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 Linfield||1-3||4-3|
|Dungannon v Glenavon||1-2||P-P|
|Glentoran v Carrick Rangers||3-0||2-0 (1pt)|
|Larne v Coleraine||2-2||1-2|
|Portadown v Crusaders||1-2||2-2|
|Warrenpoint Town v Ballymena United||1-1||P-P|
Player of the week: Conor McMenamin (Cliftonville)
After a magnificent performance against Linfield on Tuesday night, Conor McMenamin (pictured) of Cliftonville is my player of the week.
McMenamin’s two second half goals inspired the Reds to a remarkable 4-3 win over their rivals and provided Paddy McLaughlin’s team with a much needed three points after an indifferent start to the season.
His two goals were eerily similar as well, latching onto a long ball, cutting inside the defender and slotting past the goalkeeper. It was quite uncanny.
McMenamin will be an important player for McLaughlin and Cliftonville moving forward especially with Joe Gormley out injured long term. Those two goals from McMenamin took him to three for the campaign. Hopefully this is the beginning of signs for the Red half of Belfast that their man is up and running.
Team of the week: Coleraine
For the second game week in succession, Coleraine win the team of the week.
Oran Kearney’s men continued their excellent recent form by going to Larne on Tuesday night and winning 2-1 against Tiernan Lynch’s team. The performances of Stevie Lowry and James McLaughlin will grab the headlines but it was a remarkable team effort by Kearney’s side to grab the three points as Larne battered them in the last quarter of the game.
Coleraine are the form team in the league right now with five wins in a row, conceding just twice and scoring eleven. Considering where they were at the start of the season, it is a phenomenal turnaround for the Bannsiders. They are only five points behind Crusaders and nine behind Linfield with a game in hand.
Win that, and they are right back in proceedings for European football.
Friday 29th January – Larne v Glentoran, Inver Park, KO 19.45, BBC Sport NI
Friday night games rarely disappoint in the Irish League and I feel this one won’t either as Larne and Glentoran lock horns at Inver Park.
Larne have hut a sticky patch of late. The Inver Men have lost their last two at home and are just beginning to concede a few more goals than usual. They started badly on Tuesday night and fell 2-0 down to Coleraine and despite Albert Watson’s goal back (pictured), they had left themselves a mountain to climb.
There’s no doubt that they have had tough matches against Linfield, Ballymena, Crusaders and Coleraine of late. However, if you want to be battling for Europe and for trophies, you have to relish these games and pick up results. With Linfield also losing on Tuesday night, Tuesday’s defeat to Coleraine must have felt like a missed opportunity for the Inver faithful.
Things won’t get any easier for Larne here and you can bet your bottom dollar Glentoran will want to keep their own unbeaten run going on Friday night. The Glens are unbeaten in their last five, winning three of them and are beginning to just kick in to gear. Goalkeeper Dayle Coleing (pictured) kept a much needed clean sheet for Glentoran in midweek and is definitely finding his feet again after coming back into the side in place of Rory Brown. The Glens will be without the suspended Jay Donnelly for this game after his red card against Carrick but they are still blessed with many attacking options so they should be fine.
I’m going for another goal fest on Friday night. The last two games I’ve watched were Crusaders and Larne (3-3) and Cliftonville and Linfield (4-3) and whilst I don’t see as many as that, I do feel we’ll see an entertaining game and a share of the spoils.
The last two meetings have been shared at Inver Park with Larne and Glentoran both winning one apiece so I will go for a score draw here.
Stato’s Prediction: Larne 2-2 Glentoran
Saturday 30th January – Cliftonville v Glenavon, Solitude, KO 15.00, BBC Sport NI
Cliftonville were outstanding on Tuesday night against Linfield, especially in the second half and they will be looking to continue that impressive display as they host Glenavon at Solitude on Saturday.
Conor McMenamin got the credits for his second half goals but I was really impressed with a guy I talked up in my last blog, Rory Hale (pictured). His quality and pace was there for all to see in the first half and his ball in was well dispatched by Michael McCrudden in the first half. As the game wore on though, his determination and battling qualities were also on display. It was a great performance from the former Crusaders man.
I also thought Chris Curran had an outstanding game on Tuesday night and as the game wore on, I felt, began to win that midfield battle with Linfield’s Jamie Mulgrew which is not easy to do.
Glenavon will try again after their match at home to Glentoran was postponed due to poor weather in Lurgan on Saturday. Their game on Tuesday at Dungannon was also called off.
As mentioned in my previous blog post, 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 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.
I also think they are starting to build a consistent, solid back line of which former Crusaders league winning defenders Colin Coates (pictured) and Sean Ward have been a big part of. Coates, in particular, is a winner and I feel he has aspirations of winning silverware and having some more success before he hangs up his boots.
