Belfast Telegraph

Explained: What's required for a top six Championship finish as Welders, Loughgall, Ballyclare and Ballinamallard battle ahead of Saturday split

 

Loughgall manager Dean Smith, Ballyclare's Stephen Hughes, Ballinamallard boss Harry McConkey and Welders chief Norman Kelly are all hoping to end Saturday in the Championship's top six.
Loughgall manager Dean Smith, Ballyclare's Stephen Hughes, Ballinamallard boss Harry McConkey and Welders chief Norman Kelly are all hoping to end Saturday in the Championship's top six.

By Steven Beacom

Larne may be running away with the Championship title but everything else is up for grabs on a defining weekend in Northern Ireland's second tier.

Saturday promises to be hugely exciting with plenty of twists and turns as the teams from fifth to eighth - Harland & Wolff Welders, Loughgall, Ballyclare Comrades and Ballinamallard United - all fight it out to join Larne, Carrick Rangers, Dundela and Portadown in the top six.

Tiernan Lynch's leaders may have lost two of their last three league games but remain 13 points ahead at the top and will surely go up as champions despite a recent wobble.

The battle behind them is fascinating with in-form Carrick three points clear of Dundela and Portadown, then comes the scramble for clubs to play their remaining 10 games of the campaign against top half opposition.

Put simply, if Norman Kelly can mastermind his Welders to a win at Portadown, then they will be certain of a top six slot.

A draw will also do the job as long as Ballyclare don't win by six goals at Ballinamallard while Loughgall also win.

Loughgall will make it into the top six if they can beat Larne at Inver Park, where many Championship watchers believe Dean Smith's men will find it difficult to earn any points - and if that proves to be the case, the winners of Ballinamallard against Ballyclare at Ferney Park would take advantage and jump above them into sixth.

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That would represent a remarkable turnaround for Harry McConkey's side given they were in relegation trouble a short time ago.

Should Ballyclare and Loughgall both win and the Welders lose, however, then the east Belfast outfit would miss out.

It's a fantastic finish prior to the split which should set up a thrilling race to make the Championship play-off picture.

It now appears that it is a straight race between Limavady United and Dergview to avoid finishing bottom. Ivan Sproule's Dergview could do with a win at PSNI, while Limavady will be thinking the same when they visit Knockbreda.

The post-split fixtures in the Championship will be released by the league after the weekend fixtures.

Saturday's Championship fixtures (2pm): Ballinamallard Utd v Ballyclare Com, Dundela v Carrick Rangers, Knockbreda v Limavady Utd, Larne v Loughgall, Portadown v H&W Welders, PSNI v Dergview.

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