Belfast Telegraph

There's no doubting Coleraine's title credentials, says Ballinamallard midfielder

Coleraine v Ballinamallard, Danske Bank Premiership, Coleraine Showgrounds, Tonight, 7.45pm

Optimistic: Richard Clarke is aiming to topple Coleraine. Photo: John McVitty/Presseye
Optimistic: Richard Clarke is aiming to topple Coleraine. Photo: John McVitty/Presseye

By Graham Luney

Ballinamallard United midfielder Richard Clarke believes Coleraine can sustain their title challenge and it would be foolish to predict their demise in the Championship race.

Clarke, who savoured Crusaders' back-to-back title triumphs, has been impressed with how Oran Kearney's side have left Linfield and the Crues playing catch-up.

The Bannsiders, who host the Mallards tonight, are eight points ahead of Crusaders and 10 ahead of the champions. Glenavon are their nearest challengers but are still five points adrift.

"I was looking at the league table and Coleraine have done really well to open up a gap," said Clarke. "Everyone expected the Crues and Blues to chase after the league title on their own but they are off the pace, and Coleraine have momentum which makes all the difference.

"They have had injuries to key players but they keep chalking off the wins and that tells you they have great hunger and desire in their squad. I would be a fool if I said they cannot be taken seriously as title contenders, they are top of the table on merit and they will believe that they can sustain that form."

It's top against bottom tonight, with the Mallards winning only one of their 12 Premiership clashes so far, but Clarke insists there is no gloomy atmosphere in the Fermanagh ranks.

"People looking at us from outside the camp might think we are doom and gloom but the boys are positive and we have a style of football we trust," added the former Glentoran ace.

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"There's a great bunch of lads here and we are keeping things positive in training. This is going to be a tough game but there is always a hope on our part that they are a little complacent.

"Both teams need the points for very different reasons and it would be a huge confidence boost if we could beat them."

Meanwhile, Coleraine's seasoned performer Steven Douglas has hailed Stephen O'Donnell as one of the best signings of 2017.

The defender joined the Bannsiders from Institute in May and has been a revelation.

"I know strength in depth has been talked about in terms of squads but we have had injuries at Coleraine and still managed to stay on a great run," said former Linfield favourite Douglas.

"It was said we might struggle against Linfield without Skinner (Eoin Bradley) but we won the game and we've had boys out like Lyndon Kane, Davy Kee and now Brad Lyons. Oran has added to the squad well and I feel Stephen O'Donnell has been one of the signings of the season."

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