Bangor show ruthless edge with crucial tie on horizon
Bangor are within reach of becoming the first Ulster team to break the 50 goals barrier this season - but standing in their way are derby rivals North Down.
The Seasiders crushed Cliftonville 6-1 in Saturday's Ulster Premier League encounter at CIYMS to take their goals tally to 48 in just seven games, four of which were in the early season Linden Cup.
And that means they stay ahead of their Comber rivals at the top of the Premier League table on a much healthier goal difference.
But this weekend the near neighbours go head-to-head in the fourth round of league fixtures, with an unbeaten record and bragging rights put on the line.
Few would have expected Bangor and North Down to be occupying the top places in the revamped 14-team Premier League at this stage, with Instonians and Kilkeel favoured by many as the teams to beat.
But the Mournemen were held to an unexpected 1-1 draw at Raphoe while Instonians sat out the weekend's action as one of four teams affected by the ongoing Mauritius Cup, the Irish inter-varsities competition at Three Rock Rovers' Grange Road ground in the south Dublin foothills.
The Seasiders took full advantage with that comfortable win at Cliftonville where Rhys Cunningham struck twice and David McClune, Chris Campbell, Zach McKee and Simon Cox were also on the mark.
It was Gareth McKeown who scored both North Down goals in a 2-1 home success over Antrim to make it three wins from three too.
And that nicely sets up an intriguing derby clash at the Aurora Arena this weekend as both harbour hopes of making the play-offs to get into the Irish Hockey League next season.
Kilkeel are kicking themselves for dropping vital points in the 1-1 draw at Raphoe and indeed they needed an equaliser from Johnny Aiken 10 minutes from time to spare their blushes after Tommy Orr had given the Donegal side an early lead.
They remain unbeaten but may look back on this as a chance lost to stay firmly in the title frame.
There were also comfortable wins for Belfast Harlequins and South Antrim, who had plenty to spare against Newry Olympic and Portadown respectively.
Luke McClelland scored twice for Quins in their 4-0 success at Deramore while Chris Henry also bagged a brace as South Antrim saw off the Ports 3-0 at the Friends' School ground.
Meanwhile, University of Ulster's hopes of reaching the Mauritius Cup varsities final ended with a 3-1 defeat against UCD yesterday afternoon following a comfortable 6-0 success over Queen's University on Saturday. Joel Cathcart scored their goal yesterday.
Queen's also lost to UCD 2-0 on Saturday and were eliminated early.
The EY Irish Hockey League had its Halloween break over the weekend, allowing players to take part in the Subway All-Ireland Schoolboy Championships earlier in the week as well as the inter-varsities competition.
But action resumes this weekend with most games going ahead on the Sunday instead of the Saturday.
In fact, Lisnagarvey's clash with Cork C of I is the only one on Saturday whereas Sunday's games see Annadale go to league leaders Glenanne in Dublin, Banbridge go to Pembroke Wanderers in Dublin, and Cookstown take on Railway Union in the bottom of the table meeting at Steelweld Park.
Ulster Premier League: Belfast Harlequins 4 (L McClelland 2, M McKenna, S McGrath) Newry 0; Cliftonville 1 (C Mack) Bangor 6 (R Cunningham 2, D McClune, C Campbell, Z McKee, S Cox); Raphoe 1 (T Orr) Kilkeel 1 (J Aiken); South Antrim 3 (C Henry 2, J Brown) Portadown 0; North Down 2 (G McKeown 2) Antrim 1 (D Wilson)