkin and forward Jamie McGonigle who are part of the Northern Ireland U21 squad for the Euro 2019 qualifying fixtures against Spain (last night) and Iceland (Monday night).

Kearney is confident that he has the strength-in-depth to deal with their absence though and strikers Eoin Bradley and Darren McCauley are both set to return to starting roles at the Showgrounds tonight.

“We've been able to bring in a wee bit of depth and it is up to those guys to step up to the mark,” said Kearney.

“They have to make sure we have enough to get over the line against Carrick.”

The Bannsiders boss added: “We are so proud of Ciaron and Jamie and would never stand in their way - they have both had cracking seasons and we are delighted they are in the U21 squad. We would never begrudge them the experience," added the Bannsiders boss.

Perhaps the most intriguing game of tonight's programme is the tussle between top six chasing Glentoran and Ballymena United.

Tonight's clash is final game for sixth-placed Glentoran before the league splits into top six and bottom six and victory for Ballymena (who have a game in hand) would leave them just a point behind Ronnie McFall's Glens going into their final fixture against bottom of the table Ballinamallard United. A draw would do for the Glens, but only victory will suffice for Ballymena.

Meanwhile, Cliftonville will hope to bounce back from the disappointment of their 2-1 loss to Ballymena last Tuesday night. The Reds dominated possession but were denied by a string of excellent saves from inspired'keeper Ross Glendinning. Barry Gray's men take on Ards tonight having already beaten them twice this season – 6-3 at home on the opening day and 1-0 back in November.

Cliftonville are assured of a top six finish and so too are David Healy's Linfield who travel to Ballinamallard United. A win there would leave them within a point of Glenavon before the league splits. Glenavon haven't won any of their last three and they host a Dungannon Swifts side that has also been in poor form of late. The Stangmore Park side have lost their last three in the league.

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