Irish Premiership Preview of the Week

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 Crusaders0-21-2 (1pt)
Carrick Rangers v Glenavon1-23-4 (1pt)
Cliftonville v Larne2-31-0
Portadown v Dungannon Swifts3-0P-P
Warrenpoint Town v Glentoran1-3P-P
Linfield v Coleraine2-20-0 (1pt)
Portadown v Larne (TUES)1-2P-P
Carrick Rangers v Coleraine (TUES)1-30-2 (1pt)
Dungannon Swifts v Glenavon (TUES)2-21-2
Linfield v Glentoran (TUES)2-00-1
Cliftonville v Ballymena United (TUES)1-02-1 (1pt)

From the three games played this weekend, I got three correct outcomes out of the four matches played, albeit no perfect scores. Not a bad return! I picked up two points from the matches on Tuesday evening. Let’s see if I can fare as well, or better, in this weekend’s matches which, I argue, could be the most exciting we have seen this season so far.

Player of the week: Conor McCloskey (Glenavon)

After scoring in away victories at Carrick Rangers and Dungannon Swifts, I am giving this week’s player of the week award to Glenavon’s Conor McCloskey (pictured in orange).

Conor McCloskey inspires Glenavon to narrow win over Dungannon Swifts as  two sent off - BelfastTelegraph.co.uk
Acknowledgement: Belfast Telegraph

The Lurgan Blues are now unbeaten in their last four matches and have definitely turned a corner after a sticky January period.

McCloskey has definitely found some form too, with five goals in the league this season, providing a valuable contribution to Gary Hamilton’s team.

McCloskey’s, and Glenavon’s recent upsurge in fortunes, has seen the Lurgan Blues move up to 7th place. With games in hand on clubs around them, I am sure Hamilton and his team will be keen to keep their feet to the pedal and make a push to get into that top six.

With Crusaders this weekend followed by Carrick and Portadown twice to play in their next run of matches, the Lurgan Blues are definitely beginning to find some consistency in what has been a season of mixed fortunes so far.

Team of the week: Glentoran (with Cliftonville a close second)

For blowing the title race wide open after a sensational late winner at Windsor Park on Tuesday night, Glentoran must win my team of the week award.

It’s been a remarkable turn around for Mick McDermott’s side since the start of 2021. The Glens have only lost once away at Crusaders and have only conceded four goals in that run too.

When you keep the door shut at the back, you have a real chance of winning more games than not and picking up useful points.

Glentoran FC

The Glens had not won at Windsor Park against Linfield since 2014 heading into Tuesday night’s encounter but Conor McMenamin’s late cross which went in off the post, handed the East Belfast side a massive three points.

If the Glens were to beat Dungannon at the weekend, their following match is a reversal of that game with Linfield at the Oval. After a slow start to the season, McDermott’s men are flying and in my mind will have a big say in where the Gibson Cup will end up.

They have to be targeting European football as a minimum now.

The Glens win this week’s TOTW award but Cliftonville must come a close second after back to back wins against Larne and Ballymena United.

Cliftonville FC (@cliftonvillefc) | Twitter

I’ve perhaps been critical of Cliftonville more than most other teams when I do my columns but I have to credit Paddy McLaughlin for the Reds recent upturn in results.

The Reds won 1-0 at home to Larne on Saturday and followed that up with a 2-1 win at home to Ballymena in midweek. Cliftonville may have played more games than other sides around them but they have the points on the board for now and are sitting in fifth spot in the league.

I still think they face a fight for top six but with recent results going in a positive direction, it may be possible for them to remain there, particularly if Ronan Doherty, Paul O’Neill, goalkeeper Aaron McCarey and Rory Hale continue their positive form.

Friday 26th February – Linfield v Larne, Windsor Park, KO 19.30, BBC Two NI

Friday night’s match between Linfield and Larne, under the Windsor Park lights, has all the hallmarks of being one of the most important games of the season so far. You can watch it on BBC Two NI as well!

It’s been a really strange period for the champions of late.

Linfield’s last six games read like this: won two, drawn two, lost two.

