Irish Premiership Weekend Preview

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.

MatchesStato’s PredictionsActual scoreline
Ballymena United v Linfield1-2P-P
Crusaders v Carrick Rangers3-01-3
Glentoran v Coleraine1-1P-P
Portadown v Cliftonville1-11-1 (3pts)
Warrenpoint v Glenavon1-2P-P
Larne v Dungannon Swifts3-03-0 (3pts)
Portadown v Glentoran (TUES)1-11-3
Ballymena v Coleraine (TUES)2-20-1
Glenavon v Carrick Rangers (TUES)2-01-1
Warrenpoint v Dungannon (TUES)2-11-1

From the three games played this weekend, I go 2 perfect outcomes. Not a bad return! Unfortunately, I picked up no points from any of the matches on Tuesday evening. Let’s see if I can fare better in this weekend’s matches.

Player of the week: Jonny Frazer (Carrick Rangers)

For his superb individual performance at Seaview on Saturday, I am delighted to award Jonny Frazer (pictured) of Carrick Rangers as my player of the week.

Image result for jonny frazer carrick
Acknowledgement: Jonny Frazer on Twitter

The young man ran the show against Crusaders with two well taken goals in a strong contribution for Niall Currie’s side as they won 3-1. This was a massive result for Carrick and one that not many, including myself, would have predicted.

Thanks to Frazer’s two goals in this game, as well as a Caolan Loughran penalty kick, Carrick had scored two or more goals in a league game against Crusaders for the first time since November 1990 when they drew 3-3 at Seaview.

Frazer’s career has been stop-start since leaving Glentoran in the summer on loan but the pacey winger/striker has shown flashes of what he can do and in this game produced one of his best performances in a Carrick shirt.

If he can replicate this form on a more consistent basis, there’s no doubt he’ll be a big player for Currie and Carrick long term.

Jonny also became a Dad recently and I hope all who read my column will join me in wishing Jonny and his family well!

Team of the week: Carrick Rangers

After taking an impressive eight points from their last twelve available, I simply have to make Carrick Rangers my team of the week award as well.

Image result for Carrick Rangers

The Crusaders win was a magnificent result in it’s own right but there is no doubt that recent performances and results have improved for Niall Currie’s side.

They took all three points away at Dungannon as well as at Crusaders and in between those games, claimed a magnificent draw at home against champions and current league leaders Linfield.

On Tuesday night, they also recovered well from going a goal down at Mourneview Park against Gary Hamilton’s Glenavon side to claim a deserved share of the spoils.

Players such as Caolan Loughran, Jordan Gibson, Kyle Cherry, Jonny Frazer and Cahair Friel have certainly helped improve Carrick and since returning from the circuit breaker, along with the threat of relegation being removed due to coronavirus circumstances, it seems like the shackles are off for the side from Taylor’s Avenue with recent results are now matching their improving performances.

Currie will be hopeful that continues this weekend and beyond.

Friday 19th February – Ballymena United v Crusaders, Ballymena Showgrounds, KO 19.30, BBC Sport NI

I’m starting to worry a little bit for Ballymena after recent results and performances.

Tuesday’s 1-0 home defeat against bitter rivals Coleraine saw David Jeffrey’s side drop out of the top six for the first time since November but it is the manner of their losses that is of a concern to me.

Against Dungannon, they wasted many chances in front of goal and in the game against Glenavon they gave themselves a mountain to climb after going 2-0 down.

There wasn’t much in the game on Tuesday but once they fell a goal down against the Bannsiders, I wasn’t convinced they would come back to get something from the match. The Sky Blues have only scored once in their last three games and two of those matches were at home.

Ballymena also lost goalkeeper Jordan Williamson to a red card late on after a clash with Stewart Nixon, the second time this has happened to Williamson against the Bannsiders. This will likely mean that Ross Glendinning, who is currently still on the transfer list, will have to come in to replace Williamson in goal for this match against Crusaders and I am unsure how this will go down.

His lack of match fitness and game time could well be a big issue but it also could be an opportunity for Glendinning to reignite his own career too.

It’ll be interesting to see how that situation develops long term.

Image result for jordan williamson ballymena
Acknowledgment: Belfast Telegraph

Crusaders need a big performance themselves after hitting the skids in recent weeks.

It is only one win in seven matches for Stephen Baxter’s team and that was in a home game against Glentoran at the start of the month. I don’t think many saw Crusaders losing on Saturday, including myself. They were, for me, too predictable at times and Carrick, who were well drilled, stopped them at almost every opportunity, apart from when Philip Lowry got a goal back for the Crues at 2-0 down.

