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Banbridge are in desperate need of victory against struggling Ballymena

Derby battle: James Hume may be with Banbridge
Derby battle: James Hume may be with Banbridge

By Michael Sadlier

Even though Ballymena's exit from Division 1B looks to be inevitable, their Ulster derby with Banbridge at Eaton Park is dominated by relegation issues.

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While the Braidmen sit firmly ensconced in bottom spot, Banbridge are now in ninth after losing three games on the trot.

Though there are 12 points between Bann and 10th-placed Ballymena, the Co Down side badly want to move away from the relegation play-off spot.

The chances of them achieving this look reasonably healthy if they can dig out some results as the table remains so congested - there are only six points separating them from Malone up in second spot - and they trail Old Belvedere, who are in eighth, by just the one point.

However, losing 22-0 at leaders Old Wesley last weekend will hardly have instilled confidence at the club, who missed out on promotion to 1A last season after losing the play-off final.

Bann may have James Hume, Jonny Stewart and Caleb Montgomery released to them from Ulster.

While the trap door seems to await for Ballymena, they will battle every inch of the way, though should Bann win tomorrow and Belvo take Malone's scalp, then Andy Graham's squad are likely to be relegated with three rounds remaining, regardless of what his possible releases of John Andrew and Clive Ross might have achieved.

Former leaders Malone have also hit a speed bump regarding results and have lost their last two outings, albeit narrowly. Coach Paddy Armstrong's second-placed side are at Old Belvedere, who are at the wrong end of the table.

Trailing leaders Old Wesley by four points, Malone are also a mere six off ninth so cannot afford another slip-up without suffering damaging consequences.

"In the last five games we've won three and lost two, and the two we have lost have been roughly by three points, so it is just (about) fine margins," said Armstrong.

"That is just the way it goes sometimes and we just have to make sure we are more accurate, and that is the key focus this week."

Malone will be hoping to field a similar side to the one which lost at home to Buccaneers last weekend, and could well have Ross Kane, Adam McBurney and Matty Dalton again.

City of Armagh leapt from seventh to fourth after seeing off Ballymena in the last round and host St Mary's College, who are one place and two points behind.

Ballynahinch, in third, are at Buccaneers and may have Peter Nelson, Tom O'Toole and Johnny McPhillips all participating.

Division 1B: Ballymena v Banbridge, Old Belvedere v Malone, City of Armagh v St Mary's College, Buccaneers v Ballynahinch

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