A side we usually associate with remarkable consistency and quality has definitely hit a sticky patch of late. Their performances have not been fantastic either. They left it late to win at Crusaders but arguably were very poor throughout. The Blues were lacklustre in their away games at Cliftonville and Carrick. At home to Coleraine, they were had chances to win the game but could have lost it at the end had Chris Johns not saved well from his old teammate Eoin Bradley and on Tuesday night against Glentoran, they came unstuck late on to that McMenamin winner.

I still think Linfield are the team to beat in this title race despite their poor form and when you have players like Kirk Millar (pictured), Jordan Stewart and Shayne Lavery you’ve always got a chance. However, the Blues are definitely missing a big spark just now in games and they need to find it quickly.

If they don’t, their defence of the title will be under severe threat.

Linfield vs Glentoran highlights and result: Kirk Millar's late goal seals  Big Two win for Blues - Belfast Live
Acknowledgement: Belfast Live

Larne are only three points behind Linfield and could go joint top of the table with a win at Windsor on Friday night.

However, their own form is nothing to write home about of late either.

Tiernan Lynch’s side have only won two of their last nine matches and have looked fairly unconvincing themselves.

The goal Larne lost on Saturday at Cliftonville to lose the game was massively disappointing. I admire teams for trying to play out from the back but there is definitely a time and a place for doing it. It was credit to Cliftonville’s high press that made Larne lose the goal to settle the game but this has been a recurring theme now. It’s already happened at home to Crusaders, Coleraine and Portadown and in two of those occurences, the Inver Men dropped crucial points.

I have been impressed however with new addition Dylan Mottley-Henry (pictured) since signing from Bradford City in January. He’s been very enthusiastic on the ball and loves driving forward, providing another good option for Larne to have, particularly in central areas.

Larne Football Club on Twitter: "Dylan Mottley-Henry has chosen the number  2️⃣0️⃣ as his squad number this season! 🙌 📸 Jamie Brennan #WeAreLarne  #BeTheDifference… https://t.co/qdm5HvIrPI"
Acknowledgement: Larne FC on Twitter

Big games are where legends and likely champions are made of. I think if Larne have any aspirations of winning the League they need to avoid defeat on Friday night but I do not think they will.

I see Friday’s game being a tight affair but ultimately, I think Linfield will win and exercise those demons of the defeats at Inver Park earlier in the campaign in the League and County Antrim Shield.

Stato’s Prediction: Linfield 1-0 Larne

Saturday 27th February – Carrick Rangers v Cliftonville, Taylor’s Avenue, KO 15.00, BBC Sport NI

Carrick are back at home again on Saturday as they take on Cliftonville at Taylor’s Avenue looking to respond from back to back defeats against Glenavon and Coleraine last week.

Carrick had been really impressive heading into last weekend’s encounter with Glenavon but I fear I have given them the kiss of death after their two recent results went against them!

They defended poorly against the Lurgan Blues and the goals they conceded were cheap. I sensed from Niall Currie post match after the game he was not a happy man.

For large parts of the Coleraine game, they acquitted themselves well but Curtis Allen’s two goals made the difference in the end.

What will be another concern for Carrick is striker Cahair Friel (pictured) going off injured on Saturday. The Amber Army were beginning to look a decent outfit with him as a focal point up top. Now he is out along with Jonny Frazer, Carrick do look a bit short in attack.

Cathair Friel set for lengthy time out as Carrick Rangers suffer striker  crisis | Belfast News Letter
Acknowledgement: Belfast News Letter

Cliftonville have tuned the corner and it does now seem that their new signings are beginning to enjoy life in a red shirt.

I’ve been impressed with Ronan Doherty (pictured) and was amazed to learn that he has only scored once so far this season. He needs to add more to his game as he has a lot of quality breaking forward from that #8 role alongside recent 300th appearance midfielder Chris Curran. Congratulations to Chris!

Rory Hale and Paul O’Neill are also looking more at home with some consistent showings of late.

Cliftonville midfielder Ronan Doherty eager to add more goals to his  Solitude CV - Belfast Live
Acknowledgement: Belfast Live

I think the Reds will continue their recent good form with a narrow win on Saturday.

