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Thursday 31 Mar 2016
Tennent’s Irish Cup semi-final preview

For most teams, the Tennent's Irish Cup semi-final is arguably the biggest game of their season - but for Lurgan Celtic Saturday's clash with Linfield has been hailed as the biggest game in the history of the club.

But the Championship 1 club go into the tie in the midst of a goalkeeping crisis which is likely to see them take the field without a recognised stopper between the posts.

Usual first choice Conor McCorry was sent-off late in last week's league defeat to Annagh United while his understudy, 20-year-old Jamie McAtavey, is on the sidelines injured with a fractured wrist.

Speculation is rife that either Dale Malone, son of boss Colin, or skipper Raymond Fitzpatrick will don the gloves for the big day.

It's just another twist in the Lurgan Celtic cup story that reached fever pitch following their dramatic Quarter-Final defeat of Portadown at Shamrock Park.

Goals from Aaron Haire and Shea Conaty saw the Hoops race into the two-goal lead early in the second half before the Ports hauled themselves back onto level terms ..... but no-one reckoned on the stoppage time drama that was to follow when Fitzpatrick stepped up to convert from the spot after Haire had been upended in the area.

Linfield's last eight win was equally as impressive for different reasons, a 3-0 defeat of Cliftonville at Solitude, their first win at the North Belfast venue in almost four years.

Ross Gaynor's second half double that day - in addition to Andrew Waterworth's 76th minute strike - set David Healy's side off on a rich vein of form which has brought consecutive victories over Glentoran, Cliftonville (again), Ballinamallard United and a thumping defeat of Warrenpoint Town as recently as Tuesday night.

Prior to that, on Friday night (kick-off 7:45pm), Crusaders and Glenavon lock horns in a game that is, on paper, much tougher to call.

The Crues were in action on Tuesday evening, carving out a narrow victory over Ballinamallard United thanks to a late, late winner from skipper Colin Coates.

One wonders what those efforts will have taken out of Stephen Baxter's league leaders and defending champions but they will have Craig McClean, Michael Carvill and Declan Caddell available for selection after injury and illness so any tired or weary bones from that trip to Ferney Park could have the opportunity to be rested.

Gary Hamilton's Glenavon go into the game on the back of a successful month that has produced four victories out of four although their preparations will have been hindered slightly through the forced absence of Kris Lindsay following his dismissal in the win over Coleraine last weekend while the influential Eoin Bradley also sits this one out through suspension.

On the flip side, however, Andy Kilmartin is available once more as are the youth international duo of Joel Cooper and Mark Sykes.

The sides last met in early February when they shared a couple of goals at Seaview while the two previous meetings this season have saw the Crues emerge victorious by just a single goal on each occasion.

Tennent's Irish Cup semi-finals
Friday, 1st April, 2016 (kick-off 7:45)
Glenavon v. CrusadersOfficials: Andrew Davey; Stephen Donaldson, George Argyropoulos; Ian McNabb

Saturday, 2nd April, 2016 (kick-off 3pm)
Linfield v. Lurgan CelticOfficials: Mervyn Smyth; Mark Millar, John Grealey; Evan Boyce