The Crues defence also struggled to deal with Carrick’s energy and enthusiasm in midfield and were cut apart far too easily on numerous occasions. The late sending off of Jordan Forsythe (pictured) summed up their afternoon too and he will be a big loss too for this game at the Showgrounds.

Image result for jordan forsythe crusaders
Acknowledgement: Belfast Live

Both sides form is not great at all.

Ballymena have only picked up seven points all season at home whilst Crusaders have only picked up eight points all season on the road, three of those coming here against Ballymena in a 4-1 win in early November.

As a result of their last meeting, and because of Ballymena’s very sloppy home form, I think Crusaders will get a much needed win.

You just never know with Ballymena though. They like to spring a surprise when you least expect it so I’m half expecting to end up with egg on my face!

Stato’s Prediction: Ballymena United 0-2 Crusaders

Saturday 20th February – Carrick Rangers v Glenavon, Taylor’s Avenue, KO 15.00, BBC Sport NI

Carrick have been magnificent in recent weeks and in this article I have waxed lyrically about the job Niall Currie (pictured) has been doing at the Taylor’s Avenue side.

Niall has an enthusiastic nature to him and his own story within football is one to have a listen to if you haven’t already.

I could tell he was frustrated earlier on in the season with the results his side were getting, rather than the performances. So, in many ways, it is good to see that finally things are looking up for Carrick and they are getting their rewards.

I don’t see them finishing bottom of the table come the end of the season.

They have a lot of energy and enthusiasm as I’ve mentioned before but also the players look to have renewed confidence of late too, as well as plenty of character, which was showcased in comeback draws at home to Linfield and away at Glenavon, who incidentally, they meet again on Saturday!

Image result for niall currie
Acknowledgement: MSN

I really do not know what to make of Glenavon’s season so far.

I feel Gary Hamilton’s side have performed admirably in many of their matches they have played but at times have been on the wrong side of a little bit of a rub of the green with key refereeing decisions and incidents going against them.

However, I do also feel that the Lurgan Blues have missed too many opportunities in games and have failed to kill off teams when in control of matches.

I would be very surprised if Glenavon are not top of the table in terms of sides who have dropped most points from winning positions so far this season.

I can think of matches against Carrick on Tuesday, away at Cliftonville, at home to Linfield and away at Larne where the Lurgan Blues have led in all those matches and picked up just two points. That will be a bigger frustration for Glenavon supporters in my opinion.

Glenavon have some great players as well in their team with Matthew Fitzpatrick (pictured), Michael O’Connor and Conor McCloskey continuing to impress me and Daniel Purkis’ goals also important for the Lurgan Blues.

However, they do need to keep things tight at the back and they will miss experienced defender Sean Ward for this reverse fixture on Saturday after his red card on Tuesday night. It was a spectacular save from Ward but it was a deliberate handball and ultimately a clear ordering off.

Image result for sean ward glenavon
Acknowledgement: Belfast Telegraph

This is the first meeting at Taylor’s Avenue between the two sides since Carrick won 6-2 against Gary Hamilton’s men back in 2019. That was a remarkable afternoon for the Amber Army and I am sure Hamilton and Glenavon will be conscious of a repeat performance again.

I don’t think that will happen though and I am going to predict a narrow, much needed away win for Glenavon as a result and end Carrick’s recent good form as a result.

Stato’s Prediction: Carrick Rangers 1-2 Glenavon

Saturday 20th February – Cliftonville v Larne, Solitude, KO 15.00, BBC Sport NI

I’m looking forward to this game on Saturday as Larne, who got back to winning ways last weekend at home to Dungannon, travel to Solitude to take on consistently inconsistent Cliftonville.

The Reds have only lost one of their last eight matches but they have drawn four in that run. One week, Cliftonville look like a side who can defeat anyone in the league but in other matches, they look a little bit sloppy and struggle for confidence.

Rory Hale (pictured) scored a great goal last week away at Portadown but I did fancy the Ports to get something from that match as I wasn’t convinced by the Reds defensively, as I have not been for much of the season and ultimately, I was proved right for once.

I expect the new faces coming into the club to take a bit longer to settle into the side but my concern is whether Cliftonville can make a push for Europe. They have played more matches than anyone in the league and teams in and around them such as Glenavon and Glentoran have at least three games in hand over Paddy McLaughlin’s side.

I think Cliftonville will finish top six but I’m not convinced they’ll grab a European spot if I was making a prediction right here right now.

Image result for rory hale
Acknowledgement: Cliftonville FC

Larne got their first home win of 2021 on Saturday with a convincing performance and a 3-0 win at home against Dungannon last week. Mark Randall scored an exquisite opening goal and Martin Donnelly (pictured) scored a magnificent free kick to settle proceedings.