It’ll be tough for Cliftonville though and I expect Carrick to make a fist of it but I think the Reds will have enough quality to get over the line.

Stato’s Prediction: Carrick Rangers 1-2 Cliftonville

Saturday 27th February – Coleraine v Warrenpoint Town, Coleraine Showgrounds, KO 15.00, BBC Sport NI

Coleraine are flying right now and they take their unbeaten run into this Saturday as they take on Warrenpoint Town at the Showgrounds.

Oran Kearney’s side are on an eleven game unbeaten run and look invincible right now.

They look watertight at the back with three clean sheets in a row and they are scoring goals across the team. Curtis Allen (pictured) has found his shooting boots again and players like Jamie Glackin, Stewart Nixon and the consistency of Lyndon Kane and Stephen Lowry are also going well.

It’s a refreshing and exciting sight for fans of the Bannsiders at present.

Curtis Allen double sends Coleraine third with win over Carrick Rangers -  BelfastTelegraph.co.uk
Acknowledgement: Belfast Telegraph

I think Warrenpoint were delighted to get a home game last 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 of results.

Their draw with Dungannon last midweek was by all accounts a fair result. Thomas Maguire 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.

I really like watching Matthew Knox (pictured) in the Warrenpoint side too as he offers a lot of creativity and industry from midfield.

Ex-Rangers, Liverpool trialist Matthew Knox seals deal | Livingston news
Acknowledgement: Deadline News

I do think Coleraine will make it a dozen games on Saturday and despite Warrenpoint’s battling qualities, I think Kearney’s side will record a straightforward victory.

Stato’s Prediction: Coleraine 3-0 Warrenpoint Town

Saturday 27th February – Crusaders v Glenavon, Seaview, KO 15.00, BBC Sport NI

With Glentoran’s superb result on Tuesday night against Linfield opening the league right up, Crusaders will be eager to make sure they can take advantage and get right back in the title race. However, they face a tricky match on Saturday at home to a resurgent Glenavon team.

The Crues did well to win from behind last weekend against Ballymena. The weather conditions were not the best but they got the job done and that is all that matters. I still think it’s a work in progress at Seaview but there are signs of green shoots I feel there.

Paul Heatley (pictured) is still quality and his goal was superb to win the game. It was good they got the game on at Seaview after the match was originally due to be played at Ballymena on the Friday night. However, due to poor weather and pitch conditions the match was rescheduled to the Saturday. I think that was good organisation and clever understanding shown by both teams.

WATCH | Crusaders star Paul Heatley determined to gr...
Acknowledgement: Irish FA

Glenavon, as mentioned, are in good form at the moment after going unbeaten in their last four matches. McCloskey has been excellent for the Lurgan Blues but so have the performances of Michael O’Connor and others too.

Glenavon will miss James Singleton after his red card at Dungannon in midweek. I thought that was a harsh sending off and so was Lee McNulty’s in the game at Carrick. Gary Hamilton’s men may have not had the rub of the green with some decisions this season but they are still getting the results.

Our character and resolve helped us win that game, praises Gary Hamilton as  10-man Glenavon hold out against Carrick Rangers - BelfastTelegraph.co.uk
Acknowledgement: Belfast Telegraph

I expect this to be a good game on Saturday and I would not be surprised if there is a few goals here.

Jonny Tuffey and Daniel Larmour will come up against their old teammates and you would not bet against them being big players at the weekend. Mind you, I expect the same of Colin Coates and Sean Ward on the flip side!

I am backing the Crues to win this narrowly.

Stato’s Prediction: Crusaders 2-1 Glenavon

Saturday 27th February – Portadown v Ballymena United, Shamrock Park, KO 15.00, BBC Sport NI

Portadown have not had any luck this week after both their home matches against Dungannon and Larne were called off due to adverse weather and an unplayable surface. Let’s hope their game does go ahead this weekend as they host Ballymena United at home, still searching for that elusive first win.

Until last Tuesday’s loss at home to Glentoran, Portadown 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 second half goal, Portadown gave themselves a mountain to climb.