Hamilton has moved well in the window with a few new signings coming through with Calvin Douglas, Gareth McCaffrey and Craig Hyland joining the club. It does look like though that veteran goalkeeper Jonny Tuffey will be going at the end of the season. He’ll be a big miss for the Lurgan Blues. In my opinion, he’s still a top class goalkeeper.
Due to a lack of gametime, I think Glenavon may come unstuck here and I am backing Cliftonville to follow up their Linfield triumph with a narrow win here in what is usually competitive fixture.
Stato’s Prediction: Cliftonville 2-1 Glenavon
Saturday 30th January– Coleraine v Crusaders, Coleraine Showgrounds, KO 15.00, BBC Sport NI
The form team in the Irish League, Coleraine, will hope to add a sixth win in a row to their impressive run as they take on Crusaders at the Showgrounds on Saturday in what is probably the game of the weekend.
The Bannsiders have been scoring lots of goals lately and it also helps that they have most of their defence back again after spells out through injury and suspension. I also think Coleraine have found themselves a solid goalkeeper in Gareth Deane (pictured). It’s taken him time to settle into life at Ballycastle Road but the former Linfield shot stopper has looked solid in between the sticks for Oran Kearney’s side. He had big shoes to fill when Chris Johns left for Linfield in the summer but he’s done very well in goal that’s for sure.
Crusaders will be kicking themselves not picking up the win at Portadown in midweek after twice being in front. Declan Caddell (pictured) and Paul Heatley looked to have scored the goals that would have taken Stephen Baxter’s side to within two points of leaders Linfield but the Crues conceded late on to drop potentially two crucial points.
As Joel Taggart pointed out on Twitter, the Crues have only won two of their last twelve games away from Seaview, losing eight of them. It’s not the form of a side battling for the title that’s for sure. You have to be picking up more on the road and I am sure Baxter and his players will be acutely aware of that.
Coleraine have dominated this fixture in recent times winning four of the last six meetings, including two of the last three at the Showgrounds. However, I fancy a score draw here which would be the first since 2018. That day Jamie McGonigle scored for the Bannsiders and now plays for the opposition. I wonder if he will get a goal on Saturday against his old team?
Stato’s Prediction: Coleraine 1-1 Crusaders
Saturday 30th January – Linfield v Dungannon, Windsor Park, KO 15.00, BBC Sport NI
Linfield will be hoping to bounce back following their 4-3 defeat against their Belfast rivals Cliftonville in midweek as they host Dungannon on Saturday.
The Blues were unusually all over the place at the back and conceded goals that were massively unlike them. Even though Jordan Stewart, Jamie Mulgrew and Kirk Millar (pictured) scored at Solitude, when you defend like Linfield did on Tuesday night, you won’t win.
The Blues have lost three of their last four in the league away from Windsor Park so they do need to get that sorted out if they want to retain their crown. At Windsor though, they are ruthless and perfect so far and I’m sure David Healy will be delighted of a home game this weekend.
Dungannon need to get a win quickly and the one place they wouldn’t want to go and get one if they had the choice would be Windsor Park.
The Swifts had lost their last five in a row, with three of those coming at home. They were decent at Coleraine on Saturday but passed up far too many opportunities and got punished for it. I’m sure they will be frustrated that they could not get their match with Glenavon played on Tuesday night, just for minutes and game time more than anything else.
Dungannon will need to managed the second half of the season without full back Kris Lowe (pictured) who, just recently has agreed terms to join Cliftonville. Lowe was a constant mainstay of everything good from the Swifts over the last few years and Dungannon will really miss his consistency and quality as well as his useful defensive traits.
It is 2008 since the Swifts won at Windsor Park and I do not see that record changing here. It was 4-0 when the two sides last met before Christmas and although I think Dungannon may do slightly better, I think Linfield will win fairly comfortably.
Stato’s Prediction: Linfield 3-0 Dungannon
Saturday 30th January – Portadown v Warrenpoint Town, Shamrock Park, KO 15.00, BBC Sport NI
Portadown will be buoyed by their excellent point at home to Crusaders but they face a huge game on Saturday as they host Barry Gray’s Warrenpoint Town side at Shamrock Park.
Matthew Tipton’s men took advantage of their quality from set pieces to grab a deserved share of the spoils on Tuesday night and hopefully this is the beginning of an upsurge in fortunes for the Ports. Lee Bonis (pictured) captained the side in midweek and continues his magnificent upward trajectory in recent weeks. His goal was the least he deserved for his performance but there were lots of good contributions from the team in red. Ben Tilney was very impressive as was Stephen Teggart who orchestrated a lot of the game across the midfield.
It’s been a sombre week for all at Portadown following the death of chairman Ronnie Stinson who died after a long illness. I want to pass on all my condolences to Ronnie’s family and all associated with the Reds. He seemed a real character and a lovely man.
