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
Carrick Rangers v Glentoran0-20-5 (1pt)
Crusaders v Warrenpoint Town3-10-2
Dungannon Swifts v Coleraine1-22-3 (1pt)
Linfield v Cliftonville2-12-0 (1pt)
Portadown v Glenavon1-24-1
Ballymena v Larne1-11-1 (3pts)
Portadown v Glenavon (TUES)1-11-2
Carrick Rangers v Crusaders (TUES)0-21-3 (1pts)
Glentoran v Ballymena (TUES)2-10-2
Linfield v Warrenpoint Town (TUES)3-05-0 (1pt)

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

Player of the week: Shane Lavery (Linfield)

After two impressive performances against Cliftonville and Warrenpoint in which he netted three goals and assisted twice, Shane Lavery (pictured) of Linfield wins my Player of the Week award for the third time this season.

The Northern Ireland U21 internationalist has found some rich goal scoring form of late which has proved invaluable for the Blues after a sketchy start to 2021. However, Lavery’s brace against the Reds and his overall contribution in a 5-0 win against Barry Gray’s side from Milltown on Tuesday night has reasserted David Healy’s team’s control in the NIFL Premiership title race.

Former Everton youngster Shayne Lavery scores wonder goal in Thursday night  to remember - Liverpool Echo
Acknowledgement: Liverpool Echo

Lavery has now moved to joint top scorer in the NIFL Premiership charts with 14 League goals so far this season, tied with Coleraine’s Ben Doherty and 81% of Shayne Lavery’s 31 goals for Linfield have now been scored at Windsor Park. He loves the big stage!

There’s no doubt that his goals will be invaluable as we progress through the business end of what has been a captivating title campaign.

Team of the week: Ballymena United

After a week in which they took four points from matches at home to Larne and away at Glentoran, Ballymena United deservedly win this week’s Team of the Week award.

Ballymena United F.C. - Wikipedia

David Jeffrey’s side have had an up and down season but this week they put a spanner in two sides aspirations to challenging for the NIFL Premiership title. The Sky Blues played very well in a 1-1 draw at home to the Inver Men and surprised many by going to the Oval and coming out 2-0 winners against a Glentoran team who had been on a fabulous unbeaten run.

In both matches, Shay McCartan was influential going forward as was Trai Hume in defence but I was really impressed with Ross Redman and Tony Kane, who I talked up last week as my player to scout.

It looks a big ask for Jeffrey’s team to make the top six but there is no doubt that Ballymena will have a part to play in where the destination of the Gibson Cup will end up.

The Sky Blues are already having a say!

Friday 5th March – Coleraine v Crusaders, Coleraine Showgrounds, KO 19.30, BBC Sport NI

The Friday night game in this week’s NIFL Premiership card sees Coleraine, the form team in the league, host a Crusaders side who have had a real mixed bag of late.

Oran Kearney’s men continued their fine run with a gritty 3-2 win over Dungannon Swifts last time out. The Bannsiders rode their luck at times and got the rub of the green with a few big calls but got the job done and kept the pressure on at the top.

Ben Doherty (pictured) was on the scoresheet again as was Jamie Glackin who I really like seeing doing well.

Coleraine progress in Bet McLean League Cup - Alpha Newspaper Group
Acknowledgement: Ulster Gazette

It’s been a strange time of things for the Crues.

I don’t think many expected them to lose at home to Warrenpoint last Saturday but they got back on the bike well and won from a goal down at Taylor’s Avenue against Carrick on Tuesday night. It was good to see Jamie Mcgonigle back scoring and I was really chuffed to see Michael Ruddy (pictured) get a goal too. I’ve always liked watching Ruddy especially when he was at Ards.

Michael Ruddy | NI Football League
Acknowledgement: Northern Irish Football League

I think both teams need to win this game for slightly different reasons: The Bannsiders to keep the pressure on Linfield and the Crues to keep their rivals at arms length in the battle for Europe.

Ultimately, I fancy a score draw here which would be the first since 2018.

Stato’s Prediction: Coleraine 1-1 Crusaders

Saturday 6th March – Ballymena United v Portadown, Ballymena Showgrounds KO 15.00, BBC Sport NI

After a good couple of results this last week, Ballymena will hope to kick on against a Portadown side who have just come off the back of a Glenavon double header at Shamrock Park.

I watched much of Ballymena’s match with Larne last Saturday and thought they richly deserved a share of the spoils. I thought they had an identity to their game and really looked to make things happen in wide areas.