Stephen Murray hits the ground running to ensure derby delight for Portadown  on their return to the top flight - BelfastTelegraph.co.uk
Acknowledgement: Belfast Telegraph

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. Stephen Murray (pictured) will be an important player in that regard to help the young guys on the pitch.

I think they have the best manager in the league in Matthew Tipton to help them in that developmental journey. 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. I wish him well in his 100th game in charge of the Ports this weekend.

Ballymena are just not getting anything right now after recent results and performances.

Tuesday’s 2-1 defeat away at Cliftonville saw David Jeffrey’s side lose their fifth straight match in the league. However, I do feel they are one good result and performance away from turning the corner.

Shay McCartan scored his third goal against Cliftonville this season in midweek and they did compete well for large parts against the Reds. Slackness at the back cost them in the end but if they can sort that out, I think they’ll get back on the winning trail soon.

Ballymena United have struck gold with Shay McCartan signing, says David  Jeffrey - BelfastTelegraph.co.uk
Acknowledgement: Belfast Telegraph

This is a tough game to call here and I am going to sit firmly on the fence as a result. Score draw.

Stato’s Prediction: Portadown 1-1 Ballymena United

Saturday 27th February – Dungannon Swifts v Glentoran, Stangmore Park, KO 17.30, BBC Sport NI

Saturday tea time sees bottom of the table Dungannon host Glentoran at Stangmore Park.

Dixie Robinson took over from Kris Lindsay in the Swifts dugout after he left last week and his first match in charge of Dungannon saw them lose 2-1 at home to Glenavon. The Swifts performed admirably but it will take time for Robinson to impose his own ideas and tactics on this side.

I was sad to see Kris go.

I thought he did a good job at Dungannon after taking over from Rodney McAree. They were competitive under him and never really in danger of getting relegated under his tenure. With no relegation this season, I just find the timing of Lindsay leaving so strange.

I wish Robinson well in the job though. I think he’ll need it because I think Dungannon is a tough job for anyone in the Irish League, particularly with the budget and resources.

Dixie Resigns. – Dungannon Swifts FC
Acknowledgement: Dungannon Swifts

Dungannon will have their work cut out on Saturday night as Glentoran are flying right now. The Glens are playing with a real swagger and look full of confidence in matches. Luke McCullough (pictured) had an outstanding game at the back for the Glens on Tuesday night and goalkeeper Dayle Coleing will have been delighted to have kept another clean sheet in between the sticks.

Conor McMenamin is the last-gasp hero for Glentoran | Belfast News Letter
Acknowledgement: Belfast News Letter

Glentoran always get a tough game down at Dungannon but I think they’ll pick up a win here to keep their unbeaten run going and continue their strong assault for Europe and potentially more.

Stato’s Prediction: Dungannon Swifts 1-3 Glentoran

Player to Scout: Navid Nasseri (Linfield) and Marty Donnelly (Larne)

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.

Ahead of Friday’s big game at Windsor Park between Linfield and Larne, the man to look out for this week is Navid Nasseri from the Blues (pictured).

Spotlight On...Navid Nasseri - Catalyst PSM
Acknowledgement: Catalyst PSM

Nasseri played at the Manchester United Academy until the age of 16 before joining Birmingham City on a one year deal in the summer of 2014. Nasseri made eight appearances for Birmingham but never settled into the side and as a result moved on to join Macclesfield Town in 2016.

After trials at Swedish clubs AIK and GIF Sundsvall, Nasseri joined Syrianska before signing in the second half of the 2017-18 season for Gillingham (pictured).

He scored a goal in his first start for the club in March of that year against MK Dons but made just four further league appearances for the club before leaving in January 2019.

Navid Nasseri signs contract extension - News - Gillingham
A

After an unsuccessful trial with Dutch side RKC Waalwijk, Nasseri signed for Glentoran in October 2019. He scored on his debut in a 2-1 defeat to Coleraine but was part of the Glentoran side who magnificently won the Irish Cup final in 2020 beating Ballymena.

The day after winning the Irish Cup, however, Nasseri signed for Linfield.

The Iranian-Englishman has shown flashes of brilliance this season with two league goals for the Blues including a stunner away at Ballymena.

If he can replicate this on Friday night, Linfield will be in with a real chance of the three points.

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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