My Irish League Preview of the Week

After a two week circuit breaker in the Irish League, Dr. Grant Campbell of the ‘Campbell’s Footballs’ podcast (a.k.a. Stato) discusses his predictions for this weekend’s matches in the Danske Bank Premiership. Grant will provide his thoughts on the upcoming league matches and offers his predictions.

Saturday 23rd January – Crusaders v Larne, Seaview, KO 12.30, Sky Sports

This should be an interesting game between Crusaders and Larne which is being broadcasted on Sky Sports at 12.30pm – a real foil for the Irish League.

For as long as I can remember, I have not seen an Irish League match kick off at lunchtime on a Saturday so this game poses a big opportunity for the league to highlight it’s potential and showcase its quality.

Crusaders come into this off the back of six straight home league wins out of six, only conceding one goal in the process but Larne have picked up eight points from their twelve on the road so something, you would think, has to give here.

Larne will want to bounce back following that 1-0 defeat at home to Ballymena United before the shutdown but Crusaders could really do with winning this game to keep the pressure on Linfield and their opponents on Saturday.

Crusaders FC | Sport & Activities | Belfast & Northern Ireland
Acknowledgement: In Your Pocket

Everyone has been talking about the Blues and Larne so far this campaign whilst the Crues have been floating away under the radar, keeping themselves to themselves. If Stephen Baxter’s team win this game though, I reckon the noise will get much louder around Seaview (pictured).

The Crues played decent in their last game away at Cliftonville and deserved to take something out of the game, though I am not sure Ben Kennedy (pictured with Michael Ruddy) meant the equalising goal late on to grab a share of the spoils! It was a great ball into a dangerous area and everyone missed it with the ball floating in at the back post.

Ben Kennedy warming up for more Crusaders heroics after debut double -
Acknowledgement: Belfast Telegraph

If Larne are going to be challenging for the title, these are the games they need to get something out of. At Inver Park, I think they’ll be pretty strong this season but its the head to heads against Crusaders and Linfield away from home and away to the likes of Glenavon and Cliftonville where they also need to take points. That’s what aspiring champions do.

This could be a tight game and I am going bold here. I fancy the Crues to win this to keep their 100% home record going and get their elbows out and into this title race.

Stato’s Prediction: Crusaders 1-0 Larne

Saturday 23rd January – Ballymena United v Cliftonville, Ballymena Showgrounds, KO 15.00, BBC Sport NI

There was one team who did not need the break for two weeks and that was Ballymena United.

The Sky Blues went seven games unbeaten before the shutdown and David Jeffrey’s side had only conceded two goals in that run. Players such as Kofi Balmer and Josh Kelly (pictured) were really hitting form at the right time for Ballymena and they just looked so comfortable in a majority of matches. Jeffrey’s sides are usually fairly solid, especially in defence, and after a slow start to the campaign, they are definitely flying now.

Sadler's Peaky Blinder Irish Cup Q-finals: Glentoran come from behind to  beat Crusaders as Cliftonville and Ballymena Utd also progress - Belfast  Live
Acknowledgement: Belfast Live

Cliftonville, on the other hand, I think needed the break.

Paddy McLaughlin’s side have just won two of their last nine matches in the league and really need to find some consistency if they are going to have a strong second half to the campaign. It’s been a stop-start season for the Reds attacking players and perhaps the break will have given Joe Gormley and others such as Michael McCrudden and Ryan Curran (pictured) an opportunity to refocus and go again.

However, I have not been convinced by the Reds at all this season defensively. Cliftonville have conceded two goals in three of their last five matches and have not kept a clean sheet on the road so far this season.

Ryan Curran confident that Cliftonville can deal with their 'bread and  butter' - The Irish News
Acknowledgment: Irish News

The last encounter between these two sides saw Ballymena romp to a 4-0 win away at Solitude in one of the shock results of the season and whilst I cannot see as convincing a win as that in this game, I back DJ’s team to continue their fine form with a win.

