In a political landscape for so long dominated by orange and green, those in yellow are hoping to make a splash this week.

As voters in Northern Ireland prepare to go to the polls in the Stormont Assembly election on Thursday, much of the attention has focused on the battle between Sinn Féin and the DUP to emerge as the largest party.

That battle could result in the appointment of a nationalist First Minister for the very first time.

But the centre-ground Alliance Party is also strongly tipped to make what could be a seismic breakthrough, one that could change the way Stormont works.

In the last Assembly election in 2017 it secured just over 9% of first preference votes.

Two years later, the party share soared in three consecutive polls: the British general election, European election and local government elections, with a high of 18.5%.

At her party's annual conference last month, leader Naomi Long spoke of the need for change.

Gains for Naomi Long's Alliance party could mean losses for the DUP and Sinn Féin

"May's election won't just determine how our politics works for the next few years. it will determine if our politics works," she told delegates.

The party is seeking to ensure what was referred to as "the Alliance surge" continues by broadening its support base, appealing to unionist and nationalist voters to move away from orange and green.

"Together we can build bridges not barriers, inspire hope not fear," she added.

In the last Assembly election the party won eight seats, but it's tipped to add to that number.

A former party leader David Ford has said on the record that he expects to make at least three gains.

David McCann, commentator and deputy editor of the Slugger O'Toole political website, believes it could be much better.

"Every poll shows Alliance consistently up around five to six percent, you know we all think Alliance is going to gain, we're just debating by how much.

"On a very good day, fifteen or sixteen (seats). On a more average day we're thinking eleven or twelve, but that's still up three to four seats from what they got in 2017."

In the past the party has taken seats from unionists.

This time around half of the gains it is targeting would be at the expense of the SDLP and Sinn Féin.

"That's new, up until fairly recently Alliance fished predominantly in a unionist pool, they took votes away from the Ulster Unionist Party predominantly," Mr McCann added.

"Now they're starting to take votes in places like South Down and North Belfast, and those are coming at the expense of the nationalist parties not the unionist parties."

Jeffrey Donaldson's DUP party has been focusing on the NI Protocol

In unionist areas the party hopes to benefit from the DUP focus on the Northern Ireland Protocol. A series of opinion polls and internal polling by a number of the parties indicate that many voters do not view it as a priority issue.

"For those individuals that are prioritising, be it education, healthcare and those more so-called bread and butter issues, it's an extremely difficult election because those issues are being somewhat subsumed by issues around the protocol and conversations around that," says Dr Clare Rice, an academic at the University of Liverpool.

"So it's very difficult and I think that's where you start to see a potential challenge stepping in from these more centre ground parties, particularly the likes of the Alliance party."

The growth of the middle ground could decide the outcome of the wider battle between Sinn Féin and the DUP as gains for the Alliance party could mean losses for them.

It could also have profound implications for the way Stormont functions.

At the moment most of the key decisions, including the appointment of the First Minister, are based on nationalist and unionist voting blocks.

The expansion of a group that defines itself as neither could alter the dynamics.

"I think certainly we're at a point of change," Dr Rice says.

"The way in which the dynamics of politics are operating in Northern Ireland really have the potential to alter and shift as a result of this election."

Sinn Féin Vice President Michelle O'Neill

An election result that leads to a nationalist First Minister for the first time would be historic and hugely symbolic, but a significant growth of the centre-ground could lead to seismic change.

"This is looking like being the United Communities Designation election," explains David McCann.

"This is the renegotiation point. I think we are focusing too much on Michelle O'Neill being the First Minister and the role that will have.

"If Alliance comes back with, say they get the upper end of their gains, fifteen to sixteen seats, once you add in the Greens, once you add in People Before Profit, that's eighteen to nineteen MLAs (Members of the Legislative Assembly) in that United Community Designation and that will provoke a fundamental renegotiation of the agreement because it will totally up-end how we allocate seats in the Executive and how we decide controversial pieces of legislation in that Assembly."

This time next week we'll know if the political landscape has a broader splash of yellow.