Football/Soccer

Crusaders' Jamie McGonigle prepared for a "mixed" reception ahead of his return to Coleraine

Jamie McGonigle (right) celebrates scoring for Coleraine against Crusaders. The Dungiven man has since moved to Seaview

Danske Bank Irish Premiership: Coleraine v Crusaders (Coleraine Showgrounds, today, 3pm)

DUNGIVEN’S Jamie McGonigle expects a “mixed” reception this afternoon as he returns to his old stomping ground with new club Crusaders.

McGonigle was a firm favourite with the Coleraine fans where he spent five fruitful years – but the lure of full-time football at Seaview convinced him of changing clubs.

The 23-year-old deep-lying striker made his first start for the Crues in last week’s 8-1 Co Antrim Shield hammering of Sirocco Works, bagging five goals in the rout and was promoted to the starting line-up for last Saturday’s 3-2 win over Glenavon.

And with the prospect of facing his old club today, McGonigle is ready for some boos.

“I think it will be weird but exciting,” said the former Bannsiders ace, “but one I’ll look forward to. The reception I’ll get will be mixed I’d say. I expect to get a few shouts at me, but I think a lot of the Coleraine fans will appreciate what I’d done while there.”

McGonigle signed for Crusaders for a fee of around £60,000 in the close season despite Oran Kearney returning to the Coleraine hot-seat this season after a spell in Scotland.

“Oran returning is undoubtedly a great boost to Coleraine,” McGonigle said. “He’s a great manager and person and everyone has so much respect for him.

“[But] Everything just suited me [to move to Crusaders]. And with the shot at full-time I wanted to give it a go. I train Monday to Thursday and a game on Saturday.

“The extra travelling isn’t an issue either,” he added.

“I’ve an apartment I can make use of if I fancy staying up. I lift share also with Gerard Doherty so I’m only driving up twice one week and three the next.

“And it only takes 10 minutes longer than it took me going to Coleraine as it’s all motorway compared to back mountain roads.”

The Shore Road men are determined not to make the same mistakes as last season. After a stuttering start, the league title was virtually out of reach after Christmas.

They’re unbeaten after seven rounds of games, scoring 23 and conceding just four goals. Second-placed Coleraine, today’s hosts, are six points behind the leaders and are also unbeaten since the start of the campaign.

With the Crues going full-time over the last couple of seasons, boss Stephen Baxter isn’t short of attacking options. Paul Heatley, David Cushley, Jordan Owens, Ross Clarke and McGonigle are vying for the two or three forward berths up for grabs.

“Scoring five goals against Sirocco was a massive boost for my confidence and just to get off the mark. Hopefully that continues now and get a regular position. There are that many quality players and the gaffer has so many options, but I think I’ll fit in fine. I’ve settled in very well, I feel. Everyone has been brilliant with me. Everyone wants everyone to do well and there is a hunger to keep winning.”

Danske Bank Irish Premiership stats

Coleraine v Crusaders

BOTH sides are unbeaten. Coleraine have been the draw specialists. Another draw could be on the cards between first and second.

Odds: H:12/5 D:11/4 A:5/6

Prediction: Draw

Cliftonville v Institute

THE Reds should make it four wins out of the last five despite Institute expecting an improvement under new boss Sean Connor.

Odds: H:1/8 D:6/1 A:12/1

Prediction: Cliftonville

Glenavon v Ballymena

GLENAVON have been abysmal this season, losing five out of six and while they improved against Crusaders last week, fourth-placed Ballymena will fancy recording their fourth league win of the new campaign.

Odds: H:7/5 D:5/2 A:7/5

Prediction: Ballymena

Glentoran v Warrenpoint Town

THE wheels have well and truly come off at rock-bottom Warrenpoint, while the Glens hope to bounce back after losing by the narrowest of margins to Linfield last week.

Odds: H:1/8 D:11/2 A:12/1

Prediction: Glentoran

Larne v Dungannon

MID-TABLE Larne will probably feel they should have more points on the board as they host the Swifts who are on a three-game losing streak.

Odds: H:4/11 D:7/2 A:5/1

Prediction: Larne

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