Portadown seeking revenge at Newry as Dungannon host Carrick

Portadown celebrate after winning on the pitch at Newry City in December - but the 3-0 result was reversed after a technical breach by the visitors. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Portadown celebrate after winning on the pitch at Newry City in December - but the 3-0 result was reversed after a technical breach by the visitors. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

Dungannon Swifts v Carrick Rangers (Stangmore Park, 3pm Saturday); Newry City v Portadown (Newry Showgrounds, 5.30pm Saturday)

Most supporters and pundits would have predicted this quartet of clubs as the most likely bottom four – but Carrick are exceeding expectations.

The other three, however, are in a relegation battle, or at least trying to avoid sitting in the penultimate, play-off, place.

The fight against the threat of the drop would be even closer but for an altered outcome between Newry City and Portadown back in early December, who meet again on Saturday evening.

The Ports thought they had secured their first league win of the season, at the 18th attempt, when the game ended 3-1 in their favour at the Showgrounds.

However, bringing on attacker Leo Balde, having removed him from their named line-up for turning up late, meant the result was overturned, handing Newry a 3-0 win and the three points.

That could have been a transformative outcome, seemingly keeping City well clear of danger and consigning Portadown to relegation.

However, back in his second spell in charge at Shamrock Park, boss Niall Currie has transformed Portadown's fortunes. The Ports were pitiful under Paul Doolin, seemingly certain to be relegated after collecting just one point from their first 11 league matches.

It didn't look like Currie was going to make any difference, as he lost his first seven in the league too, without scoring a single goal.

Well, not exactly. As stated, on the pitch, Portadown won 3-1 at Newry in their seventh outing under Currie, that turned into a 3-0 'victory' for the hosts.

Yet even without that, Currie's men have taken 11 points from the next 12 league games, including recent back-to-back 3-1 wins over arch-enemies Glenavon and then relegation rivals Dungannon Swifts.

Portadown did lose by that same score-line at home to Carrick last weekend, though, a performance Currie labelled "garbage", so he will be seeking a positive response this evening at Newry.

With Paul McElroy signed from Ballymena and Benny Igiehon from his previous club Dundela, the Ports at last pose a scoring threat. Admittedly, such an improvement wasn't difficult – McElroy is already the joint top scorer after his hat-trick against the Swifts.

Darren Mullen's Newry men are the team truly out of form, with just one win in their last 12 (in their last 15 if you count that over-turned result against Portadown as a defeat).

After averaging a point per game, with five victories, in their first 15 league matches, they've collected just eight more since, including that bonus boost from that 'boardroom' win over the Ports.

The Swifts have been flying higher too, even if they haven't – yet - moved out of the play-off place. Dean Shiels's side even defeated Carrick back in December, 4-1 to boot, at this afternoon's venue, where they meet once more.

The Tyrone team have shown signs that they can escape the relegation play-off spot; they'll go level on points with Newry if the Swifts win and the latter lose at home to Portadown.

Their first league win of the season, in round seven, over fellow strugglers Portadown, was Dungannon's only league victory in their first 16 matches. Since then, though, the Swifts have averaged more than a point per game, with five wins and a draw (against the Ports).

Last time out in the league was very different from last time out. The Irish Cup quarter-final win over Cliftonville at their Solitude fortress on Saturday past was all the more impressive given that the Swifts had suffered a damaging defeat - against Portadown.

There'll be more twists and turns in the race to avoid relegation – but today could be a big day.