Match of the Round
South Cardiff FC (5th) vs. Thornton Redbacks (3rd)
Sunday 12th August, 2:30pm, Ulinga Oval
In the final round of the season, the football gods have smiled upon the league in giving fans an absolute blockbuster to decide this year’s finals positions.
South Cardiff will host Thornton this Sunday with only two outcomes possible – win and they’re in the finals; lose, and their season is over.
Although Thornton sit in third with an impressive goal differential, their spot in the finals is at risk if West Wallsend pick up a point or three on Saturday, however, in a sign that proves how close the competition has been this year, gaining a victory could see even them finish in second.
In the reverse fixture, the Gunners’ Nathan McCallister haunted his old side with a double to steal a point in that 2-2 draw, and if he performs in that fashion again, he may not only knock his ex-team out of finals competition, but also attain the Golden Boot which sees three other players currently all equal at the top (16).
The last time South Cardiff qualified for any finals series was back in 2011 when they qualified for the NPL Grand Final, while if the Redbacks can retain their spot in the four, it’ll be the second continuous year in the finals, and they could potentially be up against Cooks Hill once again in the final four.
Thornton coach Gary Wand said that although their fate may be decided by the result in the West Wallsend-Belswans game, his team are focused on making sure they get the win.
“If we can’t get up for this one, we don’t deserve to be there,” Wand admitted.
“If Westy get beat on Saturday we’re in, but we certainly don’t want to finish fourth anyway if we can help it.
“The attitudes around the side have definitely changed.
“There’s a bit of nervous energy around the place with big games coming up.
“There’s no coming back from this one if we lose.”
With the potential of their season ending looming over their heads, Wand said that regardless of the result, he still felt this season has been a successful one.
“If we weren’t to make semis, it’d be disappointing given we were sitting second for more than three quarters of the year,” Wand said.
“But if you had told me at the start of the season we were going to finish fifth with such a young, inexperienced and new team that we have, I’d be pretty happy.”
South Cardiff’s coach Denis Fajkovic was confident his team could grab the victory, and that although his opponents only need a draw to survive, he wasn’t expecting a defensive display from them.
“Everyone is excited. There’s no injuries so we’re looking alright,” Fajkovic said.
“I hope they go out for a draw. That’d be perfect. If they go out for a draw, we’ve just got to worry about scoring, but I don’t think they’ll approach it that way.
“They’ve based their season on good attack, so I don’t think they’ll sit back and invite us, but if they do that, it’d be perfect because I think our attack can get them.
“It’s all in our own hands.”
West Wallsend Bluebells (4th) vs. Belmont-Swansea United (2nd)
Saturday 11th August, 2:30pm, Johnston Park
Belswans travel to West Wallsend this weekend, and although their spot in the finals is sealed, their opponents is anything but.
The Bluebells haven’t featured in the finals since 2013, and a win this Saturday would see them make a much-awaited return, however, a draw or loss could see them tumble out, depending on the result of South Cardiff v Thornton.
The visitors won’t be taking it easy though as although they are booked in for finals, their placing is not secure. If they lose and Thornton win, they’ll drop down to fourth place and will have a date with the premiers.
Belswans were able to grab a close 2-1 victory over West Wallsend in the earlier game this year, a match that features as part of their 13-game unbeaten streak they’re enjoying.
Things have been looking good for West Wallsend too though lately, as they’ve won four of their last five matches and in those matches they’ve scored a whopping 24 goals.
Belswans coach Josh Rufo said that his side were aware of the challenge West Wallsend will be bringing, but that they are still completely focused on what their own game plans.
“From our end, nothing has really changed – we’re still only focused on us,” Rufo confessed.
“I’m expecting it to be the toughest match we’ve played, and I think it’s the perfect time for it as we head into the finals.
“After Round 5 we were last, and now near the end we’re second, so we’re just worried about what we can do, and all the rest can sit back and enjoy us.
During the week, Belswans announced club stalwart Mick Stafford, as Rufo’s replacement as Head Club of the club, but Rufo said that despite departing at the season’s end, going out on a winner isn’t his main priority.
“We’re working very hard to win, not for me, but for the team. That’s the most important thing,” Rufo said.
“If we keep working as hard as we have been, and the players keep following the instructions, then anything can happen.”
Cooks Hill United (1st) vs. Toronto Awaba Stags (11th)
Saturday 11th August, 2:30pm, Lyall Peacock Field
It’s been complete polar opposites for both these teams this season as Cooks Hill have performed tremendously winning their second straight premiership and currently enjoying a 13-game undefeated streak in which they’ve only drawn twice, while Toronto have been terrible as they’ve lost their last 10 games, leading them to capturing the wooden spoon.
The Stags’ defence has been their Achilles heel this year, averaging more than four conceded goals a game, and it’ll need to be their area of focus as they come up against a Cooks Hill team who’s scored more than 60 goals for a second consecutive season, as well as put 10 past them in their last meeting.
Two of those men who featured on the scoresheet that day were Lee Ashton and Nick Russell who are both level on 16 goals, along with two others, at the top of the Golden Boot tally and if they can notch up another mammoth victory, they would both surely be strong candidates to win the award.
Having experienced one of the worst seasons in club history though, Toronto will be focused to attempt to finish the season on a high, and a win over Cooks Hill would certainly be held as one of the biggest upsets in league history.
New Lambton FC (9th) vs. Wallsend FC (6th)
Sunday 12th August, 2:30pm, Alder Park
Last weekend, Wallsend’s finals hopes came to a shattering end at home at the hands of the premiers, but they still have the potential to move up the table and finish as high as possible, as do New Lambton who’s season unfortunately never really got started.
The Red Devils can finish as high as fifth win a win, while the Eagles could find themselves in seventh, though neither side will want to finish their season with a loss.
New Lambton pulled off a big upset in the last fixture between these two teams, winning 3-1 at The Gardens, and in recent weeks have been finding victories having won three of their last five.
They’re coming up against a team with one of the best records when playing away from home this season. In the 11 matches Wallsend have played away from The Gardens, they’ve only lost three, and only against teams that are now featuring in the top four.
One accomplishment that is on the line this weekend is the Golden Boot that Wallsend forward Ty Goldsmith is currently fighting for against three others. A win for Wallsend will most likely mean a goal or two for Goldsmith and potentially result in him grabbing the award in just his first season.
Cessnock City Hornets (8th) vs. Kahibah FC (10th)
Sunday 12th August, 2:30pm, Turner Park
It’s been a dramatic change for both these teams in comparison to where they were this time last season. In 2017, Kahibah were touted as premiership contenders and Cessnock had no wins, however, 2018 has seen Kahibah struggled immensely from the word ‘go’, while although they look to finish in eighth, Cessnock have surprised this year and have enjoyed much more success than that of previous years.
One statistic that does work in the Green and Blacks’ favour is the fact that they haven’t been beaten by more than three goals this year (Round 16 vs Belswans) despite sitting in second last. Close games have been the story of their year, and when they faced Cessnock in the earlier game, a 1-1 draw ensued.
Expect both teams to come out firing this weekend, as neither will want to end their season with a loss.
Singleton Strikers (7th) have the bye.