However, I think Dungannon will be disappointed at the second goal which was scored by Albert Watson (later credited as an own goal by Douglas Wilson) was allowed to stand. I felt Johnny McMurray fouled Wilson in the build up to the goal but the referee did not spot that and the goal stood. That, for me, was a pivotal moment in the game as up until then Dungannon were well in the match. Once that goal went in, that was that.

To have got a much needed home win will be a welcome relief for Tiernan Lynch and his team and hopefully they can get on a good run again to put the pressure on others around them and Linfield at the top.

After all, Europe is still a big possibility for the side from Inver Park.

Image result for marty donnelly
Acknowledgement: Belfast Telegraph

I’m going for a bucket load of goals on Saturday. The reverse game was settled by a Joshua Robinson goal deep in injury time at Inver Park but I see this game being a bit more open, similarly to Larne’s match away at Crusaders earlier in the season.

I’ll go for Larne to pick up an away win in a thriller.

Stato’s Prediction: Cliftonville 2-3 Larne

Saturday 20th February – Portadown v Dungannon Swifts, Shamrock Park, KO 15.00, BBC Sport NI

It’s 11th against 12th in the Irish Premiership this weekend as Portadown host Dungannon Swifts with both sides settled only in the table by goal difference.

Portadown are still winless at home this season but until Tuesday night’s loss at home to Glentoran looked to have been turning the corner of late. Greg Hall’s red card midway through the first half put paid to their chances and despite Lee Bonis (pictured) second half goal, Portadown gave themselves a mountain to climb.

The Ports have a lot of youth and energy in their side but I do feel at times their lack of experience does count against them. I think they have the best manager in the league in Matthew Tipton to help them in that journey though. Matthew is a vibrant, passionate fellow and knows what it takes to succeed at Portadown.

I do feel many in this team are improving under him, particularly in midfield areas.

Image result for lee bonis portadown
Acknowledgement: Football CFB/Callum McFadden

Dungannon just need to find some consistency into their season. They were better in midweek at Warrenpoint and Rhyss Campbell (pictured) took his goal well to give the Swifts the advantage down at Milltown. I’m not sure they could do much about the equaliser they conceded in that game. It’s only one win in nine though for Kris Lindsay’s side and they do need a win soon to get some confidence and form.

Image result for rhyss campbell dungannon swifts
Acknowledgement: Northern Irish Football League

Portadown won the reverse fixture at Stangmore Park earlier in the season 3-0 in what was an excellent victory for Tipton’s team and I think they’ll repeat the victory here on Saturday to finally get their first win of the season at Shamrock Park.

It would be quite fitting too as Saturday will be Tipton’s 100th game in charge of Portadown.

Let’s hope, from a Portadown point of view, it is a day of celebrations. However, I am sure Lindsay and his team will have something to say about that!

Stato’s Prediction: Portadown 3-0 Dungannon Swifts

Saturday 20th February – Warrenpoint Town v Glentoran, Taylor’s Avenue, KO 15.00, BBC Sport NI

I think Warrenpoint were delighted to get a home game on Tuesday night after playing their last FIVE matches away from home. The Point picked up five points on the road though and I think Barry Gray’s team would have been happy with that run.

Their draw with Dungannon in midweek was by all accounts a fair result. Thomas Maguire (pictured) got his first goal for his new club and what a goal it was as well. Definitely another to be in contention for goal of the season.

Image result for thomas maguire warrenpoint
Acknowledgement: Thomas Maguire on Twitter/Instagram

Talking of getting off the mark for their new club, I am sure Conor McMenamin (pictured) will have been delighted to get up and running for Glentoran on Tuesday at Portadown. It was an excellent finish to open the scoring and give the Glens a good platform to go on and win the game at Shamrock Park.

Hrvoje Plum and Jay Donnelly also got in amongst the goals for the Glens but I do think Mick McDermott will have been disappointed at the goal they gave away after a mix up at the back involving goalkeeper Dayle Coleing and defender Patrick MacLean.

Ultimately, it didn’t matter but it was perhaps a reminder to make sure concentration levels are still high as the Glens head into a busy period.

Image result for conor mcmenamin glentoran
Acknowledgement: The Down Recorder

Usually Glentoran go well in match-ups against Barry Gray’s Warrenpoint side. The Glens have not lost at Milltown since 2018 but the sides did draw 0-0 in their last meeting at the Oval.

I think Glentoran will win this game. McDermott’s men have only lost one of their last nine games and moved into the top six as a result of Tuesday’s win and I expect, with the momentum they have now, to push for a European spot.

