Irish Premiership: Linfield face Glenavon in big game of weekend at Windsor

Daniel Kearns battles with Glenavon's Niall Grace on the opening day of the season at Mourneview Park
Daniel Kearns' goal earned Linfield victory at Mourneview Park on the opening day of the season

Top faces bottom as Ballymena United host Ards in Saturday's Premiership programme but game of the day is Linfield's contest with Glenavon.

Previous leaders Glenavon ended a run of only one win in six with a thumping 4-0 home success over struggling Coleraine last weekend.

The win left the Lurgan Blues only three points off the pace as Ballymena and Linfield's games were rained off.

Second-placed Linfield go into the contest two points behind Ballymena.

With Tuesday's scheduled County Antrim Shield semi-final against the Braidmen also postponed, the Blues have not played since winning their League Cup semi-final at Dungannon on 11 December.

David Healy has been putting his players through their paces in training but it remains to be seen whether sharpness could be an issue in Saturday's Windsor Park game which kicks off a busy period of festive fixtures.

The Blues boss are likely to have Daniel Kearns and Mark Stafford available again for selection after injury.

Glenavon's Northern Ireland Under-21 midfielder Mark Sykes will line out as he mulls Port Vale's contract offer in advance of his expected move across the water, with other clubs also thought to be keeping a watching brief on the situation.

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David Jeffrey's Ballymena United are top of the Irish Premiership

Jeffrey says Ballymena must not underestimate Ards

After their run of eight successive league wins, Ballymena will be odds on to pile the misery on basement side Ards but United manager David Jeffrey is warning his team against underestimating Colin Nixon's side.

"They are a side who I believe are in a false position and they have had difficulties with injuries and suspensions. I expect a tough encounter," added the Sky Blues' boss.

However, Ards have earned only two points out of a possible 24 in their last eight games so the formbook points towards a home victory.

Australia-bound Jonny Frazer is likely to make his final appearance for the North Down outfit before he begins his journey to down under, while defender David Elebert has retired from the game.

Coleraine boss McAree up against old club Swifts

Saturday's programme sees Coleraine boss Rodney McAree facing old club Dungannon Swifts for the first time since taking over from Oran Kearney at the Showgrounds.

After last weekend's hammering by the Glenavon, McAree is playing down the sentimentality angle as he ponders changes to his line-up following the Mourneview Park mauling.

"It's another game. It's irrelevant who it is against. You are looking to boys in the dressing-room to show you the desire and commitment needed to put on a Coleraine shirt," said McAree.

"Things need to improve. I'll hold my hand up. It's needs to be better from me. But it needs to be better from everybody else as well."

Dungannon go into the contest boosted by the decisions of squad skipper Chris Hegarty and Seanan Clucas to sign one-year contract extensions.

Centre-back Hegarty's new deal will keep him at Stangmore Park until 2022 with former Linfield man Clucas committed to the club until 2020.

Caoimhin Bonner in action against Crusaders earlier this season
Institute defender Caoimhin Bonner is suspended for the Brandywell game against Cliftonville

Institute minus suspended duo for Reds game

Champions Crusaders recovered from their 4-1 hammering by Linfield two weeks ago with a 1-0 win over the Swifts last weekend but need a win over Warrenpoint Town to stay in touch as they sit seven points adrift of Ballymena and having played a game more.

Cliftonville, meanwhile, will hope to build on last week's away win over Ards as they face Institute at the Brandywell.

Three successive wins in December have kept the Reds on the fringes of the title picture but the Institute contest is the type of game that has given Barry Gray's side trouble in recent times.

However, the prospect of free-scoring duo Joe Gormley and Rory Donnelly adding to their season tallies could be boosted by the suspension of Institute centre-back Caoimhin Bonner while midfielder Aaron Jarvis is also banned for Paddy McLaughlin's side.

Danske Bank Premiership - Saturday 22 December - 15:00 GMT kick-offs
Live coverage on BBC Radio Ulster's Sportsound and text commentary on the BBC Sport website
Ballymena UnitedvArds
ColerainevDungannon Swifts
CrusadersvWarrenpoint Town
InstitutevCliftonville
LinfieldvGlenavon

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