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
Linfield v Larne1-02-1 (1pt)
Carrick Rangers v Cliftonville1-20-1 (1pt)
Coleraine v Warrenpoint Town3-02-1 (1pt)
Crusaders v Glenavon2-10-1
Portadown v Ballymena United1-11-2
Dungannon Swifts v Glentoran1-30-1 (1pt)
Glentoran v Linfield (TUES)1-13-1
Coleraine v Portadown (TUES)2-02-0 (3pts)
Ballymena United v Cliftonville (TUES)2-11-1
Glenavon v Carrick Rangers (TUES)2-11-1
Larne v Crusaders (TUES)2-20-3
Warrenpoint v Dungannon Swifts (TUES)1-04-1 (1pt)

From the six games played last weekend, I got four correct outcomes with no perfect scores. Not a bad return! I picked up four points from the matches on Tuesday evening with one perfect score and two correct outcomes. Let’s see if I can fare as well, or better, in this weekend’s matches.

Player of the week: Rhys Marshall (Glentoran)

For terrific performances against Dungannon and Linfield this week, Glentoran’s Rhys Marshall (pictured, right) gets my player of the week award.

The Glens winger has struggled for consistency since arriving in the January transfer window from Shamrock Rovers. However, after assisting Rory Donnelly’s only goal of the game in their win at Stangmore Park on Saturday night, Marshall followed that up with another man of the match showing against bitter rivals Linfield at the Oval in an impressive 3-1 win on Tuesday night.

Conor McMenamin key again as Glentoran pile misery on Linfield with another  Big Two win - BelfastTelegraph.co.uk
Acknowledgement: Belfast Telegraph

It’s five wins in a row now for Mick McDermott’s side. The Glens have also scored nine times in that run, conceding just twice.

It’s been a collective masterclass from Glentoran to get themselves involved in the title shakeup especially after the rotten start they had to the season where they only picked up six points from their first twenty one available.

They are just nine points behind Linfield now in what has been a remarkable turnaround in fortunes for the East Belfast outfit.

Marshall, and teammates such as Conor McMenamin and Jay Donnelly, have been excellent of late and with two games in hand on all of the sides above them (and four over Cliftonville in 5th), Glentoran are the dark horse to keep an eye on in this ever developing title race.

Team of the week: Coleraine

The easiest option for team of the week this week should be Glentoran after their excellent few results but Coleraine get my vote this week after two excellent wins at home themselves to keep the pressure on Linfield at the top.

Coleraine FC

Whilst Glentoran’s form has been outstanding of late, Oran Kearney’s side are still ticking over nicely after another couple of solid results this week. The Bannsiders got over the line 2-1 at home to Warrenpoint with Curtis Allen netting a double and in midweek, the returning Ben Doherty did the same, netting two penalties to secure a 2-0 win over Portadown at the Showgrounds.

Coleraine’s run has been remarkable.

They have not lost since that 2-0 away defeat at Dungannon back in early December and are on a 13 game unbeaten run in the division. The Bannsiders may not be the most prolific team in the league but they are economical when they do score. They have the second best defence (20 conceded) in the division with only the Glens conceding less goals at this stage (16).

Do not rule out Kearney and his side making a surge for the title. They are on fire right now and it will take a massive effort to stop them continuing this fine form.

It’s not a done deal that the Gibson Cup is heading Belfast way.

Friday 5th March – Carrick Rangers v Glentoran, Taylor’s Avenue, KO 19.30, BBC Sport NI

Friday night’s game this week sees the impressive Glentoran travel to Taylor’s Avenue to take on a Carrick side who picked up a creditable draw away at Glenavon on Tuesday night.

Carrick battled well in midweek to get that point at Mourneview Park. They led through Daniel Kelly’s goal early on in the game but played a good hour with ten men following Chris Rodgers’ sending off. They did concede to Colin Coates’ equalising goal but goalkeeper Aaron Hogg was the hero at the end for the Amber Army as he saved Michael O’Connor’s penalty late on.

