Irish League 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
Coleraine v Crusaders1-12-0
Ballymena v Portadown2-12-1 (3pts)
Cliftonville v Glenavon1-02-1(1pt)
Dungannon v Larne1-20-2 (1pt)
Linfield v Carrick Rangers3-07-0 (1pt)
Warrenpoint Town v Glentoran1-30-2 (1pt)
Carrick Rangers v Larne (TUES)1-21-3 (1pt)
Glenavon v Glentoran (TUES)1-12-1
Linfield v Dungannon (TUES)3-02-0 (1pt)
Warrenpoint Town v Ballymena (TUES)1-21-1

From the six games played last weekend, I got five 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: Shayne Lavery (Linfield)…AGAIN!!

This man keeps the player of the week award again after two outstanding individual performances against Carrick Rangers and Dungannon Swifts respectively in which he netted four goals and assisted twice.

Yes folks, Shane Lavery (pictured) of Linfield wins my Player of the Week award for the fourth time this season and surely has to be the front runner for Player of the Season award in the Danske Bank Premiership.

The Northern Ireland U21 internationalist has been unplayable of late and in the two games this past week against Carrick and Dungannon, he terrorised both teams with his pace and quality, contributing with goals and assists.

Linfield’s sketchy start to 2021 seems a long time ago now and Lavery’s own individual brilliance has gone a long way to reasserting David Healy’s side’s control in the NIFL Premiership title race as the Blues pulled eight points clear of nearest challengers Coleraine.

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

Lavery has now moved clear in the goal scoring charts with 18 league goals so far this campaign, with 16 of those coming at Windsor Park.

As I said last week, Lavery loves the big stage and for me has to be moving into major consideration to start for the Northern Ireland senior team under Ian Barraclough.

He is that good and as his stats show, he is on fire right now!

Team of the Week: Linfield

A very easy choice this week!

Linfield, after scoring nine goals against Carrick and Dungannon to open up an eight point lead at the top, must win my team of the week award.

LINFIELD football club -- BELFAST n.irish | Irish football, British football,  Team badge

After their loss to Glentoran at the Oval at the start of March, it seemed like Linfield’s title defence had hit the skids. However, the response from David Healy’s side has been nothing short of relentless and ruthless.

The Blues have had four home games since then and have scored sixteen goals against Cliftonville, Warrenpoint, Carrick and Dungannon respectively, conceding nil. Their performances, particularly against Carrick was sensational. Linfield were clinical with their chances and were dominant throughout with Kirk Millar, Jordan Stewart and, that man Lavery, showing their class throughout.

People will comment and say Linfield should be winning these games but their form up until that point was variable to say the least and the Blues definitely had some critics to answer which they have done with aplomb.

Healy’s men have now tightened their grip on their defence of the title and they will take some stopping now as they bid to win yet another Gibson Cup.

Friday 19th March – Crusaders v Linfield, Seaview, KO 19.45, BBC Sport NI

This week’s Friday night game sees Linfield head to their Belfast rivals Crusaders hoping to continue their recent ruthless form.

Stephen Baxter’s side have had a very inconsistent period to the campaign and were well beaten last Friday night by Coleraine.

I have quietly been impressed with Jarath O’Rourke (pictured)however, who has been one of the Crues best players this season and seems to be making that left back area of the pitch his own.

He’s still developing having arrived from Dungannon Swifts a couple of seasons ago but is definitely on an upward trajectory.

Jarlath O'Rourke | NI Football League
Acknowledgment: Northern Irish Football League

Linfield, as mentioned, have been ruthless of late and it’s hard to see anyone stopping them at the moment.

Lavery, Stewart and Millar have been the Blues go to guys but newcomers Michael Newberry (pictured) and Cameron Palmer have stepped into the Linfield side and have not looked out of place.

They both scored in that rout at home to Carrick and I feel there is more to come from both players.

INTERVIEW | Michael Newberry speaks to Linfield TV | Linfield TV | The  Official Website of Linfield FC
Acknowledgement: Linfield FC

I am backing Linfield to make it a third straight victory over the Crues this season and further strengthen their position in the title race. Crusaders are just too inconsistent for me and it’s hard to predict which side is turning up at the moment.

With that in mind, I am going for the Blues to win by the same score line as the last meeting between the two sides here at Seaview. This would put Linfield 11 points clear at the top which would be almost impossible for others to usurp.

Stato’s Prediction: Crusaders 1-2 Linfield

Saturday 20th March – Coleraine v Carrick Rangers, Coleraine Showgrounds, KO 15.00, BBC Sport NI

Coleraine will be keen to continue their excellent form as they host Carrick Rangers at the Showgrounds on Saturday.

These two sides could not be going into this game in more contrasting fashion.

