Crusaders' in-form Ben Kennedy a big danger to Cliftonville in north Belfast derby

Ben Kennedy celebrates his four-goal haul against Carrick Rangers
Ben Kennedy celebrates his four-goal haul against Carrick Rangers

Sports Direct Premiership

Crusaders v Cliftonville (Monday, 7.45pm, live on Sky Sports Football)

CRUSADERS will be hoping August’s player-of-the-month Ben Kennedy can continue his rich vein of form as his side host Jim Magilton’s Cliftonville in Monday's tantalising north Belfast derby at Seaview.

Crusaders currently sit fourth in the Sports Direct Irish Premiership, but a win tonight against their seventh-placed rivals would see Stephen Baxter’s side leapfrog Larne, Linfield and leaders Glentoran to occupy top spot and illustrate their genuine title ambitions.

Five-goal Ben Kennedy currently leads the way, alongside Linfield’s Chris McKee, at the top of the goalscoring charts, thanks in no small part to that spectacular four goal haul against Carrick Rangers.  After a year on the side-lines with injury, the ex-Stevenage player is looking ahead to the future as he accepts his award.

“It's my first monthly award, but hopefully not my last.

"I have to put these things in perspective. I've had a year out of the game, I'm proud of what I've achieved and it's nice to get a pat on the back for it. I'm hungry for more, now.

“"I really want to have a good season after a tough time last year”.

Having started last season brightly, he suffered a nasty knee injury against Glentoran in August.  The 26-year-old originally hoped to make a return to the Crues side at Christmas, but further disaster struck as he needed to go under the knife to have a grumbling appendix removed.

Having made a dazzling comeback in Crusaders European fixtures back in July, fans would be forgiven for thinking Kennedy is like a new signing for the club.  He acknowledges that his award would not be possible without the help of those around him.

“I am still not fully fit, so to perform the way I have is very encouraging and I just want to kick on. I can't take all the credit, because my teammates and staff helped me throughout the year.

“I have players like Philip Lowry who do most of my dirty work, so I can go and play my game. That gives me the licence to play where I want and try and make things happen" He said.

While Baxter’s side will have ambitions to end the night top of the pile, for Cliftonville it will be an opportunity to get their season somewhat back on track.

Having begun the season at break-neck speed, demolishing Glenavon, Newry City and Carrick Rangers, the Reds have had a collapse in form, only picking up a single point from their last three games.  New signing Ben Wilson has been a ray of light however, striking four times in the opening six games as he fills the void left by the injured Ronan Hale.

Both sides will test the ability of the other’s offensive game, as they share the stingiest goals conceded award at present, each having only allowed four goals to pass their goalkeepers.  The Shore Road side go one better by also topping the charts of goals scored, a staggering 20 from their six outings.

Hale for Magilton’s side and defender Jimmy Callacher for the Hatchetmen are likely to remain out, however, both side should have plentiful resources to pick from.

Four of the last five games between the teams have resulted in draws, with the exception being the hosts 3-0 victory on St Stephen's Day last term. 

With the game being broadcast live on Sky Sports this one should be a spectacle to showcase Irish League football.

Prediction: Crusaders Win