Dr. Grant Campbell of the ‘Campbell’s Footballs’ podcast (a.k.a. Stato) discusses his predictions and thoughts each week in the Danske Bank Premiership in Northern Ireland. Grant will provide his thoughts on the upcoming league matches and offers his predictions.
|Matches||Stato’s Predictions||Actual scoreline|
|Cliftonville v Ballymena United||2-1||0-4|
|Linfield v Glentoran||2-0||3-3|
|Ballymena United v Carrick Rangers||2-1||1-0|
|Cliftonville v Portadown||2-0||5-0 (1pt)|
|Coleraine v Larne||1-2||0-2 (1pt)|
|Glenavon v Crusaders||2-1||3-1 (1pt)|
|Glentoran v Dungannon Swifts||2-0||5-1 (1pt)|
|Warrenpoint Town v Linfield||1-4||2-1|
I managed four correct outcomes from last week’s matches but no correct scores. I don’t think many would have seen Warrenpoint Town winning at home to Linfield or Ballymena thrashing Cliftonville away from home but fair play to both teams.
Player of the week – Michael McCrudden (Cliftonville)
This week’s player of the week goes to Cliftonville striker Michael McCrudden (pictured) after his impressive hat-trick against Portadown in a 5-0 win at Solitude.
It was an important contribution in this game by McCrudden after Cliftonville had lost their third game in a row last midweek as they were humbled 4-0 at home to Ballymena United. This was McCrudden’s first hat-trick since the four he scored for his previous club Institute against the Reds in 2018 and in this game it looked like he was beginning to find signs of being back to his best.
As Marshall Gillespie has quoted, McCrudden has played 8 games this season (6 starts and 2 subs) scoring all 4 of his goals at Solitude. On average, McCrudden scores a goal every 130 mins for the Reds so far this term.
He was helped by some sloppy defending by the Ports but he gobbled up the chances well. His contributions throughout the game were also well noted as he linked up well, particularly with strike partner, Joe Gormley.
It’s been a rather stop start time of things for the former Institute striker due to injury but McCrudden will hope his hat-trick against Matthew Tipton’s side will be the catalyst for him to go on and have a successful season at the Reds.
In the short term, Cliftonville will hope so as they have a really tough run of fixtures coming up over December with Linfield and Glenavon away, Coleraine and Crusaders at home and then finish the year with an away game at the Oval against revitalised Glentoran.
Team of the week – Warrenpoint Town
Before the evening game last week, I was all set to give this to Glenavon for their excellent win at home to Crusaders but there can only be one winner this week and that is Warrenpoint Town after their stunning home win against previously unbeaten table toppers Linfield.
After falling behind to a Kirk Millar free kick, it looked like it was going to be a tough evening for Barry Gray’s men. However, the Point stayed in the game, rolled their sleeves up and got themselves level before half time courtesy of their talisman Alan O’Sullivan (pictured). O’Sullivan, with that goal, became only the second player to score against Linfield from open play in the league in the last seven matches.
The Point seemed to grow in confidence from that goal and in the second half pinched a second on the counter attack finished off majestically by Kealan Dillon. After that, you’d have expected the kitchen sink to be thrown at them by the Irish League Champions but Warrenpoint were well drilled and deservedly seen out the game 2-1 to record their first ever top flight victory against Linfield. A tremendous scalp for Gray and his team.
The Point have also become the first team in my blog to win the TOTW award twice! A phenomenal accomplishment.
Now onto this week’s matches!
Friday 4th December – Dungannon Swifts v Coleraine, Stangmore Park, KO 19.30, BBC Sport NI
This feels like an important game in the season for both of these sides who are struggling for form.
Dungannon have struggled a lot in their last couple of games. Initially, they started well at Crusaders but ended up losing the game 3-1 in the end. Last weekend against Glentoran, they were massively outplayed at the Oval losing 5-1, despite Rhyss Campbell (pictured) scoring an excellent equalising goal.
Coleraine aren’t exactly brimming with confidence either though. They were second best in their last two matches, albeit against Linfield and Larne respectively but the Bannsiders have not got going this season so far and like the Swifts have only won one of their last five matches. Oran Kearney’s side have also failed to score in three of their last four games and have scored just under half of their league goals against Glenavon in that 4-4 draw.
I think Coleraine might just nick this here however. Eoin Bradley and Curtis Allen (pictured) need to find their shooting boots as both have struggled for form in the early stages of the season.
