FOOTBALL COLUMN: Liam Beckett talks...

Warrenpoint could yet pull off the great escape this season
Warrenpoint could yet pull off the great escape this season

This week I have got three subjects I would like to highlight.

Firstly, it seems like no time ago since the Danske Bank Premiership was already looking done and dusted, like a foregone conclusion, and that was at both ends of the table.

Crusaders had built up a formidable lead at the top and with Warrenpoint Town appearing totally unable to even buy a win.

The ‘Town were in danger of becoming completely detached from the rest of the pack and perilously close to reaching that point of no return.

With weeks still to go this current season was already in real danger of petering out into one of a massive anti-climax.

But football very often has the knack of throwing up the unthinkable and that’s exactly what has happened yet again .

Even though Crusaders haven’t been at their brilliant best over recent weeks it appeared they didn’t have to be, as neither were any of the chasing pack.

Linfield were the definition of inconsistency and the wheels would appear to have come off big time at Cliftonville, so whilst the others spluttered and flattered to deceive, the Crues continued to pick up points even though clearly not firing on all cylinders.

But as I’ve said previously, football has a habit of producing some strange and unexpected results and none more so than last week’s shock when lowly Carrick Rangers deservedly defeated Crusaders 4-3 to completely turn what had looked like a procession to the league title into what is now very much a race on scenario.

Suddenly the Crues don’t look quite so invincible, and with their nearest challengers Linfield now beginning to string a few wins together, the destiny of the Gibson Cup isn’t just as clear cut as it looked a couple of weeks ago.

At the bottom it’s also now become a real dogfight once again. I don’t mind admitting that just a few weeks ago I wouldn’t have put someone else’s money on Warrenpoint Town avoiding the drop, they looked nailed on certainties for relegation.

But incredibly Barry Gray’s men not only won a game to bring to an end a shocking run of defeats, they’ve since went on a superb run of positive results and picked up enough points in the process to put them right back into real contention of securing their place in the top flight of local football next season again.

Now it’s teams like Ballinamallard United and Carrick Rangers who have been dragged back into a fight for their Premiership lives.

Portadown are also in complete free-fall , and have been for some time now, they desperately need a result soon or they are going to be in deep trouble as well.

Now once again when I look at all the remaining fixture lists for all the teams it’s becoming harder and harder to pick out a winner, and that’s a great sign.

Suddenly the league has come alive again.

Dungannon Swifts and Ballymena United have both started picking up points again at just the right time and so they will be safe.

Glentoran and Coleraine are both very hit and miss at the moment – more miss that hit if I’m to be honest – but they’ll both end up comfortably in mid-table.

Glenavon continue to impress me under the Gary Hamilton era and it won’t be long at this rate until I see the Lurgan Blues as serious challengers for the biggest prize in local football, the Irish League title.

However, the race for that coveted prize is very much on again, and now it has been reduced to a two-horse race at the top.

Whoever between Crusaders and Linfield can string together a decent run of consistency between now and the end of the season will lift the title and all the financial reward that comes with it.

Can I pick a winner?

It’s close, very close, but my money is still on the Crues – only just, mind you.

At the other end it’s become a real battle of the nerves between the three teams who I feel will scrap it out for survival.

On paper the Mallards seem the best equipped of the three to stay up, but it’s on the pitch and not on the team sheet where games are won and lost, and gaffer Whitey Anderson will need no reminding of that.

They do appear vulnerable and low on confidence right now but they will need to get their act together, and soon.

With Ards now looking certs in my eyes to win promotion from the Championship, and hopefully their domestic licence criteria is all in place, then it looks certain that at least one team from the top flight face certain relegation, and such is the uncertainty at present that I for one wouldn’t like to point the finger at who from Ballinamallard, Carrick or Warrenpoint will bid farewell to the Premiership this time around.

Yes, for me it’s most definitely a case of game on at both ends of the Danske Bank Premiership table.

My second topic of hot discussion this week is the European Championship Finals in France.

Real fears are now centred around the current security situation, and hand on heart who could really blame football fans throughout Europe for experiencing genuine feelings of apprehension with this major football tournament just around the corner?

Northern Ireland have qualified for the Euro Finals for the first time ever, and yet the whole experience is now in danger of being spoiled for thousands of fans with the totally genuine fear for their own safety now most paramount in their minds.

Head of security at the 2016 finals, Mr Ziad Khoury, has reassured fans that he will have up to 1,000 armed officers at each of the 51 games, but he also admits that it’s virtually impossible to guarantee the safety of fans and the general public in town squares, bars and restaurants.

These gutless cowards who sneak in among innocent fun-loving men, women and children, and then detonate a bomb are the scum of the earth.

They have completely besmirched the feel-good factor that had initially excited so many decent football fans throughout Europe.

Suddenly that initial enthusiasm which swept Northern Ireland and beyond has been diluted somewhat by a few warped individuals who feel in some sick way that it’s a heroic act to murder & maim so many innocent and unsuspecting decent people who’s only crime is to support their country’s international football team, the very thought sickens me to the pit of my stomach.

And finally, one of my all-time pet hates has reared its ugly head again when a subject of which I have zero tolerance was brought to my attention, and that is the filthy habit of spitting.

This time it didn’t include the despicable act of one player spitting at or on another.

No, this time it was just flagged up to me about so many footballers simply spitting and that it is sadly on the increase.

Admittedly I did watch a televised game recently in which Man Utd’s Wayne Rooney (it could have been many others) was seen to spit three times in the very short space of time when the camera panned on him at a free-kick, and I must admit I found it disgusting.

Nor do I buy into this excuse offered up by some that all the running about generates additional saliva in the mouth that either has to be swallowed or spat out.

Nonsense.

If this is the case then how come I never see rugby players continually spitting during a televised match?

No, I agree that this is another unwelcome trend that for some reason has crept into football, so let’s try and stamp it out now before the next generation of kids see it and think it’s the done thing.

Enjoy your Easter everyone.