1) Can Crusaders stop Cliftonville’s winning run?

The defending champions and title favourites have won nine matches on the bounce in all competitions and currently look unstoppable. That winning march started with a gritty 0-1 away win at Seaview. The Reds rode their luck but a moment of genius from Joe Gormley arguably turned their season on its head, it is easy to forget that the champions were languishing in 5th place and had failed to win any of their previous five league games.

The Crues sat proudly atop the league going into that fixture in early October, but since have struggled with inconsistency. Fine wins at Glentoran and Linfield have come alongside a heavy defeat at home to Glenavon, last week’s draw at Ballinamallard and elimination from the League Cup by Championship 1 side Bangor.

If Stephen Baxter’s troops can inflict a second league defeat of the season on the Reds, they will move to within a point of their North Belfast rivals. If Cliftonville can continue their streak, it is hard to see anyone hanging onto their coattails for much longer.

2) Can Linfield pile more pressure on struggling Glentoran?

Recent wins over Glenavon and Dungannon Swifts have lifted the gloom surrounding Linfield and they now find themselves within only three points of the league’s summit with Warren Feeney quickly growing accustomed to the massive expectations that often engulf the club. The gauntlet set down to him has been to de-throne Cliftonville and bring the title back to Windsor Park, and he’ll be looking to continue the Blues momentum on Saturday.

His counterpart Eddie Patterson is also feeling the pressure at Glentoran. Whilst their league form has been far from terrible, it has been inconsistent and they have often been found wanting both tactically and technically. Elimination from both the County Antrim Shield and League Cup in the space of a fortnight has left the Glens sole hope of silverware this season as the Irish Cup, and that seems a distant prospect at present.

Glentoran have only managed three league wins at Windsor Park in the past 14 years, and two of them where when the destination of the league title had already been determined. The Glens threw away a two-goal lead against the Blues earlier in the season and lost to ten men with the last kick of the game – in a way summing up the fatalism that represents the current mood around the club. A win on Saturday would go a long way to eradicating that, but Linfield have only dropped two points from their nine games against clubs in the bottom seven this campaign.

It will also be unusual to see Glentoran fans occupy the Alex Russell stand for this game, with Linfield’s followers in the North Stand due to the ongoing construction work at the national stadium.

3) Goals guaranteed at Shamrock Park

Only one point separates the two Mid-Ulster rivals of Portadown and Glenavon going into Saturday’s match, which absurdly will only rank third in terms of coverage on Saturday due to the significance of games this weekend.

This is a fixture which has thrown up a number of classics over the years, mainly due to the goal scoring feasts that fans are treated to. There have been 34 goals notched up in the last seven clashes, at an incredible rate of just under five per game. The last scoreless draw came 13 years and 37 encounters ago. The Lurgan Blues are joint highest scorers in the league whilst also having the leakiest defence of anyone in the top six, while both sides hit four goals in their wins last week.

Glenavon have only won twice at Shamrock Park in 13 years, but that did include a memorable Guy Bates-inspired 2-4 win live in front of the Skysports cameras last season. The Ports may feel the slightly better equipped to mount a title challenge this season but they did crash out of the League Cup on Tuesday night, and the Lurgan Blues freshness may give them the edge for this one.

4) Can Bannsiders maintain upward momentum?

Coleraine have garnered more points over the past seven matches than any other side in the division, with a 1-0 defeat at Ferney Park the only blotch on their otherwise 100% record. Oran Kearney’s men have only conceded twice in that period and have kept four clean sheets in a row.

Dungannon in contrast are going through their most concerning run of form for years, with only one league victory to their name all season and none in their last thirteen. Their only consolation is that they are not yet bottom of the league, as they maintain a one-point advantage over Warrenpoint Town.

The Swifts are unbeaten in their last three trips to the Coleraine Showgrounds, and may take solace from this going into Saturday’s clash. However, with 17 points now separating the sides it is hard to see Dungannon’s turnaround on form starting now.

5) At least one losing streak must end at Milltown

Basement club Warrenpoint have lost five matches in a row, while Saturday’s opponents Ballymena have also failed to register a point in their last four league outings, with their last win coming on the 20th September.

Barry Gray’s side appear doomed – but their last three matches have come against Glentoran, Crusaders and Cliftonville and they may believe that with those ‘bonus’ games out of the way they can concentrate on their crucial fixtures which offer genuine chances of climbing the table.

The Sky Blues’ only previous trip to Milltown ended in a 1-0 defeat last season, and while their strong start ensured that the chances of any relegation battle is remote, boss Glenn Ferguson will be wary that their league campaign will have totally fizzled out by Christmas.

Danske Bank Premiership:
Coleraine v Dungannon Swifts
Crusaders v Cliftonville
Institute v Ballinamallard United
Linfield v Glentoran
Portadown v Glenavon
Warrenpoint Town v Ballymena United

Championship 1:
Armagh v Donegal Celtic
Ballyclare Comrades v Ards
Bangor v Carrick Rangers
Dergview v Loughall
Dundela v PSNI, 2pm
HW Welders v Knockbreda, 2pm
Larne v Lisburn Distillery

Championship 2:
Ballymoney United v Sport and Leisure Swifts, 2pm
Banbridge Town v Annagh United, 2pm
Coagh United v Newington, 2pm
Dollingstown v Glebe Rangers, 2pm
Limavady United v Tobermore United
Lurgan Celtic v Moyola Park, 2pm
Wakehurst v Queen’s University