PHOTO: VALENTINE SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY
Match of the Round
Belmont Swansea United FC v Cooks Hill United FC
Saturday 3rd June, 2:30pm at Blacksmiths Oval
A resounding victory over Singleton will have filled Belmont-Swansea with confidence, but they’ll need a big performance to force Cooks Hill to drop points for the third time in as many weeks.
Belswans scored eight goals past Cooks Hill last season, but last time these two sides met it was the Cookers who did the damage – hitting a battered Belswans for six in round three in the 6-2 victory.
Tega Marcus bounced back into scoring form with a brace last weekend – his first goals since that hat trick against West Wallsend back in round 8. Despite a bit of a dry run for him, the Belswans striker moves level with Nathan McAllister at the top of the goal scorer charts with 13 a piece – and will be hoping to take advantage of the Redbacks’ week off and move to the top of the charts.
It’s a huge challenge for Belmont-Swansea this weekend – last weekend’s win propelled them from eighth to fifth on the ladder, but they’re still five points from a finals place. A result last weekend against a 10-man Singleton is one thing – but Cooks Hill are the league leaders and despite their last two results they’re always a tough assignment.
Toronto nearly had the Cookers’ number last weekend, and Singleton stole a last-gasp equaliser the week before meaning the league leaders have dropped four points against teams in the bottom half of the ladder in their last two games. Three matches on the bounce would signal a worrying trend for Cooks Hill, however, and they’ll be determined to nip it in the bud on Saturday.
Daniel Yaxley is a man transformed at Cooks Hill – since his move from the defence of Adamstown, his role in the front half of Graham Law’s side is paying dividends for the number 15 and his team. Law switched up the way Cooks Hill played last weekend and his side created plenty – finishing off their chances will be vital if they’re to get a result at Blacksmiths.
Belswans coach Josh Rufo is expecting a big challenge will be in store for his side this coming Saturday.
“I think they’re obviously top of the league for a reason, but our aim is to be competitive and we go with the mentality of winning the game,” Rufo said.
“Like I said, they’re top of the league for a reason and you can’t discount that, but we’re confident of getting a result.”
Singleton Strikers FC v Wallsend FC
Saturday 3rd June, 2:30pm at Howe Park
A usually solid Wallsend capitulated against South Cardiff last weekend and coach Chris Gallagher will be keen to have his troops up for this one against a struggling Singleton lineup on Saturday.
Wallsend had the better of the Strikers when the two sides last battled at The Gardens – a confident 3-1 victory was their first of the season. Singleton haven’t beaten Wallsend since the Reds were promoted from to the Northern League One in 2015 and will need a colossal effort to turn the tables this time out.
Last weekend was an abomination, to say the least from a Wallsend perspective – a usually tight defence was clinically dismantled by South Cardiff, to the tune of 4 goals. There will be a focus on making sure huge improvements are made this time out – only one goal went through last time against Singleton, and its scorer is out on Saturday.
It’ll be a Wallsend side ravaged by injury this weekend – 11 in total in the senior squad, with the likes of Kyle Macorig, Calum Caldwell and Ty Cousins set to miss out. It’s a good opportunity for a number of young players to step up and stake their claim this weekend – Dan Strazzari came on for 15 minutes last weekend and did well according to coach Chris Gallagher; he may be in line for another appearance this weekend.
Singleton went down to 10 men before leaking two goals and losing 3-1 to Belmont Swansea at home last weekend, in their first of four home games in a row. Injury and suspension will force changes to Dave Willoughby’s side – Nathan Hall is set to miss at least six weeks with a broken rib, while a red card to Robert Hill means he’ll sit this one out.
The Strikers haven’t taken maximum points for seven weeks – the last time they did was against a struggling Toronto outfit. They have a single point from their last six, which has them sitting precariously in 10th only a slim three points from the bottom of the ladder – some kind of result to take momentum into next week’s clash with Singleton will be vital.
