PHOTO: VALENTINE SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY
Match of the Round
Belmont Swansea United FC v Thornton Redbacks FC
Saturday 13th May, 2:30pm at Blacksmiths Oval
Belmont Swansea will be looking to bounce back in the best way possible on Saturday afternoon when they take on the high-flying Thornton in a top four battle at Blacksmiths Oval.
Thornton failed to take a point from Belmont Swansea last season, their two encounters in 2016 ending in 3-2 victories for Saturday’s home side. It’s a different story for each of these sides this year but it’s sure to be another tightly contested battle.
Belswans come into this one off the back of two losses on the trot, having conceded 11 goals in those encounters (although 9 of those were against a rampaging Edgeworth in the Westfield FFA Cup). They have conceded the most goals of any of the sides in the top four – 17 in total.
Thornton are the second highest scoring in the league boasting 29 goals in their seven games so far, Belswans will need to tighten things up at the back in this one.
The Redbacks have lost only one game on the road so far this season and scored nearly five goals in each of those. They continued their good scoring run last weekend with two against Singleton, but they were far from their best in that match and didn’t replicate the free-flowing scoring many thought they may.
Thornton won their round two catch up match against New Lambton on Wednesday night 3-1 and now sit only three points from Cooks Hill – with a game in hand. The Redbacks have endured a hectic schedule of late and their player management will be vital – the potential return of Jamie Subat to the lineup may make the difference for Thornton.
Redbacks coach Daryl McAllister was confident his side could keep on keeping on despite their packed fixture list.
“There’s not much turn around with these games so we’ll have to regroup on Friday and see where we’re at physically,” McAllister said.
“We were reasonably comfortable defensively (last weekend against Singleton), and had our chances to win by more… maybe it’s a sign some of the boys are starting to get a little tired because we took our foot off the accelerator in the second half.
“We’re carrying Jamie, he’s on the bench on the weekend… we might start him on Wednesday night (against New Lambton) or on Saturday, he’s not 100% but he’s not too far off.”
Belmont Swansea coach Josh Rufo was wary of the challenge Thornton will present.
“They’ve shown they’re a good side, and we’ll have to be at our best to match them,” Rufo said.
“We have everyone available this weekend, so a full contingent to choose from.”
Cessnock City FC v West Wallsend SFC
Saturday 13th May, 2:30pm at Turner Park
West Wallsend will be eyeing a possible jump into the top four when they travel to Cessnock to face last-placed Hornets at Turner Park on Saturday afternoon.
Cessnock were rolled twice by the Bluebells last season, losing 6-1 in their round 10 encounters and 3-2 in the reverse fixture in round 21. The Hornets are a vastly different side this time around and will be hungry to nab their first win of the season.
A 10-man Hornets pulled a stunning comeback from two goals down to draw level with Toronto at the death last weekend and the third point of the season will give the struggling side some confidence. Despite the late comeback, coach Lino Gatti was unhappy with Cessnock’s performance and will expect more from his side this weekend.
This one may have been circled on the Cessnock calendar as an opportunity to take some points a couple of weeks ago, but West Wallsend have started to work their way into some form, with two wins from their last three. The Hornets will sweat on the fitness of Jason Zechel and his involvement in the match may tilt the result in Cessnock’s favour.
West Wallsend’s biggest problem so far this season has been their finishing in front of goal, but five goals in their past two matches suggest they’re addressing those issues and improving. Last weekend’s derby win over Wallsend will have instilled confidence in the Bluebells, and they’ll be hoping to score back-to-back wins for the first time this season.
The Bluebells are typically a physical side and they may look to use this to their advantage against a Cessnock side who struggle against sides who are able to assert themselves onto a match – noticeably so last weekend against Toronto for much of the game.
Speaking after the Toronto draw, Cessnock coach Lino Gatti said goalkeeper Matt Zechel, who missed out last weekend, can expect to be on the bench again this weekend.
“I dropped him for some poor handling errors, some soft goals and I’ve dropped him back to 23s so he can be a bit more reflective on his goalkeeping,” Gatti said.
“I hope that can help with his attitude, and just to rejig his thinking and behaviour… hopefully, he can work his way back into first grade, but he won’t play again next weekend (against West Wallsend).”
Bluebells coach Gary Rowe said he’s pleased with his side’s attitude moving forward.
“The boys take a fair bit of confidence from last week, being the derby and they’re feeling good about themselves with a couple of wins on the bounce,” Rowe said.
“Things we’ve been working on since the start are coming together, and fingers crossed it continues for another week.
“We approach this weekend warily, they’ve got some decent results of late and seem like a team that are tricky to break down… the boys will have to make sure they don’t read the table and think the game is all done and dusted.”
Singleton Strikers FC v South Cardiff FC
Saturday 13th May, 3:30pm at Howe Park
Singleton know they desperately need a result to get their season back on track when they face a spluttering South Cardiff at Howe Park late on Saturday afternoon.
The points were shared between Singleton and South Cardiff on both occasions last season, a 1-1 draw at Ulinga Oval in round 3 followed by at 2-2 draw in round 14 at Howe Park. Both sides come into this one off the back of three losses on the trot, and both will be looking to shake the malaise.
