Irish Premiership: Tight at the top and continuing struggles - five things we noticed

Six games, 23 goals and big changes at the top.

There was no shortage of excitement in the Irish Premiership this weekend.

Let's have a go at unpacking it all before we do it all again.

Most exciting title race in years

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Blues edge out Larne at Windsor Park

Yes, it's easy to say it, but the table doesn't lie.

After Saturday's results, Crusaders are top of the pile, ahead of Coleraine and Cliftonville on goal difference.

Of course, Linfield remain in a very strong position, two points behind but with two games in hand. Even fifth-placed Glentoran, five points off the top, can't be entirely discounted.

It's all wonderfully bunched up and, with four of the top five meeting each other next weekend (Coleraine v Glentoran and Linfield v Cliftonville), things are set to heat up even more.

As with any title race, it's becoming increasingly difficult to predict. Crusaders have had dropped points, but Coleraine remain the only side to have beaten Stephen Baxter's side this term.

As for the Bannsiders, they seemed to be flying but defeats by the league's bottom two teams either side of a narrow victory at home to Carrick Rangers have altered the perception around Oran Kearney's men.

Linfield continue to lurk ominously and, while they have suffered off-days this season, it's difficult to imagine the champions not being at the centre of the drama come the end of the campaign.

Frustration returns for Hamilton after mini-revival

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Carrick put six by Glenavon

It proved a false dawn. Having dispatched Linfield and Institute in the space of four days, things were looking up Glenavon.

Gary Hamilton was certainly pleased. After the Lurgan Blues downed the champions at Mourneview Park, he said his side were 'starting to look more like ourselves'.

And while they deservedly scooped another three points against 'Stute, Saturday represented the latest deeply dispiriting episode in what's been a trying season.

After shipping six at Carrick, the goals against column paints a damning picture. With 43 goals conceded, Glenavon have already shipped only three fewer than the whole of last season.

They've been plagued by injuries this season, but Hamilton wasn't making any excuses after the Carrick game.

"Three of their goals came from situations when we were in their half," said Hamilton.

"Instead of passing it or knocking it into the channel, we were running with it and losing it."

Quite simply, Glenavon can't afford to repeat their performance at Taylor's Avenue if they're to haul themselves out of the bottom half.

Belfast rivals beat Reds again at Solitude

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Glentoran stun Cliftonville 2-0 at Solitude

Cliftonville have now lost four games in the league this season. Three of those have been at home to their Belfast rivals.

Glentoran, unbeaten since losing to the Reds on 4 October, gave Cliftonville plenty of food for thought after an eye-catching display at Solitude.

Mick McDermott's side were faster, hungrier and more clinical than Paddy McLaughlin's men.

Cliftonville aren't often second-best on their own patch, but they have been disappointing against their three Belfast rivals, losing all three while failing to score.

The north Belfast outfit are still very much in the picture, but when you add Coleraine and Larne into the mix, they have taken eight points from seven games against sides in the top six.

Coleraine have picked up 15 in seven, Crusaders have taken 11 from seven and Linfield have managed nine from six. Linfield away next week represents a big chance for Cliftonville to get their title bid back on track.

Struggles continue for Sky Blues and Swifts

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Dungannon Swifts hammered 6-1 at home by clinical Crusaders

While Gary Hamilton banked some much-needed points earlier in the month, David Jeffrey and Kris Lindsay have continued to watch their sides in freefall.

Jeffrey's Ballymena United have now gone 10 league games without a win with their latest setback coming away to Warrenpoint Town.

After the highs of finishing second last season, Jeffrey will need every ounce of his experience and expertise to reverse Ballymena's fortunes. A trip to Seaview next is the last thing the Sky Blues need.

Things aren't much better for Lindsay at Dungannon Swifts. A bruising 6-1 loss at home to Crusaders makes it eight defeats on the trot for the Tyrone side.

A major concern for Lindsay is the manner of some of those defeats. Level at the break against the Crues, Dungannon conceded five goals during a torrid 21 minute-spell.

In last week's 6-1 defeat by Glentoran, they shipped four in 26 minutes and conceded all five goals in the second half in the 5-0 reverse at Cliftonville.

Should these second-half capitulations continue, Dungannon may well find themselves in the bottom two before too long.

Institute and Point making a fight of it

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Warrenpoint defeat Sky Blues at Milltown

Recent results for the two sides below them will certainly have Dungannon looking nervously over their shoulders.

No longer adrift at the foot of the table, Warrenpoint have won two out of their last three and have clearly been buoyed by Barry Gray's return to the Milltown dugout.

Institute, meanwhile, finally got that elusive second win, stunning Coleraine at the Brandywell to move within two points of Dungannon.

Things may be tight at the top, but they're just as intriguing at the bottom. While Carrick continue to exceed expectations up in seventh, there are now only five points separating the bottom three.

Two massive games next weekend, then, with Dungannon hosting Warrenpoint and Institute travelling to Carrick. It's not too early in the season to roll out the 'six-pointer' tag.

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