Singleton coach Dave Willoughby believes a run of four home games on the bounce is a good opportunity to build some momentum.
“Absolutely it does, we’ve got four games up until the 2nd of July at home… we’ve got six of our last nine at home, and we’re hopeful of building that momentum,” Willoughby said.
“Wallsend are a very well organised side, they’ll be hard to break down… we’re going to have to be sharp with our ball movement in the front third, and we need to execute a little better than what we have been in that front third.
“Our big challenge is moving the ball from the middle third into the front third, and once we’re there giving the ball off to the likes of Joey (Civello) and give them the opportunity to execute and make the most of our chances.”
Wallsend coach Chris Gallagher will have his men wary of an ‘unlucky’ Singleton side this Saturday.
“Always have to be confident after last weekend, but we’ve had a lot of injuries over the last two weeks,” Gallagher said.
“We’re fairly confident that young kids we’re going to throw in can do a decent job… no time like the present to give the young boys a shot, young Dan Strazzari did a good job in an already beaten side last weekend.
“Singleton aren’t a bad team despite their results, I think they’ve been unlucky and sometimes teams don’t get the rub of the green often enough, whereas some teams when they paly against Singo seem to get the bounce of the ball.
“Last time we played them they were a reasonable outfit, tried to play football, weren’t slow so I think we’re going to have to play well, but you have to play well to beat anyone in this competition… it’s so unpredictable.”
Cessnock City FC v South Cardiff FC
Saturday 3rd June, 2:30pm at Turner Park
South Cardiff will be hoping to keep their top-four spot when they travel to last-placed Cessnock in search of their fourth win on the trot.
It was a five star Gunners performance the last time these two sides met – Troy Runge and Antonio Ahmataj with two goals each in the 5-1 win. Cessnock haven’t beaten the Gunners since the away side’s relegation to the second tier in 2015 and will be up against it once again this weekend.
Thornton looked to be in a comfortable position against Cessnock last weekend before the Hornets came from behind for only the second time this season to take a point. Despite their horrid run this year (they’ve failed to pick up a win in 11 attempts), they’re only three points from pulling themselves out of bottom place – could they find the three this weekend?
Jason Zechel was still struggling with a knock last weekend against Thornton – he played in the 23s, but only managed to make part of the way through the second half after he aggravated an injury he picked up against Toronto. Another week on light duties might do him, and Cessnock’s chances, the world of good.
A big win over Wallsend last weekend was South Cardiff’s third on the trot – their best run of form so far this season. It kept them in fourth and lifted them five clear of the chasing pack – so they’ll be guaranteed to stay in the four this weekend regardless of the result. Looking up, and the Gunners could jump as high as second if results go their way over the weekend.
There’s only the one injury concern for the Gunners this weekend, and it’s the coach Denis Fajkovic, who rated himself a ‘50/50 chance’ of playing this weekend. It’s not like South Cardiff are hard pressed for replacements, though – Joey Grujevski missed out last weekend for Ben McCabe, and he could be up for a return to the starting lineup this weekend.
Fajkovic said they will be ready for this weekend and hope to be switched on to win a game before they into a bye weekend.
“It’s an important match for us before the bye, we need to make sure we get the three points to maintain that gap between us and fifth,” Fajkovic said.
“Last week made it three wins on the trot for us, which is the first time it’s happened this year so we really want to build on that and keep it going… I think Cessnock have shown they’re capable of an upset.
“If you take them lightly, you could find yourself in trouble and I feel like we’re learning all the time, a few games this year we haven’t turned up and been switched on, but we have learned from that and I think we’ll be up for it come the weekend.”
New Lambton FC v Kahibah FC
Sunday 4th June, 2:30pm at Alder Park
Results for teams following the bye have been mixed so far this season, but can Kahibah skew the results and propel themselves up the ladder with a win against New Lambton at Alder Park on Sunday?
New Lambton and Kahibah have met twice already this season – they shared the points in round two of the Northern League One before New Lambton scored a stunning victory in round four of the Westfield FFA Cup in front of a packed Alder Park.
