Preview: Cliftonville v Glenavon

Glenavon finishes the league campaign with the second of three trips to Belfast. Last Tuesday night saw the Lurgan Blues lose 3-0 to Linfield at Windsor Park and tomorrow it’s off to Solitude with the campaign finishing against the Champions at Seaview next Saturday.

Chris Turner is recovered from the injury he picked up in the 3-0 win against Ballymena United. Photo by Maynard Collins

Rhys Marshall completes his two game ban tomorrow but Gary Hamilton’s selection choices are still limited by injuries and potential bans for Mark Sykes and David Elebert who are both on 9 cautions and Ciaran Martyn who is on four cautions so a further booking for any of those three would rule them out of the play-off games. “On Tuesday night I literally only had 16 players available to me,” Gary explained. “Simon Kelly and Kris Lindsay were both injured from Saturday, Kyle Neill was at his brother’s wedding and I couldn’t risk the boys who are one booking away from a suspension.

“Obviously I was disappointed with the result the other night but for 20 minutes we were well in it and, looking back at the highlights, we should have had a penalty, the decision didn’t go our way, then we conceded a goal from a mistake which was so uncharacteristic of James. That gave Linfield the momentum and confidence that they needed and then we made another mistake a couple of minutes later and it’s 2-0 and unfortunately our heads went down.

“We played the players we had available but unfortunately it didn’t work out but the other night does show the importance of those players who are running the risk of suspension and injury and how much they’re needed. The last thing we can do is risk putting all these players out of the two important (play-off) games. I share the fans’ frustrations in terms of the result but unfortunately we’re at the stage of the season when there’s nothing we can do about it and needs must at the end of the day in terms of what we’re doing and trying to do.”

Aaron Canning and Joel Cooper join the injury list, the latter as a result of a poor challenge by Paul Smyth that somehow wasn’t punished by a red card on Tuesday night. There is some good news though with Simon Kelly and Chris Turner back from injury.

Glenavon and Cliftonville have met four times so far this season, three times in the league and once in the quarter final of the League Cup. Glenavon have the slight advantage with two wins and a draw; the one defeat was the only one of those four games at Solitude.

Supporters are reminded to check the important advice published yesterday.

Easter Double Bill

Saturday’s trip to 3rd-placed Coleraine is the first of a tough Easter double-bill of away games for Glenavon, with Gary Hamilton’s side also taking on the team in second spot, Linfield, at Windsor Park on Easter Tuesday (7:45pm kick off).

Tomorrow’s opponents have opened up a 5 point lead on their nearest rivals for that coveted 3rd place and, of course, also have an Irish Cup final with Linfield to look forward to, having overcome holders Glenavon in the semifinal. In many ways the Bannsiders situation mirrors that of Glenavon last season when the Lurgan Blues secured third place and also went on to defeat Linfield in the cup final.

Gary Hamilton’s thoughts are focused on preparing his squad for the European play-offs which are his side’s only remaining route to Europe for next season.

“The players that started last week were the ones that needed games so it’ll be a similar line-up tomorrow, especially with the result. Chris Turner will be missing as he has a tight hamstring that forced him off last week, and we don’t want to take any risks with him. The main importance for us is the play-off semifinal so we have to make sure they’re right for that. Ciaran Martyn comes back into contention there and Renato will come onto the bench and Doyler (Andrew Doyle) will be back in the squad.

“We have to be careful with suspensions as Mark Sykes and Dave Elebert are on 9 bookings so we have to manage that as we don’t want to lose them for the play-offs.”

Along with Coleraine, Tuesday’s opponents Linfield are the top two teams as far as form is concerned and last weekend’s win for David Healy’s side over Crusaders has narrowed the gap to the leaders to just a single point. It goes without saying that he will be going all-out for a win against Glenavon to keep the pressure on the league leaders.

“These are the games you want to be playing in at this stage of the season as players. They’re big games, unfortunately not for us this season, but for the opposition. There’ll be a decent crowd at both games and a decent atmosphere as well and a chance for the players to show their quality, which they did last week. We don’t want to be pushovers for anybody; we want to go out and get results, no matter who you play, and that’s what our aim is.”

