Match of the Round
Singleton Strikers (3rd) vs. West Wallsend Bluebells SFC (6th)
Sunday 3rd June, 2:30 pm, Howe Park
As the league travels past its half-way point, Round 12’s Match of the Round features two sides who many predicted to entertain uneventful and disappointing seasons.
Instead, Singleton has blown away many of their opponents and sit in third place having lost only one match which was to the league leaders, while West Wallsend sits just outside the top four and well within contention of playing finals football in 2018.
When these two teams faced one another earlier in the year an even draw ensued, however, this time around, the Strikers are in hot form and host the Bluebells having not lost a match in eight appearances, and on the other hand, West Wallsend have lost the past three consecutive fixtures.
Howe Park has proven to be a tough place for the Bluebells to visit – their last victory at the venue was way back in June 2013 – and Gary Rowe’s side will be extremely keen to buck that trend.
Singleton’s coach David Willoughby stated that despite West Wallsend have been out of form recently, he’s aware that it will be a tough clash.
“I’m expecting Gary [Rowe] to have them fired up. In fairness, I think they’ll be pretty desperate to get a roll on,” Willoughby said.
“It’s really critical for them to start the game positively and we’re expecting them to come out a thousand miles an hour to dictate terms.
“In my time, West Wallsend have been very well organised and hard to beat…we’re going to try and press them high and put their passing game under pressure.”
Belmont-Swansea United (7th) vs. Cooks Hill United (1st)
Saturday 2nd June, 2:30 pm, Blacksmiths Oval
It’s the second Grand Final rematch of the season and while Cooks Hill has performed like many initially forecasted, the other 2017 Grand Finalists, Belswans, have struggled.
The Cookers hold a seven-point lead at the top of the table and have shown their dominance once again since coach Graham Law’s return.
With Law on the sidelines, his side has only conceded two goals in six games and scored 25, but their rivals across the lake have also started to showcase some form despite a slow start.
Belswans are now four games undefeated and sit just three points outside the top four despite having the worst attack in the competition.
Since Cooks Hill joined the competition in 2015, they’ve only managed to win at Blacksmiths Oval once highlighting the competitiveness experienced between these two rivals.
Belswans’ coach Josh Rufo admitted that even though Cooks Hill had strengths all across the park, his team’s attention was still purely on their own game and to continue developing as a stronger squad.
“To be honest, we’re only focused on us. There’s still a lot of things we need to get right to get us to the level that we want to be at, so we’re not too focused on the opposition, we’re only focusing on what we can control,” Rufo said.
“The best eleven will play, and it’s everybody else’s job to try and get into that eleven. If players want to be a part of it, they’ll compete for it.”
When asked where his side may beat the league leaders, Rufo replied with an interesting statement.
“A wise man once told me, you can’t play football without your legs.”
“That can be taken a couple of different ways, so I’ll leave it to other people to try and figure that out.”
Thornton Redbacks FC (2nd) vs. Cessnock City Hornets (5th)
Saturday 2nd June, 2:30 pm, Thornton Park
When this local derby took place in Round 1, both Thornton and Cessnock flexed their defensive muscles to result in a 0-0 draw, and they’ve both been doing the same ever since.
Both sides have two of the best defensive records in the competition, however, in attack, the Redbacks have been much more clinical resulting in them now sitting in 2nd place at the half-way point of the season.
With the arrival of coach Brendan Slade and a multitude of new signings, the Hornets have flourished compared to their last few seasons, however, history is not on their side when they travel to Thornton Park.
It’s been over six years since Cessnock last won at Thornton, and they’ll be facing a side who, so far this year, has been the only team to not concede more than two goals in a match.
Thornton coach Gary Wand stated he had been impressed with certain parts of Cessnock’s game but was still confident that his side was strong enough to beat them still time around.
“They’re [Cessnock] getting better all the time,” Wand said.
“I don’t think they’ve been scoring quite as well as they would like, but it only takes one goal to turn that around.”
“They’ve got a good midfield…Isaac is a good 10 and drifts well in and out of play. I think he and Kyle Williams will probably be guys to watch out for.”
“If we can click, we’ll be fine. We’ve created a few chances, we just haven’t been able to take them.”
“We’re not going to change anything majorly, we’ve just got to take our chances and not concede cheap last-minute goals like we did last weekend.”
New Lambton FC (10th) vs. South Cardiff FC (4th)
Saturday 2nd June, 4:30 pm, Alder Park
It’s been a tumultuous start to the season for the Eagles, but under the new leadership of Jim Foley, the side has slowly begun to showcase their capabilities and have only lost one game from their past six outings.
For South Cardiff, although they had a wobbly beginning to the year, the Gunners have begun to fire once again and now sit inside the top four and in good shape to challenge for a finals position.
In the goal-scoring department, both teams have been above average and the most interesting match-up of the game will be the battle between the two leading candidates for the golden boot – Nathan McCallister (11 goals) and Riley Taylor (10 goals).
When these two sides squared off at Alder Park last year, South Cardiff pulled off a dominant 3-0 victory, and New Lambton stats at home spell even more trouble as they have only won two matches from their last ten home games.
Denis Fajkovic, South Cardiff’s coach, said his team would be on high-alert in defence considering the Eagles’ attacking potential, specifically Taylor.
“Their strengths lie in their attack. They’ve got some great players up there that are still managing to score even though they haven’t been going so well,” Fajkovic said.
“Will we be giving him [Taylor] special attention? I think it would be safe to say yes. When you look at all their games, if you stop Riley Taylor from scoring, the score-lines are completely different for them.”
“I’m sure if we don’t give him the respect he deserves, he’ll probably punish us.”
“We’ll definitely have to be switched on in defence. But in saying that, I equally back our attackers to get goals as well.”
“I’m definitely expecting a tough game.”
Wallsend FC (8th) vs. Toronto Awaba Stags FC (11th)
Sunday 3rd June, 2:30 pm, The Gardens
This Sunday’s match at The Gardens seems to be contested between the two out-of-form sides in the competition meaning both teams will be anxious and desperate to record a victory.
So far for Toronto, it’s been a season full of pain as they currently sit in last place having conceded 30 goals from their past five league appearances and this week have to face a side full of attacking power.
After surviving the first eight rounds of the season undefeated, Wallsend has now lost four straight and are in dying need of a win to not only bounce back up the table but to regain their form and confidence.
Although the side possesses undeniable strength in the offence, just like their opponents this weekend, their defence has been the area which has drastically let them down as they still haven’t managed a single clean sheet and have conceded one goal on just two occasions.
Wallsend’s coach Ben Edwards admitted it is critical for the Red Devils to return to the winners’ circle, but suggested that even though they face the team on the bottom of the table, it won’t be easy.
“It’s [winning] very crucial for us. We have to start winning and getting results if we want to stick with that group and not get left behind from the finals,” Edwards said.
“I’m expecting Toronto to come at us hard because they won’t be happy with getting double figures put on them.”
“We sat down and had a talk on Tuesday to try and sort out where we’ve been lacking a bit. We’re not expecting Toronto to be an easy win but.”
Edwards confessed his offence needed to improve once again if they were to be successful, however, he is confident in their abilities.
“We haven’t focussed on our attack too much. I know that we can still show the same performances that we did earlier on in the year though.”
Kahibah FC (9th) has the bye.