A tantalising tie at Inver Park will kick off a mouth-watering weekend of Irish Cup football.
Larne host Coleraine this evening in the first of four quarter-finals in the Sadler’s Peaky Blinder-sponsored competition scheduled to be staged this weekend.
Neutrals will be hoping for a repeat of the thrilling last eight encounter between the two sides last season which saw the Bannsiders triumph by five goals to three after extra time.
However, it’s hard to see Larne, who have won nine of their last 10 fixtures in all competitions, shipping so many goals again. Tiernan Lynch’s team have competed strongly in the Premiership this season following their promotion from the Championship.
Coleraine are also in fine fettle. Manager Oran Kearney’s return from Scotland has brought an upturn in fortunes and form. They have already won the League Cup this month, they are second in the Premiership and they have won eight of their last nine fixtures.
Both managers are predicting a close encounter at Inver Park, however both teams possess decent firepower so the goals just might flow once again.
The last eight clash in the Sadler’s Peaky Blinder Irish Cup is being shown live on BBC Two Northern Ireland and on the BBC Sport website this evening. Kick-off is at 7.45.
A minute’s silence will be observed at the match - and at all Irish Cup quarter-final and Irish Junior Cup last eight ties this weekend - as a mark of respect for Irish Football Association Football Operations Manager Craig Stanfield, who passed away suddenly last Saturday. Craig was a well-known and popular figure in Northern Ireland football circles.
With Linfield flexing their muscles in the Danske Bank Premiership right now, the Irish FA’s Challenge Cup, Northern Ireland’s premier cup competition, arguably looks like representing the only route to silverware this season for a few clubs who have invested heavily in their squads.
Irish Cup holders Crusaders, who were defeated in the League Cup final by the Bannsiders, will be keen to retain the trophy, especially as their league form has dipped in recent weeks.
Standing in their way for a last four spot are Glentoran, who have also hit a few bumps in the league road, especially since influential Croatian midfielder Hrvoje Plum was ruled out for the rest of the season after sustaining an injury in a league game last month.
The tie at the Oval tomorrow afternoon (3pm start) is rightly being billed as a heavyweight clash.
Cliftonville already have silverware in the trophy cabinet, after defeating Ballymena United to win the Co Antrim Shield, however boss Paddy McLaughlin will be hungry for more.
McLaughlin will be wary of Dungannon Swifts though. Kris Lindsay has steadied the ship at the Swifts in the past couple of months after a slump in form that followed a victory-laden start to the season. The quarter-final match at Stangmore Park (3pm start tomorrow) looks set to be a tight affair.
Ballymena United have had a topsy-turvy season to date. Boss David Jeffrey has had to contend with a lengthy injury list and their league form has been patchy, although they played well in the Co Antrim Shield final before the Reds scored late on to secure the trophy.
Tomorrow Jeffrey’s team come up against last year’s beaten cup finalists Ballinamallard United, the only non-Premiership side remaining in the competition.
Jeffrey and Mallards boss Harry McConkey are good mates, but that friendship will be set aside for 90 minutes-plus at Ferney Park (3pm kick-off).
Championship side Ballinamallard made history by becoming the first senior side from Fermanagh to reach an Irish Cup semi-final/final last season and McConkey will be working overtime to ensure the feat is repeated.