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Coleraine and Ballymena United looking for derby delight to close gap to the top

 

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David Jeffrey

David Jeffrey

David Jeffrey

David Jeffrey v Oran Kearney. It's become a battle royale in recent years and tonight should be no different when Ballymena United host Coleraine in a crucial Danske Bank Premiership clash.

There is much respect between the respective managers, who know each other well from their time at Linfield when Jeffrey led the Blues to so much glory and midfielder Kearney played a key role in the famous clean sweep side.

How the pair of them would love to claim the title with their current clubs.

Between them, Coleraine and Ballymena have finished runners-up over the last three years. If either are to go one better, they need a big finish to the season and to make their games in hand count.

United and the Bannsiders are the only teams in the top six playing this evening, so the derby offers both the chance to move closer to those ahead of them in the table.

Should Jeffrey's side come out on top, as they did in the corresponding fixture on the opening weekend of this campaign, they will move into fifth place in the table, one point behind Coleraine and with a game in hand.

If it is Kearney's men who are celebrating come the finish, they will go level on points with third-placed Crusaders and move eight behind leaders Linfield ahead of a trip to Windsor Park on Saturday.

Neither team played last weekend due to bad weather so both should enter the derby feeling fresh.

Tactically, Jeffrey - whose men enjoyed penalty shootout success against their rivals when they locked horns in last season's delayed Irish Cup semi-final encounter - got it right back in October when Kofi Balmer scored the decisive goal for the Sky Blues, who had Josh Kelly sent off just before half-time. The old master will look to repeat that trick but Kearney is sure to have other ideas.

Bannsiders hero Eoin Bradley tends to have a say in these clashes and could be a determining factor.

Also tonight, weather permitting, Warrenpoint Town are at home to Dungannon Swifts, who have slipped to the bottom of the table following an excellent run of form for fellow basement battlers Carrick Rangers.

Town have had plenty of praise this season, enjoying an historic victory over Linfield and earning draws against Larne, but it won't have escaped manager Barry Gray's notice that defeat would see Kris Lindsay's side move within two points of the Milltown men.

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Barry Gray

Barry Gray

Barry Gray

 

Even without the threat of relegation hanging over sides around the foot of the table now, Gray will want some clear daylight between tonight's opponents.

In recent years, Town and Swifts have had some ding dong battles at the ground with plenty of goals, though Swifts No.1 Roy Carroll will be intent on keeping Warrenpoint out at his end in what promises to be an intriguing contest.

Belfast Telegraph


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