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Friday 19 Feb 2016
Danske Bank Premiership Preview

Amongst the half-a-dozen games on offer there are two always keenly fought local derbies, two relegation six-pointers and a further two encounters that never fail to disappoint.

Starting tonight (Friday) the bottom two lock horns as Carrick Rangers meet Warrenpoint Town at Seaview (8pm).

Barry Gray's side had been in a rich vein of form lately - winning four in a row - before suffering a reversal during the week and remain in the wooden spoon position but Gray is refusing to let Monday night's loss knock his players off their stride.

Speaking to the Newry Reporter, he said: "There's no major panic or dismay. We created lots of opportunities but it just didn't happen.

"Friday night's game isn't going to be the end of it. If we win it's nice and if we don't it's not so nice, but it's not going to be a case of we'll be celebrating staying in the league after Friday night."

Carrick were also in midweek action, booking their place in the last eight of the Tennent's Irish Cup with victory over Crumlin Star but boss Gary Haveron is keen to refocus attention back to the bread and butter of top flight survival.

"It is a massive game. There is still a long way to go this season, and a lot of points to be won and lost," he told the News Letter.

"We are just treating this as any other game, because they are all important in the Premiership."

On Saturday the other two sides locked in the four-way tussle at the bottom meet at Stangmore Park as Dungannon Swifts play host to Ballinamallard United.

The pair had good wins during the week to remain locked together on points, although the Swifts do have a game in hand.

Manager Rodney McAree admits his side will be encouraged by their Monday night win but he is determined to push on from that defeat of Warrenpoint.

"It was a big three points at the foot of the table, but we need to build on it and try to climb the table.

"We are still down there fighting, and there is a long way to go this season. All we can do is look after ourselves and try and beat the teams around us."

League leaders Crusaders welcome near neighbours Cliftonville to Seaview in what is always a fascinating tussle between the two most successful sides in recent seasons.

The Crues hold a nine point advantage over their North Belfast rivals and whilst victory would hand them an almost unassailable lead a win for the Reds, fresh from retaining the JBE League Cup, would see Gerard Lyttle's side catapulted back into the title race.

Head-to-head there has been very little between the sides this season. An early Jordan Owens goal handed the Crues victory at Solitude back in early September while the Boxing Day derby brought an equal share of the four goals on offer.

It's Derby Day in Mid-Ulster, too, as Mourneview Park plays host to Glenavon's meeting with Portadown.

Gary Hamilton's are very much in the hunt for an automatic European place but the Ports have begun to get a bit of form back after a recent torrid spell and have a top six slot in their sights.

Rhys Marshall's stoppage time winner gave Glenavon the edge on Boxing Day but it was honours even back in September so perhaps there'll be a sense of revenge in the air for Portadown.

Linfield, currently second in the table, make the journey north to the Coleraine Showgrounds to take on Oran Kearney's Bannsiders.

The Blues have taken six points from six in the two league meetings thus far, including 3-1 the last time they visited the Ballycastle Road venue.

Coleraine will have been buoyed by last week's derby victory over Ballymena United, not least because it halted a slide that saw them slip to fifth in the standings.

Meanwhile, at The Oval, Glentoran and Ballymena United meet in a game important to their respective end of season ambitions.

With both out of the Irish Cup the forthcoming play-offs offer their only chance of securing a European slot.

The Sky Blues are sitting just outside the cut and will be hoping to recover some sort of form since their Co. Antrim Shield triumph last month.

They also won on their last visit to the Oval, back in September, but the Glens emerged on top from their most recent meeting and go into the game on the back of a superb victory over Glenavon last week.

Friday, 19th February, 2016 (kick-off 8pm)
Carrick Rangers v. Warrenpoint Town

Saturday, 20th February, 2016 (kick-off 3pm)
Coleraine v. Linfield
Crusaders v. Cliftonville
Dungannon Swifts v. Ballinamallard United
Glenavon v. Portadown
Glentoran v. Ballymena United