I think Ross Redman (pictured) is a quality player and I thought McCartan was outstanding on the night too.

Their win at Glentoran as well was also superb. I don’t think many gave them a chance but it was a big result for Ballymena and one that Jeffrey and his team should get plenty of credit for.

Ross Redman is proving doubters wrong, says Ballymena United chief -
Acknowledgement: Belfast Telegraph

Portadown got their first win at home on Saturday with a 4-1 demolition of Glenavon. They were superb on the day and blew the Lurgan Blues away with a swashbuckling display.

Four different goal scorers got in on the act on Saturday including Chris Lavery (pictured) who also scored in the second game sign Glenavon on Tuesday night.

I watched the second of those two games and thought it was a scrappy game not helped by the windy conditions.

Lavery Faces A Further 4 Weeks On The Sidelines - Portadown Football Club
Acknowledgement: Portadown Football Club

I expect this to be an interesting game at Ballymena on Saturday.

The Sky Blues have taken four points so far from the two meetings at Shamrock Park earlier in the campaign but they have been tight affairs and I think Saturday will be no different.

I fancy a narrow home win for Ballymena, but with no real confidence.

Stato’s Prediction: Ballymena United 2-1 Portadown

Saturday 6th March – Cliftonville v Glenavon, Solitude, KO 15.00, BBC Sport NI

Cliftonville will be desperate to bounce back from their derby defeat to Linfield last weekend but face a tough task as they face Glenavon.

The Reds played admirably for much of the game at Windsor and it could have been so different were it not for some last ditch defending from the Blues and a bit of magic from Shayne Lavery.

Aaron McCarey (pictured) has done well since coming in from the League of Ireland and looks to be the main man in between the sticks for Cliftonville. McCarey was decent at Ross County in Scotland as well so I hope he continues his solid form.

It’s been an interesting week off the pitch for Cliftonville too with Kris Lindsay taking a coaching role at the club. That’s a big boost for Paddy McLaughlin and all at Cliftonville in my eyes.

Cliftonville Football Club » Aaron McCarey
Acknowledgement: Cliftonville Football Club

Glenavon were well beaten by Portadown on Saturday but responded well on Tuesday to get their revenge. Lee McNulty’s red card which led to the penalty for Portadown to make it 2-0 gave Gary Hamilton’s men a mountain to climb that they never recovered from.

However, on Tuesday night they took advantage of the adverse weather conditions to exact their revenge.

I really like Andy Hall (pictured) and it was good to see him get a goal on Tuesday night. He’s had a succession of injuries and had fallen in and out of the team as a result. On his day, he’s a tremendous player.

Glenavon FC on Twitter: "💯 club for Andy Hall making his 100th Glenavon  appearance this afternoon… "
Acknowledgement: Glenavon FC on Twitter

I think this is two of the most inconsistent sides to watch this season. Both on their day can serve up brilliant performances and results and other times they don’t turn up and fall by the wayside.

Both matches finished 1-1 earlier in the season but I actually fancy the Reds to edge this though to swerve off the threat of Glenavon getting into the discussion for the top six.

Stato’s Prediction: Cliftonville 1-0 Glenavon

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

Dungannon, who are still bottom of the table, will hope to get back to winning ways this weekend as they take on Larne at Stangmore Park.

Dean Shiels (pictured) will make his debut in the Dungannon dugout and I really wish him well. It’s an interesting way that the Swifts are going but I hope it works out for the club long term.

Last weekend against Coleraine, they did so well to recover from behind twice and only a bit of magic from Ben Doherty denied them what would have been a good result.

The penalty given against Roy Carroll right at the start of the second half was a laugh. For me, it was never a penalty in a million years!

Dean Shiels appointed Dungannon Swifts boss | Belfast News Letter
Acknowledgement: Belfast News Letter

Larne come into this game needing a win but I think they’ll be encouraged by their second half display at Ballymena on Saturday. Tiernan Lynch’s side looked better once Ronan Hale (pictured) came off the bench and he took his goal well after good build up play from Tomas Cosgrove.

The Inver Men do miss Marty Donnelly though and could do with him back as soon as possible as he offers that something magical.

Invermen snap up Ronan Hale - Larne FC
Acknowledgement: Larne Football Club

Dungannon have been beaten 3-0 twice by Larne already this season and have not scored a goal against the Inver Men since their top flight return.

I think it will be a closer game here but I fancy Lynch’s team to narrowly nick this by the odd goal.