Carrick Rangers on Twitter: "Everyone at @CarrickRangers wishes our  goalkeeper Aaron Hogg a speedy recovery after picking up an injury during  yesterday's #DanskeBankPrem victory over @Institute_FC. We hope to see you  in
Acknowledgement: Carrick Rangers on Twitter

Carrick played admirably in this match and against Cliftonville at the weekend where they narrowly went down 1-0 to the Reds. Kurtis Forsythe’s red card was slightly harsh in my view and Reece Glendinning was so unlucky not to score when his pile driver hit the cross bar in the second half.

Glentoran are flying right now and it does seem like a well oiled machine under Mick McDermott at the moment.

Conor McMenamin (pictured) and players such as Jay Donnelly (also pictured) have been outstanding but a word must also go to how resolute the Glens have been defensively too. Dayle Coleing continues to impress me in goal and so does Luke McCullough who has been a real warrior alongside Patrick McClean at the heart of the Glentoran defence.

Conor McMenamin off the mark as Glentoran beat Portadown to hit top half -  BelfastTelegraph.co.uk
Acknowledgement: Belfast Telegraph

Carrick always give the big teams a tough test as they did when they played Linfield earlier this season but I just cannot see where the Glens are slipping up at present. I think Niall Currie’s side will compete well but I think Glentoran’s quality will show and they will win this game by a couple of goals.

Stato’s Prediction: Carrick Rangers 0-2 Glentoran

Saturday 6th March – Crusaders v Warrenpoint Town, Seaview, KO 15.00, BBC Sport NI

Off the back of an extremely impressive win at Larne on Tuesday night, Crusaders are back at Seaview on Saturday as they host Warrenpoint Town, who themselves had an excellent win in midweek at home to Dungannon Swifts.

It’s been a mixed week for the Crues.

They were beaten late on by Glenavon at Seaview having spent the second half with ten men following Aidan Wilson’s red card. However, their response on Tuesday night was sensational as they swept aside Larne 3-0 with Adam Lecky (pictured) netting a hat-trick.

It was a stunning display by him and Crusaders as they blew Tiernan Lynch’s side away in style, producing a result which I am sure not many could have seen happening.

Crusaders and Ballymena United in striker swap deal with Adam Lecky off to  Seaview - Belfast Live
Acknowledgement: Belfast Live

Warrenpoint had a great win in midweek at home to Dungannon as Alan O’Sullivan (pictured) netted twice in a 4-1 win. The Point missed big chances to get a draw at Coleraine at the weekend but they showed a superb response to cruise past the Swifts.

Barry Gray’s side have been excellent this season and for me have been one of the most improved teams in the league. It’s been a joy to watch their progress.

Warrenpoint Town striker Alan O'Sullivan placed on transfer list - Belfast  Live
Acknowledgement: Belfast Live

Sadly though, I am backing Stephen Baxter’s team to pick up the three points here in a game which they should be winning if they want to make a title charge of their own.

I think Warrenpoint will push them but the Crues will win this by two clear goals.

Stato’s Prediction: Crusaders 3-1 Warrenpoint Town

Saturday 6th March – Dungannon Swifts v Coleraine, Stangmore Park, KO 15.00, BBC Sport NI

It’s not been a great season for Dungannon but this weekend they host a side who they have beaten already this season, Coleraine, at Stangmore Park.

Dixie Robinson is continuing to give youth a chance which is excellent to see.

Along with Portadown, the Swifts have played seven teenagers in the league so far this season, the most in the division. However, their naivety is there on too many occasions and it cost them again in midweek as they conceded two penalties, four goals and lost Rian Devlin (pictured) to a red card late on.

The Swifts did perform well against Glentoran last Saturday but despite hitting the woodwork in the second half, Dungannon did not create too much chances after they went 1-0 down. They have only scored twelve goals all season so far and simply need to be scoring more.

Terry Devlin (@TerryDevlin11) | Twitter
Acknowledgement: Terry Devlin/ Dungannon FC on Twitter

Coleraine cannot do anything wrong at the moment and seem to be enjoying themselves on and off the pitch.

Ben Doherty (pictured) was back in midweek against Portadown and that will be a big boost for Oran Kearney and his team. Doherty’s two penalties moved him onto a dozen goals in all competitions this season, a great return from the midfielder. He’s the current top scorer too having been out for around two months with injury. Astonishing!

Curtis Allen has found his goal scoring touch in front of goal too and defensively the Bannsiders have been excellent as I’ve mentioned earlier.