Rhys Marshall starts a two-game suspension from Monday so he is unavailable for the Linfield game after picking up his 10th booking of the season against Ballymena last weekend. Teenage striker Jordan Jenkins who scored two goals last Saturday on his first full start will be looking forward to having a run in the first team after that impressive performance against the Sky Blues.

“He was exceptional and I was really, really pleased with him; he’s a finisher and its up to him what level he wants to play at. That’s two games now at our level and he’s scored goals in both. He’s proved that his desire and attitude is right and he can play at this level. Whatever level he finds himself at, Jordan Jenkins will score goals. He just reminded me so much of Mark Farren,” Gary concluded. High praise indeed!

Rhys Marshall celebrates with Jordan Jenkins after the teenager opened the scoring against Ballymena United. Photo by Brian Bain.

Preview: Glenavon v Ballymena United

As the post-split round of matches kicks off tomorrow, the visit of Ballymena United is Glenavon’s only home game of the five remaining scheduled league matches.

After last Saturday’s Irish Cup semi-final loss to Coleraine, Glenavon’s only hope of European qualification lies through the play-offs, with a complex scenario depending on the final league placings and the Irish Cup winners determining who plays who in those play-off matches. The team finishing higher in the league earns home advantage in each of the play-off pairings. As it stands, if the teams finish in their current positions Glenavon would travel to Ballymena for the play-off semi-final on the Tuesday after the Irish Cup Final.

We asked Gary Hamilton what his approach will be for the remainder of the season: “The key for us now is to make sure we’re ready for the play-off semi-final. We know now that we’re going to be in that and we have to make sure we have everybody match fit and ready to go and up for selection. Over the next five weeks everybody will get a turn at some stage and again some of the players who have played in most of the games over the season might get a couple of games rest to allow the boys who haven’t played as regularly to get their match fitness up. That allows us to pick our best team if they’re all match fit.

“It allows us to have a look at Jordan Jenkins over the next two or three games as his goal-scoring record in the Reserves has been excellent – he’s scored 49 goals between the Reserves and the 17’s this year, mostly for the Reserves. To be fair, we have to have a look at him and see if he’s able to step up to the mark because it’s no secret that the big thing we’ve been missing this season has been goals. From the attacking point of view, apart from Greg, none of us has really hit the goals per games that’s really required as a striker and, as I’ve said, JJ is way above that at Reserve team level. So he deserves a little chance and we’ll see what happens with him.”

Presseye 30th July 2016 Photograph: Stephen Hamilton Northern Ireland Hospice charity shield match between Glenavon and Crusaders at Mourneview Park in Lurgan. Jordan Jenkins celebrates after scoring the winning goal for Glenavon.

“A couple of other young lads might feature over the next few games as well and we’ll have a look at them with reference to next season as well. If we don’t make Europe this year obviously the budget will be cut and we may have to look at a few of these young players with a view to bringing them in as first team players next season.”

Goalfest?

The three games between the sides so far this season have produced a total of 18 goals – an average of six per game! The first game at the Showgrounds ended in a 3-3 draw, Glenavon won the return fixture 5-0 and made an amazing comeback from 3-1 down at half time to take all three points in a 4-3 away win in January. Greg Moorhouse’s hat-trick was key in helping the Lurgan Blues to complete that fightback and the young striker has scored in all three games with the Sky Blues, bagging five goals against them.

Hat-trick hero Greg Moorhouse celebrates. Photo by Maynard Collins.

Ballymena’s high-scoring midfielder Tony Kane starts a two-game suspension following his red card against Cliftonville in the Sky Blues last league game.

For Glenavon, David Elebert (hamstring), Guy Bates (ankle), Aaron Canning (back) and Mark Sykes, who has been unwell all week, are all out tomorrow.

Match Officials

TBC

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….Finally, good news for all occupants of the Fosters Chocolate Family Section in the Geddis Stand who will receive some freebies at the game. Home supporters are reminded that for the majority of our home games primary school children are admitted free when accompanied by a paying adult.

Also, keep an eye out for IFA mascot ‘Sweet Caroline’ who is rumoured to be making a guest appearance at MVP on Saturday to promote the forthcoming UEFA Women’s under-19 Championships which take place in August at four venues throughout the Province including Mourneview Park and the Ballymena Showgrounds.

