THE Irish League season finally gets underway as Coleraine and Ballymena United square off in the opening fixture of the new campaign (KO 7:45pm)…
Danske Bank Premiership
Coleraine will feature in the Danske Bank Premiership for the first time since March as Ballymena United are the visitors to The Showgrounds. The Bannsiders have had a productive few months since losing the Irish Cup semi-final against this evening’s visitors but attention now turns to league duty.
The Sky Blues have been busy adding to their squad as Paul McElroy arrived from Crusaders as part of the deal which took Adam Lecky to Seaview, with ex-Bradford City Northern Ireland international Shay McCartan also arriving at Warden Street. Defender/midfielder Trai Hume has joined on a one-year loan from Linfield, while Ryan Waide put pen-to-paper after having spent last season on loan at Dungannon. Experienced left-back Ross Redman and Crumlin United wide midfielder Owen McKeown are other new recruits, while central defender Ciaran Kelly comes in on loan from Bohemians.
The two sides met each other four times across two competitions during the 2019/20 campaign. The first meeting ended in a 1-1 draw in Ballymena as Coleraine hit the front through James McLaughlin’s close range finish. After McLaughlin went narrowly close to doubling his tally, the game would take a momentum twist as Stephen O’Donnell received a second yellow for a challenge on Aaron Burns. The Sky Blues would make their extra man count before the interval as Scot Whiteside headed home from a corner. Incredibly, Coleraine would end the game with nine men as Adam Mullan was also dismissed for a second bookable offence.
On Boxing Day, Coleraine went in search for all three points and made a perfect start on 10 minutes as Josh Carson found the back of the net with a crisp effort from just outside the box. That advantage would be doubled seven minutes later as Eoin Bradley was denied by the Ballymena goalkeeper, but Jamie Glackin was on hand to guide the ball into an empty net. In a subdued second-half, the only talking point was a red card given to United ‘keeper Jordan Willamson who handled the ball outside the box.
Back in March – the final fixture before the coronavirus pandemic suspended football in Northern Ireland – Coleraine would record a 2-0 success at the Ballymena Showgrounds via a penalty from Stephen Lowry and a second-half header from Aaron Canning.
The last fixture would be in the semi-final of the Irish Cup and Coleraine looked destined to reach the showpiece final as they led the Sky Blues into stoppage time, but Kenny Kane’s last gasp effort sent the game into extra-time and then penalties. After Stephen Lowry, Eoin Bradley and Ben Doherty all missed from 12 yards, the Sky Blues would reach the decider.
“We purposefully didn’t take a game last weekend as we felt we had enough games behind us,” explained Oran.
“Instead, we’ve enjoyed four or five good training sessions where the boys have looked really sharp.
“Hopefully, that will leave them itching for a game come tonight.
“Derby games are sometimes over hyped but that’s maybe not true this time given the circumstances we find ourelves in.
“I suppose we had a bit of a dry run with the Irish Cup semi-final back in the summer but this will be a totally different game, requiring a different mindset.”
Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, admission will be via ticket only with full details HERE.
Supporters who are attending are urged to read the following safety information HERE.
The match will be streamed live on the BBC Sport NI website.
As ever, those unable to attend can follow the latest developments from the fixture via the club’s official Twitter account (@ColeraineFC).