The Bannsiders are now fifteen games unbeaten and have jumped up to a comfortable second place in the league standings. Oran Kearney’s side were superb last Friday night against Crusaders. Matthew Shevlin (pictured) got his first goal for Coleraine and Aaron Jarvis’s well take strike sealed the points. It was a smashing performance, typified by the evergreen Stephen Lowry in the centre of midfield.

Signing: Matthew Shevlin | Coleraine FC
Acknowledgement: Coleraine FC

Carrick, on the other hand have been imploding.

The Amber Army have had a nightmare in recent matches shipping a whopping 25 goals from their last 8 matches including 5 at home to Glentoran and 7 away at Linfield last weekend.

It’s crucial that Niall Currie’s team get back to basics and make themselves tough to beat. Guys like captain Mark Surgenor (pictured) will be pivotal in how Carrick respond in their upcoming matches.

WELCOME WIN ON THE ROAD FOR CARRICK
Acknowledgement: Northern Irish Football League

I fancy Coleraine to notch up a comfortable win here. Kearney’s team have won both matches earlier in the campaign by an aggregate score of 5-0 and I think they’ll win by the same score line as they did at the Showgrounds earlier in the season.

Stato’s Prediction: Coleraine 3-0 Carrick Rangers

Saturday 20th March – Dungannon Swifts v Portadown, Stangmore Park, KO 19.45, BBC Sport NI

Both sides come into this game off the back of spirited performances last time out but ultimately Dungannon and Portadown lost last time out to Linfield and Ballymena respectively.

Dean Shiels has had a tough start to life at Stangmore Park but I think the former Rangers and Hibernian striker can be pleased with what he has seen from his side in both matches.

Rhyss Campbell (pictured) has looked sharp at the top end of the pitch and if they start to score a few goals I do think they’ll get a bit of confidence.

It’s quite clear Shiels wants his team to play with no fear.

Rhyss Campbell | NI Football League
Acknowledgement: Northern Irish Football League

Portadown played well last weekend at Ballymena and can perhaps feel slightly aggrieved not to have got a point.

Luke Wilson (pictured) took his goal well after a mix up in the Ballymena defence and you can see why clubs like Sheffield Wednesday are looking at him across the water.

Ultimately though, a naïve penalty conceded by Kevin Healy cost them the game at Ballymena. I thought it was harsh but that’s the way football goes sometimes.

Portadown midfielder Luke Wilson praises team spirit after winning award -  Belfast Live
Acknowledgement: Belfast Live

Portadown won the last meeting here 3-0 earlier in the season. However, I am tipping Dean Shiels to get his first point as Swifts boss in what could be an entertaining game at Stangmore. I’ll go for a four goal thriller.

Stato’s Prediction: Dungannon 2-2 Portadown

Saturday 20th March – Glenavon v Glentoran, Mourneview Park, KO 15.00, BBC Sport NI

These two sides meet at the same venue for the second time in a week as Glenavon and Glentoran face off again at Mourneview Park.

Glenavon showed great character to come back from a goal down to win that game on Tuesday night. Robert Garrett (pictured) epitomised the Lurgan Blues fighting spirit with an excellent goal and Matthew Fitzpatrick also put away his chance well.

It was a good response from Gary Hamilton’s men, not just in this game, but also to bounce back from the Cliftonville defeat last weekend. Glenavon were the better team in the second half but ultimately, were 2-0 down at that stage and gave themselves a mountain to climb despite Peter Campbell’s goal.

Glenavon put a dent in Glentoran's title hopes | Belfast News Letter
Acknowledgement: Newsletter

Glentoran will have been disappointed to have lost in midweek after taking the lead from Rory Donnelly.

Mick McDermott’s side were looking to kick on following that win over Warrenpoint on Saturday but in the second half on Tuesday night, they struggled to contain their opponents who played at a high level.

I hope Gael Bigirimana (pictured) continues his solid form in the side.

The former Newcastle and Rangers midfielder has had an up and down start to life in the Irish League but, recently, has shown good composure in possession and an eye for a killer pass.

Gael Bigirimana: I made mistakes at Newastle United but I'm at Glentoran to  win titles and enjoy success - BelfastTelegraph.co.uk
Acknowledgement: Belfast Telegraph

I fancy Glentoran to get their revenge on Saturday and beat Glenavon. McDermott will be desperate for his side to not lose any more ground and the Glens simply cannot afford to drop any points.

I think they’ll nick this by the odd goal.

Stato’s Prediction: Glenavon 1-2 Glentoran

Saturday 20th March – Larne v Cliftonville, Inver Park, KO 15.00, BBC Sport NI

Larne, who have steadied the ship of late with back to back wins, are at home this weekend as they face a Cliftonville side who have been going along nicely themselves.

Tiernan Lynch’s side had to dig in at Dungannon last weekend but came out 2-0 winners courtesy of David McDaid’s first goal of 2021 and Marty Donnelly’s (pictured) excellent free kick.