Coleraine did lose 2-0 here earlier in the season but Kearney’s side are a different animal these days.

Ben Doherty (@ben_doherty16) | Twitter
Acknowledgement: Ben Doherty on Twitter

I think Dungannon will respond from the demolition they received at Milltown in midweek but I think Coleraine will narrowly win this game to leave Robinson still searching for that elusive first points in charge.

It would also keep Coleraine very much on the heels of Linfield ahead of their match with Crusaders next.

Stato’s Prediction: Dungannon 1-2 Coleraine

Saturday 6th March – Linfield v Cliftonville, Windsor Park, KO 15.00, BBC Sport NI

The Champions will be desperate to lick their wounds following that 3-1 defeat away at The Oval on Tuesday night and on Saturday, Linfield will hope to get back to winning ways against another one of their bitter rivals: Cliftonville.

It’s been a really strange period from Linfield with David Healy saying that they were “beaten by a hungrier and better team” in Glentoran on Tuesday night. It was a real contrast to their performance against Larne last Friday night when they were dynamic and determined right across the pitch.

One player I’ve noticed struggling lately is goalkeeper Chris Johns (pictured). I really like Johns and was impressed when he was at Coleraine under Oran Kearney.

However, since joining the Blues, I’ve not been convinced by his performances. I’m not sure if it’s consistency or the fact Healy has chopped and changed his defence a lot of late but the Linfield goalkeeper has definitely looked uncomfortable in matches I’ve watched this season.

A goalkeeper needs a strong and communicative defence in front of him but when that changes on a regular basis, it can be very difficult to create a unified understanding.

Linfield need to get the balance right because their title defence is very much on the line after their recent inconsistencies.

Chris Johns bemoans Linfield's inability to capitalise on rivals' slips in  'toughest ever' league season - BelfastTelegraph.co.uk
Acknowledgement: Belfast Telegraph

Cliftonville may have played more games than any other team in the league but their purple patch continued as they went six games unbeaten with a 1-1 draw at Ballymena to back up a 1-0 away win at Carrick Rangers.

Chris Curran (pictured) recently celebrated 300 games for the Reds, a phenomenal accomplishment for the consistent midfielder. His performances and goals are always welcomed and there is no doubt he has been a factor for Cliftonville’s upturn of late. His name sake, Ryan, has also found the goal scoring touch in front of goal lately too.

Cliftonville captain Chris Curran desperate for more medals - Belfast Live
Acknowledgement: Belfast Live

It’s been three years since the Reds beat the Blues at Windsor Park and you feel coming into this game, Paddy McLaughlin’s side will fancy their chances of ending that barren run especially after they won the most recent meeting 4-3 at Solitude.

However, whenever there is a question asked of Linfield, they usually find the answer and I think David Healy’s men win this to get a much needed three points.

Stato’s Prediction: Linfield 2-1 Cliftonville

Saturday 6th March – Portadown v Glenavon, Shamrock Park, KO 15.00, BBC Sport NI

Portadown are still searching for that elusive first win of the season at home but this weekend they face Glenavon in what is the first of two double headers!

The Ports were outstanding on the opening day of the season when they won the reverse fixture 4-2 at Mourneview Park. However, the Ports have not had many more positive days like that one and could do with a similar result and performance here.

Ben Tilney (pictured) continues to impress since joining from Larne and there is no doubt he’ll be up for it here as will his fellow Portadown teammates.

Portadown is 'a fantastic place to play' says loan signing Ben Tilney -  BelfastTelegraph.co.uk
Acknowledgement: Belfast Telegraph

Glenavon continued their unbeaten run in midweek with a second consecutive 1-1 draw against Carrick Rangers to back up their impressive 1-0 win at Crusaders on Saturday.

I think the Lurgan Blues will be slightly disappointed they did not win in midweek after Michael O’Connor (pictured) missed from the penalty spot late on but Gary Hamilton’s men are still in a good position to challenge for the top six.

They are eight points behind Cliftonville in 5th but have four games in hand over Paddy McLaughlin’s side. They have Portadown twice and Glentoran twice to play in their next five matches as well as Cliftonville themselves so there is plenty to play for for the Mourneview side.

Michael O'Connor: 'I can't wait to get going' – Glenavon Football Club
Acknowledgement: Glenavon FC

Derby games are usually hotly contested between these two and I am backing a tight game here with Hamilton’s men continuing their strong form by picking up an away victory by the odd goal.