Stato’s Prediction: Dungannon 1-2 Larne

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

Linfield will be keen to continue their fine form as they host Carrick at Windsor Park on Saturday.

The Blues were under fire after disappointing performances and results of late but got back on track with wins over Cliftonville and Warrenpoint, keeping two clean sheets as well. Shane Lavery grabbed the headlines but Jordan Stewart (pictured) and Jimmy Callacher were immense again and Andy Waterworth was back in amongst the goals as well.

Jordan Stewart makes dream return with winner as Linfield chase Celtic  clash - Eurosport
Acknowledgement: Eurosport

Carrick have had a tough week.

They were given a footballing lesson by Glentoran last Friday night shipping five first half goals and on Tuesday, they conceded sloppy goals to go down 3-1 at home to Crusaders.

I feel sorry for Niall Currie (pictured) in many regards. His side have a lot of injuries at the moment and they have not been able to pick a settled team. For a part time side, and having to cope with potential COVID outbreaks, that must be tough.

He’ll see this game at Windsor Park on Saturday as a free hit and if they play like they did in the last meeting between the two sides where they drew 1-1, who knows what can happen.

I'm a summer guy': Niall Currie lends support to Irish League season switch  after win over Crusaders continues Carrick's good form -
Acknowledgement: Belfast Telegraph

I fancy Linfield though to kick on and make a big stride towards defending their league title.

After their early year blip, it seems like they are back on track and I think they’ll win again on Saturday to strength their grip.

Stato’s Prediction: Linfield 3-0 Carrick Rangers

Saturday 6th March – Warrenpoint Town v Glentoran, Milltown, KO 15.00, BBC Sport NI

Warrenpoint, who have had a really interesting week, play their third consecutive match against a side from the capital, as they host a Glentoran side at Milltown on Saturday.

Barry Gray’s side were superb in their 2-0 win at Seaview against Crusaders and Ryan Swan (pictured) shone with an impressive opening goal. I also thought Andy Coleman was excellent and inspired in goal and is definitely putting up a good fight with Gabriel Sava for the number one jersey at the club.

Unfortunately on Tuesday night, the Point could not make it a Belfast double as they were swept aside by Linfield 5-0.

Warrenpoint Town FC » 15 Ryan Swan
Acknowledgement: Warrenpoint Town Football Club

Glentoran were flying high after their masterclass against Carrick on Friday night. Jay Donnelly (pictured) was in fantastic form with a brace and everything Mick McDermott’s men did at Taylor’s Avenue was working perfectly.

Unfortunately though, their superb run came to a shuddering halt after losing at home to Ballymena. I don’t think many saw that one coming.

Jay Donnelly thanks fans after making Glentoran debut - Belfast Live
Acknowledgement: Belfast Live

The last time the two teams met, Warrenpoint got a creditable 0-0 draw at the Oval.

However, I fancy the Glens to bounce back on Saturday at Milltown. McDermott will be keen to get a reaction from his side after Tuesday night and I think they’ll win by two clear goals.

Stato’s Prediction: Warrenpoint Town 1-3 Glentoran

Player to Scout: Jamie McGonigle (Crusaders)

Each week, I offer my readers an opportunity to go and scout a player ahead of the Irish League games this weekend. This week, I am picking Crusaders winger Jamie McGonigle (pictured).

Game Changer with Crusaders striker Jamie McGonigle: From Irish League  debut to Irish Cup final joy (and agony) - Belfast Live
Acknowledgement: Belfast Live

McGonigle started his career at Dungiven Celtic before moving on to Coleraine in 2015 where he played under the stewardship of Oran Kearney. McGonigle was in superb goal scoring form for the Bannsiders having netted 65 goals in 179 appearances for the team from Ballycastle Road and being a main player in the side who won the Irish Cup in 2018.

Coleraine's Jamie McGonigle picks his 5-a-side Dream Team - Belfast Live
Acknowledgement: Belfast Live

In 2019, McGonigle swapped Coleraine for Crusaders for a fee of £60,000, still to date, a Northern Ireland record.

McGonigle has created history so far in his career by scoring the fastest hat-trick in an Irish league competition, scoring five in total, in an 8-1 win overt Sirocco Works, which took him just three minutes to accomplish.

McGonigle has also been a Northern Ireland U21 player having been called up in 2017 and has made five appearances.

McGonigle will be keen to get one over his old team on Friday night and has scored in two previous meetings against Coleraine, though ended up on the losing side on both occasions. Will he be luckier on Friday night? Tune into the game on the BBC Sport NI website to find out.

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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