Crues boss Baxter surprised Glenavon not title challengers

David Cushley of Crusaders in action against Glenavon defender Kris Lindsay
Crusaders beat Glenavon 3-1 at Seaview when the teams last met

Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter says he is surprised Saturday's opponents Glenavon have not challenged for the Irish Premiership title this season.

The Crues, champions for the last two seasons and seven points clear the the top, travel to Lurgan having won six of their last seven league fixtures.

"I thought they might be the nearest challengers this year," said Baxter.

"They have maybe been a bit off colour but they have not lost many matches and are a top team with quality players."

Irish Cup holders Glenavon's league form has been patchy and they are in sixth place, but Gary Hamilton's men did win last time out with a 2-1 derby victory over bottom club Portadown.

Linfield ran out 4-0 winners the last time they played Dungannon Swifts
Linfield ran out 4-0 winners the last time they played Dungannon Swifts

Second-placed Linfield travel to Dungannon Swifts aware they need to keep winning matches and hope the Crues slip up on several occasions in the run-in.

Dungannon do not have a good record against Linfield and suffered their heaviest defeat of the season when losing 4-0 at home to David Healy's team in November.

"If you don't turn up against Linfield you face the prospect of losing quite heavily," said Swifts manager Rodney McAree.

"We have to make sure we produce a more committed performance than we did the last time.

"We must fight tooth and nail with them and see where that takes us."

Ballymena United host Carrick Rangers three weeks before the sides meet in the NI League Cup final.

"The last time Carrick came to the Showgrounds it was a very tight affair," said United manager David Jeffrey.

"These are the type of games which define our season, and we have to pick ourselves up from last week's defeat at Linfield."

Inconsistent Glentoran, eighth in the table, are at home to 10th-placed Ballinamallard.

"We desperately want to break into the top six but Ballinamallard will be difficult," said Glens boss Gary Haveron.

"I went to their recent match against Carrick and they were impressive, but if you want to kick on you have to beat the teams in and around you."

Carrick expect to include Declan O'Brien who signed on Thursday from Glenavon.

Cliftonville are favourites to pick up what would be only a second league win in six as they host bottom club Portadown.

Coleraine, up to fourth, will attempt to make it five Premiership wins in a row when they play Ards at the Showgrounds.

Danske Bank Irish Premiership - Saturday 28 January
Coverage on Radio Ulster's Sportsound from 14:02 GMT
Ballymena UnitedvCarrick Rangers
Dungannon SwiftsvLinfield
GlentoranvBallinamallard United