Irish Premiership: Jeffrey prepares for tough Crusaders opener

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Irish Premiership preview : Crusaders v Ballymena United

David Jeffrey will begin his tenure as Ballymena United manager with a tough assignment against Premiership leaders Crusaders at Seaview on Saturday.

The Crues are seven points clear at the top and are unbeaten in their last six games, while the Sky Blues lie ninth after five straight league defeats.

"Crusaders have the most complete squad in the league with huge competition for places in all positions," said Jeffrey.

"Confidence will be down among our players but we have to start winning."

"It will be difficult, a huge challenge, and no-one outside Ballymena will give us any chance, but we'll go there and give our best and see if it's good enough. We have to start picking up points."

Crues manager Stephen Baxter has midfielder Declan Caddell back from suspension and a defeat at the hands of the Sky Blues in a County Antrim Shield quarter-final at Seaview in October will make him wary of the challenge posed by the opposition.

"We are in a good position but we have to stay focused. We want the boys to go out and enjoy playing their football, work hard and keep our feet on the ground," said Baxter.

Linfield without suspended duo

Jimmy Callacher will miss Linfield's game against his former club Glentoran
Jimmy Callacher will miss Linfield's game against his former club Glentoran

Second-placed Linfield are without banned duo Jimmy Callacher and Paul Smyth for the visit of rivals Glentoran to Windsor Park, but goalkeeper Ross Glendinning is available after sitting out last week's Irish Cup win over Cliftonville.

The Blues have lost just once in 10 league outings and have not tasted defeat in their last six meetings with the Glens.

In contrast, the East Belfast outfit have lost seven of their last 10 matches and have Steven Gordon and Patrick Cafolla unavailable through suspension.

Cliftonville's title aspirations appear to have been dealt a fatal blow in recent weeks but they travel to Stangmore Park to face a Dungannon Swifts side who have failed to beat the Reds in their last 28 attempts, dating back to February 2008.

Rodney McAree's side have shown good form in recent weeks though, winning three of their last four, as they aim to meet their dual targets of avoiding being dragged into a relegation battle and aiming for a Europa Cup play-off spot.

Danske Bank Irish Premiership - 15:00 GMT kick-offs
Coverage on BBC Radio Ulster's Sportsound programme
Carrick RangersvBallinamallard Utd
CrusadersvBallymena Utd
Dungannon SwiftsvCliftonville
LinfieldvGlentoran
PortadownvColeraine
Warrenpoint TownvGlenavon

Following Ronnie McFall's resignation last week, Pat McGibbon begins his term as Portadown interim manager with a home match against Coleraine, who have won the two previous encounters between the clubs this season.

The struggling Ports have picked up only four points from their last 10 league games and lost to Championship One side Lurgan Celtic in the sixth round of the Irish Cup.

McGibbon has recruited the club's all-time leading goal-scorer, Vinny Arkins, as part of his backroom team until the end of the campaign.

Identical records

Warrenpoint Town and Glenavon boast identical records of five wins, four draws and one defeat from their last 10 Premiership games ahead of their clash at Milltown.

'Point manager Barry Gray awaits news of the fitness of goalkeeper Johnny Parr and Stephen Moan, while midfielder John McGuigan has moved to America.

Gary Hamilton's Lurgan Blues have not lost an away game since November and are fourth in the table.

Carrick Rangers play Ballinamallard United at Solitude in a crucial fixture at the foot of the table, Gary Haveron's side having won the two games the sides have played this season.

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