Stato’s Prediction: Warrenpoint Town 1-3 Glentoran

Saturday 20th February – Linfield v Coleraine, Taylor’s Avenue, KO 17.30, BBC Sport NI

I’ll be watching this game on Saturday night and I am eagerly anticipating an exciting game at Windsor Park.

Linfield will be delighted to be back in action for the first time in ten days since their 1-1 draw at Carrick after their match last weekend at Ballymena was called off. The Blues were very sloppy at Taylor’s Avenue and in the end were punished for their below par performance.

I don’t expect this to be a regular feature of this team though and I have no doubt characters like captain Jamie Mulgrew (pictured) and manager David Healy will demand a reaction from that disappointing Carrick display.

I still feel Linfield are favourites to retain their title and with the quality and depth of squad they have, I do think it will be a big ask for any side to usurp them at the top.

Put it this way, whoever finishes above Linfield, will win the league. It’s as simple as that.

Image result for jamie mulgrew
Acknowledgement: Irish News

Coleraine come into this match on Saturday night off the back of a remarkable run of form. Tuesday’s victory over their rivals Ballymena meant it is now nine games unbeaten for Oran Kearney’s side
with seven wins and two draws in that run.

They arguably could be even closer to Linfield had they won the two games they drew too as they led in both home games against Portadown and Cliftonville. Nevertheless, considering the start they had, Coleraine are now just eight points behind Linfield having played the same amount of games.

It does make a difference when you have a good pool of consistent players to choose from, particularly at the back. I really love Stephen O’Donnell (pictured) at the heart of Coleraine’s defence. O’Donnell is a real leader in Kearney’s plans and very rarely has a bad game.

He, and his fellow defenders, will need to be on the top of their game on Saturday night as I can see guys like Kirk Millar, Navid Nasseri and others giving them problems, particularly with their pace and quality.

Image result for stephen o'donnell coleraine
Acknowledgement: Belfast Live

Coleraine are a bogey team for Linfield at Windsor Park having won three of the last four meetings at the NI national stadium so I expect them to give Healy’s side a test, and particularly an improvement on when the two sides met earlier in the season at the Showgrounds where Andy Waterworth and Jordan Stewart’s goals settled the encounter.

I fancy an entertaining game here and for an entertaining draw to be the outcome.

Stato’s Prediction: Linfield 2-2 Coleraine

Player to Scout: Lyndon Kane (Coleraine)

Each week, I offer followers of my column one Irish League player for you to go and scout ahead of this weekend’s matches and beyond. It’s been a brilliant week for this guy who celebrated his birthday earlier this week and also scored a stunner against Ballymena on Tuesday night.

It can only be the ever improving full back Lyndon Kane (pictured).

Image result for Lyndon kane
Acknowledgement: The Coleraine Chronicle

A lifelong Coleraine supporter, Kane made his debut for the Bannsiders in October 2014 against Glentoran and has over time cemented his place in the squad on a regular basis at right back for Oran Kearney’s side. I’ve found Kane to be a determined, passionate and direct player who loves getting forward but is not afraid to get stuck in and do the dirty side of the game.

The mark of astute players is their response to adversity as Lyndon missed the majority of the 2017-18 and 2018-19 campaigns, missing out on Coleraine lifting the Irish Cup that season and for participating in many of Coleraine’s close efforts in battling for the title. Kane recovered well from that injury though and his first piece of silverware arrived in early 2020 as he was part of the Coleraine team that won the League Cup against Crusaders 2-1 (pictured).

Image result for lyndon kane
Acknowledgement: Newtonabbey Times

Despite that long term injury, Kane has made over 150 appearances for the Bannsiders, participating also in their recent Europa League exploits against Maribor (pictured) and Motherwell earlier this season.

Image result for lyndon kane v maribor
Acknowledgement: Belfast Live

Kane doesn’t score too many goals but his winner at Ballymena on Tuesday night was a cracking finish and his first since scoring in a 3-1 Irish Cup at Larne in 2018. Incidentally, his goal on Tuesday was just his third for the club.

Will Kane be a future Coleraine captain? Or will he be one of the next group of players to head across the water?

Either way, I’m looking forward to seeing Kane’s game developing as in my view he’s up there with the best full backs in the League.

You can see how Lyndon and his teammates get on at Windsor Park on Saturday night as their match with Linfield is live on the BBC Sport NI website.

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 TaggartLiam BeckettMichael ClarkeNicola McCarthy, Colin HopkinsSteven BeacomMark McIntosh and find some of the characters I’ve interviewed so far by visiting the Campbell’s Footballs archive.

NIFL Premiership - Wikipedia

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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