Stato’s Prediction: Ballymena 2-1 Cliftonville

Saturday 23rd January – Carrick Rangers v Portadown, Taylor’s Avenue, KO 15.00, BBC Sport NI

This is a huge game back for both teams as Carrick and Portadown strive to get away from trouble at the bottom.

Carrick’s last league game saw them lose out 3-0 at Coleraine but Niall Currie’s side played admirably in that match and the outcome could and should have been very different if Caolan Loughran (pictured) had converted from the penalty spot with the score at 0-0. I really feel sorry for the Amber Army as they simply have not had a chance to build any momentum into their season only playing nine league matches so far this campaign, the lowest of any side in the Irish League.

Irish Premiership: Larne edge out Carrick in derby - BBC Sport
Acknowledgement; BBC

Portadown aren’t exactly flying themselves either. Matthew Tipton’s men have only won one of their last seven matches and have conceded seven goals in their last two games played albeit away from home at Crusaders and Glentoran.

This weekend though is the sort of matches Portadown need to win if they are going to survive and they also need to start finding some goals again. Adam Salley (pictured) scoring before the shut down may be the confidence boost they need.

Adam Salley's #WeArePortsTV post match interview vs Knockbreda 08/02/20 -  Portadown Football Club
Acknowledgement: Portadown Football Club

Carrick have won four of the last five meetings between the sides, including a 4-1 win against the Ports earlier in the season but I see a cagey affair at Taylor’s Avenue on Saturday and therefore I will go for a score draw.

Stato’s Prediction: Carrick Rangers 1-1 Portadown

Saturday 23rd January – Coleraine v Dungannon Swifts, Coleraine Showgrounds, KO 15.00, BBC Sport NI

It seems to me that Coleraine are beginning to pick up ahead of steam in their campaign.

Oran Kearney’s men had won their last three games before the stoppage and were beginning to find their feet in front of goal. James McLaughlin (pictured), in particular, was finding his goal scoring touch and I’ve also been really impressed by Stewart Nixon in the wide areas. They have lost Ben Doherty to a serious injury though and that will be a big miss long term.

James McLaughlin: Coleraine forward pens new deal - BBC Sport
Acknowledgement: BBC

Dungannon needed this break in my view because their form had really tailed off. The Swifts had lost their last four in a row, with three of those coming at home. They have also played the most games, apart from Warrenpoint Town, in the bottom half and have left themselves vulnerable should Carrick below them start putting together some form. In fact, Kris Lindsay’s side’s last league win came against Coleraine back in early December (pictured) when Michael Carvill and Rhyss Campbell netted the goals.

Irish Premiership: Dungannon Swifts beat Coleraine at Stangmore Park - BBC  Sport
Acknowledgement; BBC

The Bannsiders have won four of the last five matches at home against Dungannon and I expect them to win this one on Saturday too.

Stato’s Prediction: Coleraine 2-0 Dungannon Swifts

Saturday 23rd January – Linfield v Warrenpoint Town, Windsor Park, KO 15.00, BBC Sport NI

I’m really interested to see if Linfield can continue where they left off before the shutdown as they take on Warrenpoint Town this weekend.

The Blues bounced back well from their defeat at Larne with back to back victories against Dungannon and Glenavon. The latter was particularly impressive as the Blues fell a goal down at Mourneview Park so to come back and get the three points was real character from David Healy’s side, especially at a very tricky venue.

Jordan Stewart always gives you quality at the top end of the pitch and I’ve also been really impressed with the performances of Niall Quinn (pictured) at full back. Quinn reminds me of Pablo Zabaleta during his time at Manchester City. He always gives a solid 7/10 consistent performance week in week out and great teams and champions need these types of players. Quinn has also been involved in a lot of Linfield’s important play both defensively but also going forward, adding a couple of crucial goals as well at home to the Crues and at Glenavon last time out.

