PHOTO: VALENTINE SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY
Match of the Round
Thornton Redbacks FC v New Lambton FC
Sunday June 11, 2:45pm at Thornton Park
Thornton have had a week to think about their poor form of late and will be hoping to shake off the malaise against an ambitious New Lambton on Sunday afternoon.
The Redbacks had the better of New Lambton the last time the two sides met in their round 2 catch up match (played on the 10th of May) – a 3-1 win at Alder Park in May, but given Thornton’s recent poor form a reversal may be on the cards this time around.
Last time Thornton came off the bye, they knocked five goals past Toronto on the way to taking hold of their place in the top four. However, a loss to Adamstown Rosebud in Westfield FFA Cup action at the start of May prompted a downturn in form – a loss and a draw in their last two outings against sides much lower on the ladder has seen them slip to third.
However, third isn’t a position to be ashamed of and they’ve had every opportunity to shoot their way up the ladder. A win will put them back into second (where they slipped from with the bye last weekend), and a point ahead of South Cardiff. It won’t be an easy task though – New Lambton have proved they’re no pushovers.
A dodgy Alder Park pitch meant New Lambton enjoyed a weekend off in round 13, and as such the Eagles haven’t enjoyed a win since the 20th of May. They’re currently seventh but coach Andrew Packer is insistent his side are still shooting for finals football, despite being seven points from fourth place.
To make things that little bit harder for the Eagles, their away form isn’t the greatest. They have only taken six points from six away games, but Thornton have only managed seven points from their five home matches this season. Thornton Park has been far from a fortress this year, but New Lambton will need to be at their best to take full points from this one.
New Lambton coach Andrew Packer was feeling confident ahead of his side’s 12th match of the season.
“We’re a different team to what we were when we last played them, we had three players from out from our first 11 so we’ll be a tougher match for them,” Packer said.
“Having last week off isn’t a bad thing, (we’ve been) training really well and the last couple of games we’ve done really well… we’re on a bit of a roll, we’re training well and it’s unfortunate the rain’s come in because I thought we were starting to come good.
“We trained well the other night, there’s a really good environment and everyone’s positive, there’s a good feel around the club at the moment… we’ve got everyone available, so hopefully, we can get on the pitch and do well.”
Belmont Swansea United FC v Wallsend FC
Saturday June 10, 2:30pm at Blacksmiths Oval
Belmont Swansea will be keen to get another one over on Wallsend and confident of doing so when they face off at Blacksmiths Oval on Saturday afternoon.
It was a near famous win for Belswans last time these two sides met – a catch-up match at the start of April, where last year’s Grand Final runner-ups scored a 2-0 win after some lengthy back-and-forth on social media.
Cooks Hill were ripe for the picking last weekend, and Belmont Swansea shocked the competition to hand the league leaders their second loss of the campaign. Coach Josh Rufo praised his side’s performance and a healthy bit of luck, and they’ll be keen to keep the ball rolling against a struggling Wallsend side.
Rufo has made mention in the past of his belief in his side’s technical ability, and their desire to utilise it in the way they play. This weekend’s opponents place a lot of importance on their structure at the back of the park, so Belswans’ play in the front third will have to be on point as Wallsend will need a response after last weekend’s effort.
That effort from Wallsend – the 4-2 loss against a nine-man Singleton, was an aberration by anyone’s standards but none more so than coach Chris Gallagher, who said he was ‘filthy’ following the defeat. It leaves them eighth on the ladder – seven points adrift of Kahibah in fourth, with Toronto only four behind them.
It was a side ravaged by injury last weekend, but Wallsend will welcome nearly half a dozen players back from injury on Saturday – Trent Milton, Kyle Macorig, Luke Alexander, Calum Caldwell, Mal Hinchliffe are among the names who are set for a return to the lineup, and their experience will be a valuable addition to a Wallsend side in need of kick start.
Wallsend coach Chris Gallagher had a plan for addressing his side’s defensive woes and spoke about the feeling between the two sides this weekend.