The Eagles watched the win slip away at the front post last weekend against West Wallsend and now sit six points from the holy grail that is fourth place on the ladder. New Lambton continues to score freely – nine from their last three matches and returned striker Alex Ihlow has bagged four of them. Watch out for Kahibah paying him some extra attention this weekend.
It’s at the back that New Lambton have let themselves down this season – they’ve conceded 24 goals, including seven in their last three games and subsequently let points slip. It was two set pieces which brought the Eagles’ downfall last weekend – a nightmare for their A-League defender turned coach Andrew Packer, who has been insistent on the importance of defensive stability.
Kahibah enjoyed a week off, which turned into a couple last time around due to washouts. Their first game of the year was against New Lambton, and after two matches this season (a 2-all draw in the league and 2-1 loss in the Westfield FFA Cup) they’ve been unable to take all the points.
With South Cardiff now breathing down their necks, it will be crucial for Andre Gumprecht’s team to take all three points this time around. If they drop points, fourth place beckons, but all three will move them up to second. Dave Hodgson has struggled with injury in recent weeks, and his fitness may play a big part in the result this weekend.
New Lambton coach Andrew Packer is still shooting for a top four spot.
“I think 100% it’s a realistic goal, if you look at the two points we just dropped with West Wallsend and draw with Cessnock where we absolutely blitzed them… that’s four points there and then we’re sitting just outside the top four,” Packer said.
“That defensive discipline or understanding has been lacking lately but once we get that right, we’ll always score goals against teams so I believe we can still make the four, and the rest of the boys do as well.”
Toronto Awaba FC v West Wallsend SFC
Sunday 4th June, 2:30pm at Lyall Peacock Oval
Toronto went oh so close to scoring a famous victory over Cooks Hill last weekend in a performance that will have filled them with confidence ahead of this week’s tough fixture against a resurgent West Wallsend.
West Wallsend recorded their first win of the season against Toronto when they met in round three – a 4-1 win back in March. The Stags haven’t beaten West Wallsend at Lyall Peacock Oval for nearly three years, but after last week’s point against league leaders Cooks Hill they may fancy their chances.
It was a near perfect display of counter attacking football from Toronto last weekend, and the fashion in which they withstood the amount of pressure they did will fill the now ninth-placed Stags with confidence. Coach Adam Routledge is sure to be reinforcing the fact that if they can do it against first place, why not sixth?
Two key men in last weekend’s performance were goal scorer and captain Nick Roberts, along with centre back Hayden Jensen. Roberts has the ability to cause teams a lot of issues when he receives the ball with his back to goal, while Jensen played through an early first half knock to claim the mantle of Toronto’s best on the day – big performances from them may help the Stags to only their third win of the season.
With only six points after six games, a run of seven points from three matches has marked a return to the right end of the ladder for West Wallsend. They haven’t made the top four since 2013 and a hefty five points still stands between them and South Cardiff, but a result on Sunday will keep the pressure on.
The Bluebells head into this clash virtually injury free – a rare feat for a squad as large as Gary Rowe’s. It’s a squad sure to be licking their lips at the prospect of facing the leakiest side in the competition – Toronto have conceded at a rate of just over three a match, and West Wallsend have scored a steady two a game in their past three matches.
West Wallsend coach Gary Rowe knows facing ninth place is going to be anything but easy.
“Three points is always the goal, if we go to sleep like we did for the first fifteen minutes of the second half (last weekend) we’ll get beat,” Rowe said.
“We’ve got to make sure we keep on a roll and don’t let those lulls in… Toronto will present us with a couple of challenges, they’re organised and work really hard, they’re tricky to break down.
“We’re going to have to be really disciplined to ensure we don’t get sloppy while we’re trying to break them down and create opportunities to score goals, because it appears they’re catching teams on the counter late in games so we have to be really prepared to ensure we can go forward like we want to but remain solid at the back.”