When they are on form, Coleraine usually do well and it might just take some pressure of people such as Ben Doherty and Jamie Glackin who, although have played well, are not out and out strikers and cannot do it all on their own.
Coleraine have to start firing sooner rather than later and I think they’ll just have enough to defeat Kris Lindsay’s side here.
Stato’s Prediction: Dungannon Swifts 0-2 Coleraine
Saturday 5th December – Carrick Rangers v Warrenpoint Town, Taylor’s Avenue, KO 15.00, BBC Sport NI
This is another one of these classic six pointers which you feel may become important come the end of the season at the wrong end of the Irish Premiership.
Carrick were back in action away from home on Tuesday night at Ballymena but went down to a 2-0 defeat at the Showgrounds. It was the Amber Army’s first game in three weeks and it told as the game wore on and the Sky Blues took full advantage. Niall Currie’s side (pictured) will be looking to bounce back here but will have their hands full as Warrenpoint, coming off that magnificent win against Linfield, will be on a crest of a wave.
Barry Gray’s side know what it takes to fight and scrap for points at the wrong end of the table and although that win against David Healy’s side was a welcome bonus for them, these are the sorts of games they will be targeting to win. Francis McCaffrey (pictured) impressed me on Saturday night and is more and more becoming a key player for Gray’s team.
Never discount Carrick though. Sometimes when you cause a big scalp in a match against higher esteemed opposition, the next game you can come unstuck and not hit the heights. We have seen it all too often in many other sports.
At home, Carrick are very capable of giving the best a run for their money and I think Currie’s side will grab a point here.
Stato’s Prediction: Carrick Rangers 1-1 Warrenpoint Town
Saturday 5th December – Crusaders v Glentoran, Seaview, KO 15.00, BBC Sport NI
This is the first of two Belfast derbies throughout the day as Crusaders take on a resurgent Glentoran at Seaview in the afternoon game.
Crusaders have had a decent start to the season but their last few games have highlighted their inconsistencies in comparison to Larne and Linfield above them. Their win at home to Dungannon was sandwiched in between two disappointing away defeats at Larne and Glenavon, matches in which Stephen Baxter (pictured) was rather vocal about his side’s display.
I like Baxter and the way he comes across in his interviews. He’s done a fine job at the club and I think he’ll be able to help them out of this inconsistent form they are in at present. He is a born winner after all having guided the Crues to league and cup success in the past.
I do feel Crusaders are a better side at Seaview (pictured) though. Perhaps it is because of the surface but I do think the game plan that Baxter deploys is better implemented at home than away right now. Indeed, all three of Crusaders league defeats so far this season have come away from the Shore Road.
Glentoran have found some form of late and it was much needed too. They did well to get a draw at Linfield with nine men last Tuesday. It was a game goalkeeper Dayle Coleing will want to forget but was a game where Jay Donnelly and Robbie McDaid (pictured) looked like they were finding the peak of their forms. Paul O’Neill also impressed me too.
This is a tough game to call and I think I am going to sit on the fence here, going for a score draw.
Stato’s Prediction: Crusaders 1-1 Glentoran
Saturday 5th December – Larne v Glenavon, Inver Park, KO 15.00, BBC Sport NI
Larne are now the only unbeaten side in the Irish League and they take that record into what should be an interesting match up against Glenavon at Inver Park on Saturday.
Tiernan Lynch’s (pictured) side are growing in confidence after good wins against Crusaders, Cliftonville and Coleraine in their three most recent matches. Having gone top of the table last weekend, it’s been all in all a perfect week for Lynch and his team. The County Antrim Shield final win was massive for Larne too and will give the club even more confidence and belief moving forward. It was not a great spectacle but they got the job done in a penalty shootout. It’ll be interesting to see how Larne cope under the spotlight more and more.
Glenavon are going along nicely having only lost one of their last five matches and played really well in the second half against the Crues last week to turn the game around after being 1-0 down. Peter Campbell and Matthew Fitzpatrick are finding their feet as is their experienced defensive back line which features Sean Ward and Colin Coates (pictured right in blue).
Larne won all three meetings between the Lurgan Blues last campaign and only conceded once in that run. I think Lynch’s men have been really good this year so far and certainly seem to have sured things up at the back as well.
I am going for another win here for Larne as a result but I do think Gary Hamilton’s men will cause the Inver Men problems and could take advantage depending on Wednesday’s exploits.
Stato’s Prediction: Larne 2-1 Glenavon
Saturday 5th December – Portadown v Ballymena United, Shamrock Park, KO 15.00, BBC Sport NI
This is a massive game for Matthew Tipton’s side.