Linfield defender Niall Quinn happy to be unsung hero as he targets more  silverware with Blues - Belfast Live
Acknowledgement: Belfast Live

It was well documented of course that Warrenpoint won the last meeting between these two sides 2-1 at Milltown back in late November. Since then though, Barry Gray’s side have won just once and that was away at Carrick Rangers. They have a decent cushion on Carrick at the bottom but if Portadown were to start finding a few performances, they could get sucked in at the wrong end of the table which is quite extraordinary given that many, including myself, have been praising Warrenpoint a lot this season.

Alan O’Sullivan’s goals will continue to be important as will the experience of players like Danny Wallace (pictured) and Fran McCaffrey.

Warrenpoint Town FC » 23 Danny Wallace

Alas, I don’t see lightning striking twice for Point here at Windsor on Saturday and I think the Blues will pick up a fairly convincing win.

Stato’s Prediction: Linfield 4-0 Warrenpoint Town

Saturday 23rd January – Glenavon v Glentoran, Mourneview Park, KO 17.30, BBC Sport NI

This week’s evening game should be an interesting one as Glentoran, who have found some form of late, face a tricky trip to Mourneview Park to take on Glenavon.

Glenavon have been really unlucky not to have accumulated more points from their last five matches.

Gary Hamilton’s men have taken seven points from their last fifteen available but they did lead at home to Linfield and away at Larne in the two games that they lost, plus they dominated the match against Cliftonville and only got a point. Danny Purkis (pictured) has found his shooting boots though having scored in his last three consecutive matches and that will be important if the Lurgan Blues are going to make the top six or higher this season.

Glenavon reward as Danny Purkis 'gamble' pays off over Cliftonville |  Belfast News Letter
Acknowledgement: Belfast News Letter

Glentoran, as I said, have found some form of late.

Since their defeat at Crusaders, the Glens have been unbeaten in their last four and have scored nine goals in that run. If results were to go Glentoran’s way on Saturday they could get into the top six and after a slow start, you would feel the pressure (some unneccesary) would begin to ease on Mick McDermott a bit. They still have a lot of work to do if they want to qualify for European football though and if they are going to do that, the goals of Paul O’Neill (pictured) and Robbie McDaid will be vital.

Glentoran striker Paul O'Neill on radar of cross-channel clubs - Belfast  Live
Acknowledgement; Belfast Live

Glentoran have only picked up two points away from home this season and this is a tough game for them here. I fancy a really good game between two sides who like to play football the right way. Glenavon got a draw at the Oval with nine men earlier in the season and if they can keep eleven players on the pitch, I think they could win this.

Stato’s Prediction: Glenavon 2-1 Glentoran

Player to scout: Lee Bonis (Portadown)

Every week, I choose one Irish League player for you to going and scout. This week I am picking Portadown’s Lee Bonis (pictured) who has impressed me so far this season for Matthew Tipton’s side.

Striker Lee Bonis Signs for Portadown - Portadown Football Club
Acknowledgement: Portadown Football Club

Lee is an exciting young striker who played for Portadown FC Youth before playing in theMid Ulster league with Portadown BBOB. Bonis then moving to Seagoe where he scored 50 goals. This impressive goal scoring form earned him a trial with Portadown to which his career has continued to grow ever since. So far this season, Bonis has netted against Glenavon and Linfield and has played an important role in linking up with teammates such as Stephen Murray, Chris Lavery and Adam Salley.

The young striker can score goals but his tenacious and determined nature will be vital for Portadown long term.

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.

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Published by Dr. Grant Campbell

My name is Grant and I am the host of "The only show where bad predictions are cancelled out by good craic": Campbell's Footballs. This podcast will host plenty of wild football predictions as well as interesting stories from a diverse range of guests from all life within football such as grassroots, media and journalism, ex-professionals and genuine football fans. Contributions, shout outs and conversations encouraged! In Association with music from Toby Johnson and Rory Hope.

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