Singleton went down 2-0 to Thornton last time out, in a result that many thought would be a blowout in the Redbacks favour. The Strikers have been widely praised for their brand of possession, ball-playing football this season but the results are yet to match. They’ve struggled to find results recently but so have South Cardiff – this one is there for the taking for Singleton.
The Strikers backline will have to be at their best this weekend to deal with the physical challenge of the Gunners’ attack. Troy Runge and Antonio Atmataj are two key players for South Cardiff, and the two using their size advantage against the likes of Jackson Skinner in the Singleton defence may cause real problems for David Willoughby’s side.
South Cardiff scored a vital win over Kahibah in round 7 which had them within a couple of wins of top place, but capitulation over six days of football recently seen them lose three games and concede 12 goals in the process. Despite the apparent slump, the Gunners sit only a point from the top four, and a win here and results in their favour elsewhere could propel them into finals contention.
Troy Runge missed out against Cooks Hill last weekend with an ankle injury, and his potential availability this weekend may give coach Denis Fajkovic a headache up top – Zac Tapp and Antonio Atmataj are two others who have played at the dual points for the Gunners this season, but it’s a good headache to have.
South Cardiff coach Denis Fajkovic was confident of having a full complement to choose from.
“I think we’ll have everyone available and be full strength,” Fajkovic said.
Singleton coach David Willoughby was confident his side is on the up.
“I was pretty happy with the performance (last weekend), but there’s still areas for us to improve on,” Willoughby said.
“We go out to take three points every week, but we have a young side and we’re going to make mistakes, we’re just trying to give everyone enough experience to help build on our outcomes that we can achieve this season.”
New Lambton FC v Cooks Hill United FC
Sunday 14th May, 2:30pm at Alder Park
Cooks Hill will be looking to hang on to their lead at the top of the table when they travel to Alder Park to take on mid-table side New Lambton on Mothers Day.
New Lambton’s promotion to the second tier at the beginning of the season means this clash will mark the first time the two sides will meet in the competitive arena. It’s a fixture Cooks Hill have been widely tipped to win, but New Lambton have shown this season they’re capable of throwing a spanner in the works of the league’s top clubs.
The Eagles enjoyed the bye last weekend, which was preceded by a solid 2-1 win over Kahibah in the Westfield FFA Cup. They weren’t able to enjoy the full benefit of the week off as they went down 3-1 to Thornton on Wednesday night.
New Lambton are able to switch between a direct style and a possession style of football with ease and it’ll be interesting to see which approach coach Andrew Packer takes in this one. Will they attempt to keep the ball on the ground and outplay Cooks Hill’s much lauded positive possession football, or play direct and try to catch Graham Law’s men out on the counter?
Cooks Hill has lost only a single game this season, but have a perfect away record so far and have shipped only two goals on the road. It’s an ominous sign for New Lambton, who struggled to convert a plethora of chances in their last league match – and as Cooks Hill boast the third best defensive record in the competition, it’s a tough ask for Andrew Packer’s side.
The Cookers crashed out of the Westfield FFA Cup last Wednesday night in a 1-0 defeat to Weston, but lifted for the match and will feel aggrieved they weren’t able to take the game at least to penalties. They were quality once again in their 3-0 defeat of South Cardiff, and they’re only two matches away from taking 27 points from a possible 30 in the first 11 rounds of the competition.
Wallsend FC v Kahibah FC
Sunday 14th May, 2:30pm at The Gardens
This one has all the makings of a grudge match – a disappointing Red Devils outfit will be out to make a statement when they host a high-flying Kahibah FC on Sunday afternoon.
A battle between last year’s fourth and third place sides respectively, Kahibah took all the points when these two sides met in 2016. A 3-1 win at home for Kahibah in round 10 was backed up by a 4-1 win at The Gardens in round 21 – a feat Kahibah will be hoping to replicate this weekend.
Wallsend have had a tough time of it this season, three wins from their eight starts this year has them sitting eighth on the ladder – above only Toronto, Singleton, and Cessnock but a win could take them as a high as fifth. The Red Devils desperately need something to kick-start their season, and a win here may just be it.
West Wallsend piled on the misery last weekend, in a result which reportedly had Chris Gallagher keep his troops in the sheds for a lengthy period of time following the match. His side have a wealth of young talent at their disposal, Matt Williams and Trent Milton among them, and they may be fired up for a big challenge this weekend.
Kahibah rolled on last weekend – a 2-0 win over Belswans seen them keep their fourth clean sheet of the season. Andre Gumprecht’s side is playing exactly the way he envisioned prior to the start of the season, and the positive results continue to rack up for the Green and Black.
Dave Hodgson appears to have overcome a niggling injury and scored the opening goal in last weekend’s 2-0 defeat of Belswans. Kahibah will be hoping their star striker remains fit in 2017, and if their front line can get firing and they continue to stay tight at the back, they could make Wallsend’s afternoon a long one.
“We approach this the same way we do every match and emphasise the need for a more committed effort,” Gallagher said.
“A lot of the boys aren’t very happy about last weekend’s loss, but we don’t have the experienced depth of a lot of the other squads about so the game against Magic (in the Westfield FFA Cup) took a lot out of the boys.
“It’s a good opportunity to bounce back, you’ve still got to have the optimism you can go in and win every game and we really need to… it’d be nice to get the rub of the green and kick start the season because we haven’t really started yet.”