They also backed that up with a good derby win at Carrick on Tuesday night where Andy Mitchell’s penalty was the League’s 400th goal scored this season.

It’s been much more like it from the Inver Men of late as they aim to chase down a European spot.

Larne Football Club on Twitter: "𝓜𝓪𝓻𝓽𝔂 𝓓𝓸𝓷𝓷𝓮𝓵𝓵𝔂 🙌 How good is  this man?! 😍 📸 Bill Guiller #WeAreLarne #BeTheDifference… "
Acknowledgement: Larne Football Club

Cliftonville have been in fine form themselves after some useful results at Solitude including that 2-1 win over Glenavon last time out. Aaron Donnelly (pictured) took his goal well and Ryan Curran also got on the scoresheet for Paddy McLaughlin’s side.

They are quietly going about their business at present, even with club legend Joe Gormley still out injured.

Cliftonville FC on Twitter: "Confirmation tonight that Aaron Donnelly has  agreed a new contract and that Ciarán Caldwell has returned to the Club.…  https://t.co/alGYjOQIrE"
Acknowledgement: Cliftonville Football Club

Both sides have won the home meeting between the two sides and I think Saturday’s game will be pretty tight. However, I’m backing Larne to edge this.

Stato’s Prediction: Larne 2-1 Cliftonville

Saturday 20th March – Warrenpoint Town v Ballymena United, Milltown, KO 17.30, BBC Sport NI

This game is another match where both teams met earlier in the week as Warrenpoint and Ballymena meet again.

Warrenpoint did well to respond from that 2-0 defeat to Glentoran by gaining a useful point against the Sky Blues. Adam Carroll (pictured) got his first goal for the club with an excellent finish and is another one of these prospects to keep an eye on along with Kealan Dillon and Ryan Swan.

Warrenpoint Town FC on Twitter: "NEWS | Warrenpoint Town announce that Adam  Carroll has signed on a loan from Linfield until the end of the season.  Read more: https://t.co/WUTPb5Npfx… https://t.co/iZ3Ph2W1ax"
Acknowledgement; Warrenpoint Town Football Club

For Ballymena, it’s been another decent week.

They won against Portadown courtesy of a brilliant Shay McCartan free kick and Paul McElroy took his penalty well in the second half to see off a plucky Portadown side. Joe McCready was also in on in the act in midweek against Point with a quite brilliant finish.

David Jeffrey (pictured) has pulled off a masterstroke getting McCartan into the club. He’s been superb this season and for me could be the difference if Ballymena did squeeze into the top six.

Legendary Irish League manager David Jeffrey sees risk for northern clubs  in new cross border proposal - Belfast Live
Acknowledgement: Ballymena United Football Club/ Belfast Live

The midweek game was very close and competitive and there’s no doubt for me it’ll be a similar game here.

However, I back Ballymena to nick it due to having a shade more quality in their side. It’ll be close though.

Stato’s Prediction: Warrenpoint 1-2 Ballymena

Player to Scout: Rory Patterson (Dungannon Swifts)

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 veteran striker Rory Patterson of Dungannon Swifts (pictured).

Patterson started his career in Northern Ireland before training with current League One side Rochdale. After turning professional at the end of the 2002 season, Patterson’s debut came in October that same year as a substitute in a 1–0 loss at home to Bury in the Football League Trophy. Patterson made 15 appearances in total for the Spotland side where he was voted Young Player of the Year.

Double swoop makes it a high five for Swifts - Ulster Herald
Acknowledgement: Ulster Herald

After spending time at a range of clubs in the Football League and non league, Patterson joined Coleraine in 2009. In November that year, Patterson scored four times for the Bannsiders as they thrashed defending champions Glentoran 6-0 at the Oval. He finished that 2009/10 season with 41 goals for Coleraine, being named Ulster Footballer of the Year in the process.

Patterson would then join Glentoran in 2010 having signed a pre-contract agreement with the club earlier in the campaign. However, in the summer of that same year, Patterson had joined Plymouth Argyle, after impressing on trial earlier that season.

Derry City ace Rory Patterson ready for toughest of Europa League tasks  against FC Midtjylland
Acknowledgement: The Irish Sun

After spending time at Argyle, Patterson would return to Northern Ireland and join Linfield, hooking up with David Jeffrey on loan to the end of the season before joining Derry City in 2012 (pictured). Patterson would then go onto spend time in Australia and at FC United of Manchester before signing for Derry again in 2015. He would then go onto play for Crusaders, Ballymacash Rangers and Belfast Celtic before joining Dungannon in January.

You can find out more about Rory’s career by checking out Darren Potts’ interview with him on The Pottscast here. Patterson’s experience and goal scoring pedigree will be important if the Swifts are to get away from bottom spot in the table.

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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