Irish Premiership: O'Carrroll expects Linfield to 'win league by six to 10 points'
Former Cliftonville and Crusaders striker Diarmuid O'Carroll says he expects leaders Linfield "to go on and win the league by six to 10 points".
The Blues lead Ballymena by six points at the top of the Premiership table, although United have a game in hand, with Crusaders three further adrift.
"I can't see beyond the Blues at this stage - it's Linfield's to lose.
"They have so much experience, quality and depth in their squad and have boys getting fit again," said O'Carroll.
"I tipped them from the start of the season, although I thought Crusaders would be their main challengers. They have a very stable team," added the 31-year-old.
Linfield host Glentoran at Windsor Park on Monday night.
Prior to that, O'Carroll will provide expert analysis on Cliftonville's game against Glenavon for BBC Radio Ulster's Sportsound programme on Saturday, with former Glentoran manager Scott Young assessing Ballymena's game with Ards at the Showgrounds.
Defensive record 'providing platform'
"Linfield are the best side I have seen this season - their defensive record (15 goals conceded in 26 league games) is incredible and that is proving the bedrock of their campaign," argued Young.
"Another big plus is that David Healy is starting to get the best out of young Jordan Stewart. He has talent in abundance. His attitude has not maybe always been the best but he seems to have knuckled down.
"They have a good spine to their team and I expect them to kick on and win the league.
"Having said that the job David Jeffrey has done at Ballymena is remarkable without anything like the budget of the likes of Linfield and Crusaders.
"He's doing an absolutely phenomenal job and has changed the philosophy and mindset of the club, bringing in young hungry players who are eager to grasp their opportunity.
"I'm very surprised they are where they are as they have no outstanding individuals, but they are fighting for their club, their badge and their manager."
European play-off rehearsal?
O'Carroll believes that Saturday's clash between sixth-placed Cliftonville, with interim manager Michael Press in charge for the first time, and fourth-placed Glenavon may be a "rehearsal for a European play-off later in the season".
"I think Cliftonville have been smart in putting two club guys in the backroom team there in Barry Johnston and Marc Smyth," explained the ex-Reds forward.
"Both of them are keen to develop young players and you might see a few completely new names in from the start who were previously on the periphery to freshen things up a bit.
"The departure of Mark Sykes has left a big hole in Glenavon's side and their squad is so young you get the impression they maybe lack a bit of depth."
Former Glens midfielder Young believes the departure of Barry Gray from the Solitude club was "kind of on the cards" and agrees that Glenavon manager Gary Hamilton is "not scared to give youth a chance".
"Cliftonville had a run of bad results and when you get the supporters on your back it's not a healthy situation.
"Offensively going forward they have some fantastic talent but their defence has been a weak point and the problem never seems to have been satisfactorily addressed for whatever reason.
"Glenavon fans have plenty to be excited about - everyone at Mourneview has to be pleased with how they're progressing and with the young players in their team.
"Gary has a knack of plucking players out of the lower leagues in the south of Ireland and getting the most out of them. A degree of inconsistency is inevitable when you have a young side."
Battling to avoid the drop
Newry City and Ards look to be becoming cut adrift at the foot of the table, with Darren Mullen's side enjoying a two-point cushion over Colin Nixon's charges.
"Ards had a good season last year but when you're losing players it's difficult to keep finding new ones and recycling the squad," said O'Carroll.
"Darren Mullen has done a fantastic job on next to no budget to build the club up from where they were and I think they would represent a tougher proposition for a Championship club to face in a promotion/relegation play-off."
Young believes Ards have made some good signings in the January transfer window but believes last week's 2-1 home defeat by Coleraine was "a hammer blow" to the top flight's basement side.
"They were very unlucky to win the game against Coleraine - they didn't deserve to lose and that would have been a huge three points and would have built confidence.
"It's about taking one game at a time for them. Colin can go to Ballymena with no pressure as they are not expected to win the game but Ballymena need to be careful as they could come a cropper."
|Danske Bank Irish Premiership - Saturday 26 January - 15:00 GMT|
|Live coverage on BBC Radio Ulster's Sportsound and text commentary on the BBC Sport website|
|Newry City||v||Warrenpoint Town|