Crusaders have been dealt a big blow with the news - before tonight’s game against Ballinamallard United at Seaview - that captain Colin Coates will miss the rest of the season because of surgery on his ankle.
The defender sustained the injury against Ards back in November and made a long awaited return in February but he only lasted a few matches.
After seeing a specialist he was given the news and after surgery he will be in plaster for a number of weeks.
Before tonight’s clashCrusaders sit top of the table by four points and manager Stephen Baxter will be looking for his side to get the three points and extend their lead over second places Linfield to seven points.
The Crues will go into the game practically full strength except for captain Coates.
That means that goalkeeper Sean O’Neill will see a change in his back four and Billy Joe Burns, Howard Beverland and Craig McClean could be joined by Alan Keane who will be straight switch for Coates in the side at centre half.
Midfield will see the return of Paul Heatley out on the wing with Gavin Whyte on the other but the centre of midfield is where the real selection headache will be after super performances by Richard Clarke and Philip Lowry last week and it remains to be seen if Stephen Baxter retains them alongside Jordan Forsythe or brings in the available Declan Caddell,
Up front Jordan Owens is expected to start but Mikael Suarez is available if required.
Ballinamallard will go into the game looking to get back to winning ways having lost their last three Premiership games after a decent start to 2017.
They where managing to pull themselves away from danger but that form has stalled and they will be looking to get back on track sooner rather than later.
United have been scoring goals and Adam Leckey is the main threat with eleven goals so far and Ryan Mayse with six.
In the two meetings in the Premiership this season Crusaders won both - 5-1 at Seaview and 1-0 at Ferney Park.