Irish Premiership: Baxter predicts festive derby cracker

Cliftonville's Tomas Cosgrove and Crusaders winger Paul Heatley tussle for possession
Cliftonville's Tomas Cosgrove and Crusaders winger Paul Heatley tussle for possession

Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter believes the Boxing Day derby against title challengers Cliftonville has all the ingredients for a festive classic.

The pacesetting Crues are six points clear of the in-form Reds going into the Solitude showdown.

"This should be a great game - Cliftonville are in tremendous form and play fabulous football," said Baxter.

"The recent matches between the sides have been superb and I expect the same on Boxing Day."

Reds striker Daniel Hughes is suspended following his controversial dismissal in last weekend's win over Carrick Rangers.

Second-placed Linfield are five points behind Crusaders as they prepare to take on traditional rivals Glentoran.

Blues defender Mark Stafford scored a last-gasp winner against Ballymena last Saturday but he is banned while the injured Paul Smyth also misses out.

Jimmy Callacher celebrates scoring a late winner for Linfield against Glentoran in October
Jimmy Callacher celebrates scoring a late winner for Linfield against Glentoran in October

Glentoran have lost their last two games and boss Gary Haveron is without suspended midfielder Steven Gordon.

Glenavon visit Portadown and Lurgan Blues player-manager Gary Hamilton summed up what a Boxing Day derby means.

"If players aren't up for Boxing Day fixtures they shouldn't be playing football - it's as simple as that," he said.

"It's the biggest game in the country bar a cup final or a league title winning match.

"You get the biggest crowds of the season at any ground and if you can't get up for it or not want to perform then you should hang your boots up and leave."

Derby day

There's also derby action for Ballymena United and Coleraine with Warden Street the venue on Monday.

Memories will be fresh from United's 3-0 victory over the Bannsiders in the League Cup semi-final earlier this month.

"Coleraine will be coming to exact some revenge - I've no doubt about that," said Sky Blues boss David Jeffrey.

Dungannon Swifts defender Chris Hegarty is suspended for the Stangmore Park meeting with Ballinamallard United.

A ban also rules out Ards defender Johnny Taylor for their trip to take on Carrick.

Irish Premiership - Monday 26 December (15:00 GMT)
Ballymena UtdvColeraine
Carrick RangersvArds
CliftonvillevCrusaders
Dungannon SwiftsvBallinamallard Utd
LinfieldvGlentoran
PortadownvGlenavon

There's live coverage of the Boxing Day games on Radio Ulster and the BBC Sport website