Road to glory mapped out for Irish League title contenders

Ballymena Mathew Tipton in action with Crusaders Craig McLean
Ballymena Mathew Tipton in action with Crusaders Craig McLean

Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter insists his players are relishing their daunting Danske Bank Premiership title run-in

The league leaders – who are six points clear of nearest rivals Linfield – have seven fixtures remaining as they set their sights on a first Gibson Cup since 1997.

The Shore Road men will finish their campaign with home games against Glentoran and Glenavon on April 18 and 25.

But before that they face the tricky prospect of FIVE consecutive away games in the Premiership – starting with tomorrow’s trip to Ballymena United.

The Northern Ireland Football League yesterday confirmed all of the post-split fixtures.

After tomorrow’s game against Ballymena, the Crues travel to Coleraine.

After the split they will face Linfield at Windsor Park on April 4 before trips to derby rivals Cliftonville (Tuesday, April 7) and Portadown (April 11).

“It is a tough schedule, but we certainly aren’t dwelling on it,” Baxter said.

“We have been in decent form on the road this season, and we are on a good run of form.

“So the players are confident and they are ready to meet the challenge head on.

“Every game is a massive challenge in this league, whether you are playing the bottom team or the teams around you. It also doesn’t matter if you are home or away – they are still tough games.”

Title rivals Linfield – who travel to Institute tomorrow – host the Crues on April 4 and then travel to The Oval on April 7 for a derby showdown with Glentoran, followed by a home clash with Glenavon four days later.

The Blues will finish their campaign with away trips to reigning champions Cliftonville and Portadown.

At the other end of the table bottom club Institute – who are four points adrift at the basement – are faced with four of their five post-split fixtures away from home.

The Drumahoe men travel to Warrenpoint on April 4 and also face trips to Ballinamallard (April 7), Dungannon (April 18) and Coleraine (April 25).

Meanwhile, Crues defender Craig McClean is abiding by the mantra of ‘one game at a time’ as the Seaview club looks to finish the season on a high.

As well as a massive Premiership title run-in, the Crues are also in the semi-finals of the Irish Cup.

They play Glentoran next Saturday at Mourneview Park, but McClean insists that game “isn’t even on our radar”.

He added: “We are just focusing on Saturday’s game against Ballymena.

“We can’t afford to get too far ahead of ourselves. Every game between now and the end of the season is going to be massive. But we are ready for it.”

POST-SPLIT FIXTURES

Saturday, April 4

Section A: Linfield v Crusaders; Cliftonville v Portadown; Glenavon v Glentoran

Section B: Coleraine v Ballymena Utd; Ballinamallard Utd v Dungannon Swifts; Warrenpoint Town v Institute

Tuesday, April 7

Section A: Portadown v Crusaders; Glentoran v Linfield; Glenavon v Cliftonville

Section B: Dungannon Swifts v Coleraine; Ballymena Utd v Warrenpoint Town; Ballinamallard Utd v Institute

Saturday, April 11

Section A: Cliftonville v Crusaders; Linfield v Glenavon; Glentoran v Portadown

Section B: Coleraine v Ballinamallard Utd; Institute v Ballymena Utd; Dungannon Swifts v Warrenpoint Town

Saturday, April 18

Section A: Crusaders v Glentoran: Cliftonville v Linfield: Glenavon v Portadown

Section B: Coleraine v Warrenpoint Town; Ballymena Utd v Ballinamallard Utd; Dungannon Swifts v Institute

Saturday, April 25

Section A: Crusaders v Glenavon; Portadown v Linfield; Glentoran v Cliftonville

Section B: Coleraine v Institute: Ballymena Utd v Dungannon Swifts: Ballinamallard Utd v Warrenpoint Town