Portadown were completely outplayed last weekend at Solitude and were given a footballing lesson by the Reds. They didn’t help themselves with some naive defending but how often do we see that with promoted sides going away from home to high quality opposition. Tipton will be keen to see if his side, including Aaron Burns (pictured), can get back on the goal scoring trail as he takes on his former club at Shamrock Park.
Ballymena have massively turned the corner in recent weeks. After humbling Cliftonville at Solitude, they followed it up with a comfortable home win against Carrick Rangers in a 2-0 win. Lots of David Jeffrey’s players are beginning to find their feet too including Cahair Friel and Paul McElroy (pictured) which will be important at the top end of the pitch.
Portadown are yet to win at home so far this campaign but I just cannot look past an away win for David Jeffrey’s side. Their confidence is high at the moment and they look like a team enjoying their football right now. I think Portadown will be competitive but ultimately I think quality from the Sky Blues will tell here.
Stato’s Prediction: Portadown 1-3 Ballymena United
Saturday 5th December – Linfield v Cliftonville, Windsor Park, KO 17.30, BBC Sport NI
I cannot wait for this game on Saturday evening at Windsor Park.
Linfield will be a wounded animal after their defeat at Milltown last week and as the saying goes a wounded beast is often at its most dangerous.
You can bet your bottom dollar than David Healy will be demanding a reaction from his players after that performance at Warrenpoint. Linfield were disjointed for much of the game and struggled to break down a resolute defence. Captain Jamie Mulgrew (pictured) did celebrate his 600th appearance last time out as well. A phenomenal accomplishment, albeit not the best of days for him and the team. He’ll be keen to make sure it is a better day on Saturday night.
Cliftonville got back on the bike with that win against Portadown which was much needed. The Reds had hit the skids in recent weeks with three consecutive defeats against Dungannon, Larne and Ballymena which is massively unlike them. I spoke to Joe Gormley about this in my recent Campbell’s Footballs podcast which you can hear this Friday. He admitted himself he needed to personally get back on the goal scoring trail after a slow start to the campaign.
Joe missed a penalty in the Portadown game too but it did not matter as new signing Daire O’Connor (pictured) got his name on the score sheet from the rebound. He scored twice in that game and I’m interested to see how his career develops at the Reds. As for Joe, I have no worries about him. Scoring goals is like a riding a bike for the big man. Once he gets off and running again, Cliftonville will be a far better team for it.
I think this should be a good game here but I have to just tip the balance towards Linfield. It’s rare they lose two games on the bounce. Strangers things have happened through and whatever the outcome on Saturday under the Windsor Park lights, you can be sure it’ll be some battle.
Stato’s Prediction: Linfield 3-2 Cliftonville
Player to scout – Shane McCartan (Ballymena United)
Each week, I highlight a player from the Irish League you should go and scout in upcoming matches. After his fine recent form for Ballymena, this week’s player to scout is Shane McCartan (below).
McCartan spent much of his youth career at Glenavon before moving across the water to Burnley and played under Eddie Howe. He then moved onto Accrington Stanley where he scored 24 goals in a little over 100 appearances for the club. After a four year stint with Stanley, McCarten swapped Accrington for the Bantams. In between his time at Bradford City, McCartan also spent a bit of time at Lincoln City (pictured) under the watch full eye of former manager Danny Cowley.
McCartan is a new signing by David Jeffrey at Ballymena but already he has hit the ground running. The midfielder was man of the match at Cliftonville in a 4-0 away win recently and also played a massive role in the Sky Blues 2-0 home win against Carrick on Tuesday. McCartan has started every game for Ballymena United so far this term, playing a total of 619 minutes for the Braidmen this season. Thanks again to Marshall for the stats!
Jeffrey and fans of Ballymena will be keen to see if McCartan can keep improving his game. It’s no surprise that his great form has clashed with Ballymena’s upturn in fortunes over the last 3 weeks or so and seen them climb the standings as a result.
Useful Links and sources which you should check out:
NIFL Premiership Highlights Show:
The Score NI with Michael Clarke:
The Waffle – Irish League Podcast
That’s What I Call Football
Check out quality Irish League content from some of the Leagues top names:
Joel Taggart, Liam Beckett, Michael Clarke, Nicola McCarthy, Colin Hopkins, Steven Beacom, Mark McIntosh and find some of the characters I’ve interviewed so far by visiting the Campbell’s Footballs archive.