Belfast Telegraph

European play-offs to intermediate relegation: What can change across the NI Football League on final day of the season

Glentoran and Institute are playing for seventh place on the final day of the Danske Bank Premiership season.
Glentoran and Institute are playing for seventh place on the final day of the Danske Bank Premiership season.
Gareth Hanna

By Gareth Hanna

With just one game to go in this season's NI Football League, there is plenty to play for across the three divisions.

So which issues are still at stake? Here's your easy guide to the four things that can still change:

Premiership: European play-offs

As we explained after Tuesday evening's matches, it's all a little bit complicated ahead of the end-of-season play-offs for the final Europa League place.

There are four scenarios:

1. Five teams enter the play-offs

Institute currently trail Glentoran by two points in the table. Therefore, the Glens must avoid defeat when the two meet at the Oval on Saturday in order to secure the final European play-off place. Institute cannot enter the play-offs as they did not apply for a European license.

If Ballinamallard beat Crusaders in the Irish Cup final, the Crues will also face the play-offs.

So if both of those things happen, the following teams will ALL enter the play-offs: Glenavon, Crusaders, Cliftonville, Coleraine, Glentoran. (Coleraine will host the Glens in a pre-play-off, with the winners entering the semi-finals.)

2. Three teams enter the play-offs

If Institute beat Glentoran, they will finish seventh but won't make it to the Europa League play-offs as they have not applied for a European license. In that scenario, no team from the bottom half would progress to the play-offs.

If Crusaders then win the Irish Cup a week later, they will have secured their European place without need for the play-offs.

So if BOTH of those things happen, the following teams will enter the play-offs: Glenavon, Cliftonville, Coleraine. (Cliftonville will host Coleraine in the semi-final with a trip to Glenavon awaiting the winner).

3. Crusaders and three other teams enter the play-offs

If Institute beat Glentoran on Saturday AND Ballinamallard win the Irish Cup, then the following teams face the play-offs: Glenavon, Crusaders, Cliftonville, Coleraine.

4. Glentoran and three other teams enter the play-offs

If Glentoran avoid defeat to Institute on Saturday AND Crusaders win the Irish Cup, then the following teams face the play-offs: Glenavon, Cliftonville, Coleraine, Glentoran.

NB: If Crusaders lose the Irish Cup final, then finishing third or fourth could be significant. If the Crues were to meet Glenavon, currently third, in the play-off final, it will be the side that finished third that gets home advantage. Glenavon will secure third if they get a point at home to Cliftonville on Saturday. Crusaders must win at Ballymena and hope Glenavon lose to leapfrog the Lurgan Blues.

Premiership: Relegation

It's all to play for between the top tier's bottom two, with the 12th placed team facing automatic relegation while second bottom will take on Carrick Rangers or Portadown in a play-off. Newry City are currently in the automatic relegation place, trailing Ards by three points.

City will have to overcome that three point gap and a goal difference gap of four on Saturday to avoid the automatic drop. Newry host Dungannon while Ards travel to Warrenpoint.

If Newry win and Ards lose while there is LESS than a four goal swing, Newry will be relegated.

If Newry win and Ards lose while there is MORE than a four goal swing, Ards will be relegated.

If Newry win and Ards lose while there is EXACTLY a four goal swing, it is most likely that Ards will be relegated. (Extra detail that will never happen: The first caveat on that is that Ards could still avoid automatic relegation if there is a four goal swing AND Ards manage to score two more goals than Newry. So if they lost 6-4 while Newry won 2-0, Newry would be relegated on goals scored as both teams would finish with a -34 goal difference. The second caveat is that if there is a four goal swing and Ards manage to score one more goal than Newry, so Ards lose 5-3 while Newry win 2-0, Ards would stay up on goal difference in head to head games against Newry. The teams would have finished level on points, goal difference, goals scored and head to head record. Ards would edge ahead +1 to -1 on goall difference in H2H matches. That would mean the goal that decided it was Mark Kelly's 65th minute strike in a 3-1 win for Ards on February 23. It is all highly unlikely, but there it is just in case).

There is a VERY slim chance Mark Kelly's goal could be the only difference between Newry and Ards come Saturday evening...

Championship: Relegation

It's between PSNI and Limavady United for the automatic relegation and play-off spots from the second tier. The 12th placed side will be relegated automatically while 11th will face the Premier Intermediate League runners-up Annagh United in a play-off.

Limavady are currently bottom, two points below PSNI. Limavady host Knockbreda on Saturday while PSNI travel to Ballyclare Comrades.

If the sides finish level on points, Limavady will leapfrog PSNI due to their better goal difference.

So if PSNI win, they will avoid automatic relegation. If PSNI draw, they require Knockbreda to get some sort of result at Limavady to stay above their rivals.

Limavady must win and hope PSNI slip up against Ballyclare to avoid automatic relegation.

Premier Intermediate: Relegation

The bottom team in the Bluefin Sport Premier Intermediate League is relegated out of the NI Football League, being replaced by one of the winners of the regional leagues.

Bangor FC have won the Ballymena and Provincial Intermediate League and will look to be promoted. The only team that could stand in their way is NI Intermediate League winners Strabane Athletic. Should more than one club meet the requirements for entry to the NI Football League, those teams will play off for promotion.

Whoever comes up, it is as yet unclear who will be going down.

Favourites to face the drop at present are Sport & Leisure Swifts, who are being renamed Belfast Celtic this summer.

They are currently bottom of the table but could still survive with a win at home to Lisburn Distillery.

Theoretically, there are three sides that could still end the day bottom of the pile. But with Dollingstown three points ahead and boasting a goal difference 14 better than the Swifts, we can all but say they're safe ahead of their game at Newington.

That leaves Armagh City but even leapfrogging them is a long shot for the Swifts. The Holm Park side are also three points ahead and have a goal difference of six better than the basement side. If the Swifts can manage to make up six goals, for instance with a 3-0 win while Armagh lose 3-0, the Swifts will survive on goals scored.

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