Warrenpoint were on the end of a Linfield hurricane in the second half at Windsor Park on Saturday.
They did play well for much of the game up until Andy Waterworth opened the scoring but once the first went in, sadly, the flood gates opened for Barry Gray’s team. Goalkeeper Gabriel Sava had no chance with many of the goals and without his saves it might have been even worse.
Games against Linfield won’t define Warrenpoint’s season but they will have been frustrated that their game against Ballymena was postponed in midweek due to adverse pitch conditions.
The news of striker Alan O’Sullivan (pictured) being transfer listed as well will not have improved the mood around Milltown either. Wherever O’Sullivan ends up, I am sure that club will benefit massively. What will benefit Warrenpoint though is former Dungannon Swifts manager Rodney McAree joining the set up at Milltown. If Rodney can bring the same wisdom that he did in helping Dungannon become a very solid side, Warrenpoint will definitely benefit from that. McAree is an excellent coach and deserves to do well especially after his time at Coleraine was always going to be tough when Kearney left for St Mirren.
This game will be huge in determining things at the wrong end of the table. The Ports have taken five points from their last five games while Warrenpoint have only taken one point since their win away at Carrick Rangers.
Warrenpoint have won five of their last six meetings with Portadown but I think Tipton’s men will get their first home win of the season here, on what could be an emotionally charged afternoon at Shamrock Park.
Stato’s Prediction: Portadown 2-0 Warrenpoint Town
Saturday 30th January – Carrick v Ballymena United, Taylor’s Avenue, KO 17.30, BBC Sport NI
Carrick Rangers will be hoping to get back on the winning trail as they host Ballymena United on Saturday evening at Taylor’s Avenue.
Niall Currie’s side need to get momentum into their season. They have lost four of the last five games in the league but four of them have been away from Taylor’s Avenue. At home, the Amber Army have won against Portadown and drew with Dungannon. It does feel like this is a season of attrition for Carrick but I feel they are a better side than their league position belies.
Lloyd Anderson (pictured) will be an important player for them in the second half of the season. He had a great game at The Oval on Tuesday night as did Currie’s team but their lack of finishing touch cost them in the end. They do need to start scoring goals again.
One team who did not need an extra break was the Sky Blues. I am sure they also did not need their game being postponed either at home to Cliftonville and away at Warrenpoint as they had real momentum heading into that match.
Ballymena are seven games unbeaten and David Jeffrey’s side have only conceded two goals in that run. Players such as Kofi Balmer and Josh Kelly (pictured) have been hitting form at the right time 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.
I think this will be a very close game here and I would not be surprised if Carrick got something. However, on form, I am going to shade this to Ballymena by the odd goal.
Stato’s Prediction: Carrick Rangers 1-2 Ballymena United
Players to scout:
Part 2: Philip Lowry (Crusaders) and Stephen Lowry (Coleraine)
In the second part of my Irish League brothers to scout feature, I am picking two guys who have won multiple trophies and are still hungry for success every match they play for their respective teams. They are Crusaders’ Philip and Coleraine’s Stevie Lowry.
Philip Lowry (pictured) has had one of the most decorated careers in the Irish League.
Philip began his career at Institute before moving onto Linfield in 2009 where he became a serial winner at the club, lifting three Irish Premierships, three Irish Cups and a County Antrim Shield at Windsor Park. Having spent a season in the League of Ireland at Derry City, Philip then moved onto Portadown on a short term contract in 2016 before joining Crusaders where he is currently still at.
Since joining the Seaview club, Phil has continued his success winning another Irish Premiership title, an Irish Cup and two County Antrim Shields. He has developed as a leader throughout his career and continues to pop up with important contributions for Stephen Baxter’s side from midfield.
Philip has three goals already this campaign and I would not be surprised if he trebles that before the season finishes.
Stevie, Philip’s brother, has not had a bad career so far either.
Stevie re-joined Coleraine in 2018 after an unbelievable trophy winning season with Linfield the year before. At the Blues, Stevie won the Irish Premiership, Irish Cup and County Antrim Shield. Like Philip, many consider Stevie to be one of the most consistent midfielders in the Irish League and his experience continues to be an important cog in the Bannsiders’ midfield and for Oran Kearney’s side as a whole.
Stevie would get the better of brother Philip in 2020 as Coleraine won the Irish League Cup final 2-1 at Windsor Park. Earlier this season, Stevie also celebrated his 250th appearance in the Europa League on a famous night in Maribor where Kearney’s side won on penalties.
Both Stevie and Philip love their battles against one an another but there is a great mutual respect between both players, as was portrayed in this Irish League Behaviour podcast.
I expect there to be another tough head to head between the pair of them and their respective sides come Saturday afternoon at the Showgrounds.
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.