An intriguing Irish League title race sees it’s next instalment play out this evening with the clubs in second and third both in action.
And it looks like Linfield, if head to heads with the rest of the top six are anything to go by, are the team to beat... (please take our poll at the foot of the article...)
The Blues in second, travel to meet another top six rival, Larne in the TV game, while Glentoran on the back of six straight wins and an unbeaten run of eleven games, entertain Glenavon.
Larne have slipped up of late (one win in five) and will be desperate for a win this evening. The clubs met at the same venue earlier this season and played out a 1-1 stalemate. It could be the same tonight, but if you have to pick a winner, most would side with the visitors.
Linfield have looked solid throughout his season (only 9 goals in 17 matches conceded) without looking particularly prolific. The goalscoring department depends really on how Christy Manzinga is firing. If the Frenchman hits form tonight it could mean trouble for Larne.
Larne themselves have not looked particularly potent up front of late and may need to keep a clean sheet this evening to win.
Glentoran have crept up the table in recent weeks and are expected to take the points against Glenavon. The Lurgan Blues must be taken seriously. Recent form has firmly propelled them into the race for that coveted seventh spot which guarantees European play-off contention. They’ve won four of their last five to nil, the only aberration, a 0-3 home reverse to Linfield a couple of weeks ago.
The Glens have handled games over the bottom six better than any other club this season, dropping points only at home to Portadown (2-2). They’ve looked more the semblance of a team over the past couple of weeks and may just be too much for Glenavon this evening.
With an incredibly difficult six game run to come a win tonight is vital for the Oval men. Coleraine, Linfield, Larne, Cliftonville, Crusaders and Coleraine (again) are up next in that order. The Glens despite improvement have not fared well in clashes against the top six this season, so we’ll know a lot more about their title credentials before January is out.
If top six form is the yardstick (see our top six tables below), then along with Linfield, Cliftonville, the current leaders, look the other side to beat.
And if as speculation suggests, Linfield secure the signature of former front man Paul Smyth in January, then that could tilt the balance in their favour. It would surely provide them with more horse-power in the striking department.
And it will be interesting to see how the clubs which aren’t full-time, including The Reds, stack up against the full-timers, as the business end of the season approaches, or even before.
Glentoran have most to gain from improved form against the top six, particularly at The Oval. Their fixture list so far has been kindest, and form against the big boys found wanting. Not only was their recent, impressive victory over Crusaders the only win over a top six opponent, but for all Jay Donnelly’s brilliance they’ve managed only four goals facing the top sides.
Cliftonville’s perfect home record is matched by their consistency on the road... for getting draws. Yes The Reds have avoided defeat away from home, apart from a reverse at Linfield, but still haven’t won at any of the top sides in five attempts.
Still they should be too strong for struggling Carrick tomorrow, but there’s a tough derby against Crusaders just around the corner.
That will be The Crues’ second tough away game in nine days, either side of a visit from Glenavon and you feel they must come out of that trio of games with at least 5 points to sustain a challenge.
Coleraine, despite feeling aggrieved in the manner of home defeat to Linfield, have turned The Showgrounds into an atmospheric fortress, but it will need to be just that with Glentoran visiting three days after their battle with Crusaders.
Then comes a derby at erratic Ballymena United. That won’t be easy... if the real Ballymena turn up.
The other glaring finding uncovered by our Top Six tables is Larne’s apparent softness on the road. Tiernan Lynch’s men need to discover a way to get points away from home against top opposition. Unbeaten at home in five (three have ended in draws), they have failed to avoid defeat when visiting clubs from the top six.
I’ve seen two of those, when they were outmuscled by Crusaders, where to be fair they could’ve snatched a draw, and outplayed by Coleraine, and it’s a trend in urgent need of addressing if they are to have serious claims this season.
At the relegation end of the table, Warrenpoint will hope to put League Cup semi-final woes behind them when fellow-strugglers Portadown visit tomorrow. The dogged Ports have collected points from draws with Larne, Linfield, Glentoran and Cliftonville, but can’t find wins anywhere. Only one so far this season. It’s a huge game for both clubs at Milltown tomorrow.
The end of this year is a really key period for ‘Point with two more six-pointers coming within a week, both against Dungannon Swifts. The Tyrone men have a five point cushion over Warrenpoint, and remain three ahead of Portadown. All three have been cut adrift somewhat and there’s no time like the present to begin some serious point-collecting.
Here’s the tables covering matches between the top six clubs so far this season. Also take a look and vote in our poll for which club you think will lift the Gibson Cup come April. We’re almost halfway through, the perfect time for predictions....
Which club will win the Danske Bank Irish League Championship this season?
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