Stato’s Prediction: Portadown 1-2 Glenavon

Saturday 6th March – Ballymena United v Larne, Ballymena Showgrounds, KO 17.30, BBC Sport NI

The Saturday night live game sees Ballymena, who have found a little bit of a resurgence of late, take on a Larne team who will be licking their own wounds following their drubbing at home by Crusaders in midweek.

David Jeffrey’s men are back on the bike after picking up a win and a draw in their last two matches at Portadown and at home to Cliftonville to arrest a poor run of form. Shay McCartan once again impressed in both matches and so did Josh Kelly (pictured) who recently celebrated his 50th appearance for the Sky Blues.

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

Larne’s season is imploding in front of their very eyes it seems and yet, one win could see them right back in this title race.

It’s one win in six now for Tiernan Lynch’s side with three straight defeats for Larne who have now slid from being Linfield’s closest challengers to six points off the top, level on points with Crusaders and Cliftonville.

Larne do need to be careful to not let what was a superb start to the season peter out.

They still have a great chance to finish in Europe which would be positive but if they continue this poor run of form, sides such as Glentoran and Glenavon will overtake them.

Kenny Bruce has been talking about improvement and consistency but, for me, the only way there will be an improvement on last season for Larne is to qualify for Europe and if they failed to do that it would be, in my brutal opinion, a failure, especially considering the budget and resources they have.

The Inver Men will be without usual starter Fuad Sule (pictured) for this game after his red card against Crusaders in midweek. His actions were totally out of character for him and there is no doubt he’ll be a big miss on Saturday.

Hard work paying off for Larne says Fuad Sule | Belfast News Letter
Acknowledgement: Belfast News Letter

I expect this to be a close game. Ballymena were the first side to beat Larne this season and the Inver Men will be keen to exact revenge from that last meeting between the two sides. Since Larne came back to the top flight though, Ballymena have yet to defeat them at the Showgrounds.

With that in mind, I am going to go for a score draw.

Stato’s Prediction: Ballymena 1-1 Larne

Player to Scout: Tony Kane (Ballymena)

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.

This week, it is Ballymena’s ever consistent full back and leader Tony Kane (pictured).

Ballymena United Football Club Official News - Transfer Dealings
Acknowledgement: Ballymena United Football Club’ Tony (centre) with Brian McLoughlin (left) and manager David Jeffrey (right)

Kane started his youth career at Blackburn Rovers in 2004 (pictured) and was subsequently a member of the squad that won the Academy League that same season. Kane would become a regular member of the Blackburn reserve side, signing a two-year contract in 2006.

Kane would play on loan at Stockport County before joining Belgian outfit Cercle Brugge in 2007 on another loan deal where on his first appearance, he was voted man of the match in a 2-0 win against Zulte Waregem. 

Tony Kane - Ballymena United | Player Profile | Sky Sports Football
Acknowledgement: Sky Sports

After leaving Belgium, Kane spent two years at Carlisle United before being released to Cliftonville. Whilst at the Reds, he scored eleven minutes into his league debut – a 2-0 victory away at Newry City.

He then moved on in 2011 to Ballymena where he has been ever since. His debut got off to a disappointing start with a late red card against Lisburn Distillery but he has since then been a class act on and off the pitch for the Sky Blues.

The full-back turned central midfielder (pictured) has become one of the most decorated players in Ballymena’s history, winning the League Cup in 2017 and two County Antrim Shield titles in 2012 and 2016. Kane has also played in two European campaigns in 2017 and 2019. He is a renowned dead ball specialist and his most successful campaign in 2016/17 saw him score 21 goals from midfield.

Ballymena United hit with injury concern ahead of League Cup final -  Belfast Live
Acknowledgement: Belfast Live

Kane currently has notched 48 goals for Ballymena and two more strikes which would take him into the top 25 in the all-time charts for the club.

Last weekend, Tony Kane marked a landmark 350th game for Ballymena United in their 2-1 away win at Portadown. Kane is one of only nine players to achieve the feat so far for the Sky Blues. A phenomenal accomplishment.

Kane and Ballymena will be hopeful their recent positive results will continue against Larne on Saturday night.

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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