Irish Premiership: Reds ready for 'massive' Ballymena game

United's Willie Faulkner challenges Cliftonville midfielder Ryan Catney
Ballymena and Cliftonville have both won their last three Premiership matches

Cliftonville boss Barry Gray says Ballymena United will pose a "really big challenge" when the league's two in-form teams meet at the Showgrounds.

The Reds have won their last four league games to move third and a point behind a United side which has secured 16 points from the last 18 available.

"Ballymena are in terrific form - the team is set up well and they signed really well in the summer," said Gray.

"It's a massive game for us and will no doubt be tip-and-tuck."

A late Jay Donnelly goal gave Cliftonville a 3-2 home win over the Sky Blues in the first game between the sides this season in September.

"It was certainly a close game and most observers will say we deserved a point," said Ballymena manager David Jeffrey.

Donnelly fires Cliftonville to victory over Ballymena

"But they've kicked on since then and played marvellously well, while they have a real goal threat.

"They've got great striking power and creativity - it's a great challenge for our fellas and another chance to pit our wits against a very good side."

Ballymena received a boost on Friday with midfielder Leroy Millar signing a two-year contract extension.

Premiership pacesetters Glenavon have picked up just one point from their last two games - that's five less than Saturday's opponents Crusaders.

The resurgent champions have moved into the title picture and sit seven points behind the Lurgan Blues, who fought back to beat the Crues 3-2 at Mournieview Park two months ago.

"That was a fantastic, incredible game of football with Glenavon piping us at the end," said Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter ahead of the Seaview encounter.

"We are looking forward to the challenge - Glenavon are going really well this season and are one of the sides tipped to win the title. We'll be in there fighting as always."

Watch: Sykes and Daniels lead stunning Glenavon fightback

Second-placed Linfield have also slipped up in their last two matches and the Blues face the long trip to the Brandywell for a lunchtime meeting with Institute.

Institute have already lost 3-0 and 5-0 to Linfield this season and they are without Aaron Harkin (illness), Jake Morrow (knee) and Ryan Morrow (back).

Warrenpoint Town are coming off impressive away draws against the top two and they are back at Milltown against Dungannon Swifts, who moved off the bottom thanks to a 2-1 home victory over Institute last Saturday.

Kris Lindsay's first win as Swifts boss left Newry City and Ards in the bottom two and they meet in a Showgrounds basement battle.

Glentoran have slipped to three straight defeats and Ronnie McFall's men travel to take on an improving Coleraine side.

Danske Bank Premiership - Saturday 17 November (15:00 GMT)
Ballymena UtdvCliftonville
ColerainevGlentoran
CrusadersvGlenavon
InstistutevLinfield (13:00)
Newry CityvArds
Warrenpoint TownvDungannon Swifts
Radio Ulster coverage and live text commentary on the BBC Sport website

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