Tennent’s Irish Cup Semi-Final Preview

If Tennent’s Irish Cup holders Glenavon are to make it to a third final in four seasons, they will have to beat the form team of the moment when they take on Coleraine at the Ballymena Showgrounds tomorrow (kick off 5:15pm).

Oran Kearney’s Bannsiders are unbeaten in 14 games and are aiming to reach the final for the first time since 2008 when they lost 2-1 to Linfield. Their last success in the final came in 2003 when they defeated Glentoran 1-0 and they also made the final the following season only to lose by the same margin to the Oval outfit.

Joel Cooper scored two of Glenavon’s goals in the 5-0 Quarter Final win over Portadown. Photo by Alan Weir.

Gary Hamilton accepts that, on current form, his side go into the game tomorrow as underdogs. “You can’t argue with Coleraine’s fine form at the moment and you can’t argue that we’re not the underdogs going into this game. At the minute the momentum is with them and it looks as if they’re going to finish third in the league if they keep going the way they’re going.

“By the same token, we’ve played all these teams before; we’ve had difficult games before, and the boys just have to believe in themselves and go out and give it their all and believe they can beat Coleraine Football Club. If they don’t believe that they might as well not turn up. It’s going to be difficult, they are going to be favourites but we also know that if we show our potential and play to our capabilities, then we’re capable of beating anybody as we’ve proved last year and in games this year as well.

“It all comes down to the day and hopefully on the day we can perform, hopefully we’re up for it, not like the last semi-final against Carrick in the League Cup, but hopefully we’ll go out and give everything we’ve got. We all know in Cup football you can go out and give everything and maybe not get the breaks and still get beaten but as long as the players give their teammates and the supporters and the Club every single ounce of energy they’ve got, that’s all we can ask for. If they’re done by an unlucky decision or whatever then you just accept that but we have to give everything.

“The last couple of years in semi-finals, I’ve always said you need a wee rub of the green at times and, looking back, if you look at the first semi-final against Crusaders we had a penalty which we missed and then Crusaders had a penalty, which if they’d scored, it wouldn’t have went to extra time, but we ended up winning. The last one against Crusaders (last year) they had a chance when they were 3-2 up to make it 4-2, they didn’t take it and we ended up getting an equaliser and going on to win 4-3. There’s these wee breaks in Cup football that don’t really happen as often in league football and you have to take your opportunities when they come along and be confident and give everything  you’ve got – that’s what football’s about, especially cup football because you only get one chance at it.”

Glenavon will play in their change strip of orange shirts and black shorts and BlueZone (open tonight 7.30-8.30pm) has a special offer on the away shirts:

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BBC Sport NI revealed on Friday afternoon that the game will be streamed live on the BBC Sport NI website and their Facebook page.

Preview: Ards v Glenavon

Glenavon’s final match before the split, with a top six finish already secured, sees them head to the Bangor Fuels Arena to take on Ards. The hosts have picked up 7 points from their last five games and with a 12 point lead over second-bottom Carrick Rangers, are probably safe from any relegation play-off concerns. This leaves them free to have a real go at catching the teams above them, Colin Nixon’s side only trailing 7th placed Dungannon Swifts by four points.

Glenavon has lost just once in the last five league games (the defeat to Coleraine last Saturday), registering home wins against Ballinamallard and Dungannon with 0-0 draws away to Glentoran and Carrick.

Gary Hamilton has been clear in his comments after last week’s defeat at home to Coleraine that his priority is to avoid any serious injuries or suspensions kicking in ahead of next Saturday’s Irish Cup Semi-final. “It’ll be a different starting eleven next week,” he told BBC Sport in his post-match comments. “We’re never going to catch third place now, given the way results have gone, so next week (against Ards) we will rest the starting eleven for the following week and make sure that they’re right and they’re ready. They’ll do a training session and some will play a part in the Reserves game, on a grass pitch because obviously it’s a 4G pitch at Bangor and that’s the kind of pitch that I feel players can pick up injuries very quickly and that’s the last thing I want.”