“Get forward more… we’ve been playing really well defensively but we haven’t been creating enough going forward so we’ve allowed teams to come at us.
“Weight of possession in our half has been an issue, but with a couple of players coming back in from injury, we can get forward a bit better… hopefully, those issues (injuries and suspensions) are behind us and we can kick on for the remainder of the year.
“I don’t really go on that whole grudge match type thing… I try to tell the player’s its another game, another three points that we have to get and last time out (the 2-0 loss against Belswans) I think the emotion go to a few of the boys last time and they didn’t have their best games.”
Coach Rufo was confident his side could make it three wins in a row this weekend.
“It’ll be another really competitive game between two evenly matched sides,” Rufo said.
“I think our focus is only on ourselves, we’re only interested in what we do, how we prepare and play… if we turn up with the right attitude and play the football I know we can play, things will take care of themselves.”
“We have a few players unavailable but no issues, we’re looking to put on a really strong, competitive side and win the match… the chance to go equal on points with fourth is extra motivation, but we are only taking things one match at a time.”
West Wallsend FC v Cooks Hill United FC
Saturday June 10, 2:30pm at Johnston Park
Ten points separate these two sides, but given the recent form of these two sides, anything’s possible when West Wallsend host Cooks Hill this weekend.
A clinical 4-1 win for Cooks Hill when the two sides faced off in round 2 was indicative of the league leaders’ early form in the league, but West Wallsend haven’t managed a win over the Cookers’ since the two sides have mixed it in the second tier from 2015 and will need to dig deep to break that streak on Saturday.
Inconsistent might be the best word to describe West Wallsend this season – they started the year with a loss to New Lambton, followed by a win over Toronto, and then four losses on the trot until their second triumph of the year over South Cardiff in round six.
Currently, the Bluebells are in sixth place on the ladder after finding some form of late before it all came crashing down last weekend against Toronto. A lofty six points stand between them and Kahibah in fourth, but the Green and Black have two games in hand.
After apparently cruising at the top of the ladder just three weeks ago, a poor run of form means Cooks Hill’s position is now under serious threat. They’re ahead of second placed South Cardiff by two points, but Kahibah are only four points behind with two games in hand.
Goals were the hallmark of Cooks Hill’s early season dominance – they’d whacked in 36 in the first 10 rounds, but have managed only four in their last three matches. Luckily, West Wallsend aren’t particularly famous for their defence and given they’ve conceded at a rate of nearly three a match this season, the Cookers’ might be confident of scoring a couple on Saturday.
Singleton Strikers FC v Cessnock City FC
Saturday June 10, 2:30pm at Howe Park
A young Singleton side will be high on confidence but without a pair of key men when they host competition anchors Cessnock at Howe Park on Saturday afternoon.
This would have been touted as a potential battle for last just a couple of weeks ago, but a stunning reversal of form last weekend from Singleton means they’ll head into this one as favourites of avoiding the spoon – they’ve already managed a win over Cessnock this year, 3-1 in round 2.
Despite last weekend’s resounding win, Singleton will be without two of their brightest youngsters – Tristan Muir and Brad Millar were both sent off in last week’s win, and are suspended for this weekend. Given the pair often occupy one side of the pitch and interchange, they’ll leave a big hole in the lineup this weekend.
Saturday’s match will be Singleton’s third home match on the trot, with one more to come on the 24th of June after they play the bye in round 15. Coach Dave Willoughby declared it an advantage just a couple of weeks ago, they showed it was just that against Wallsend last weekend, and now Singleton have the opportunity to score back-to-back wins for the first time this year.
For Cessnock, they need to find some improvement on their performance last weekend. They barely managed a shot on goal and were beaten strongly despite South Cardiff’s unconvincing display. Jason Zechel is working his way back to full fitness, while brother Matthew is struggling with an injury and the pair, along with Jake Peters will have to pass a fitness test on Friday night.
Cessnock fielded one of their strongest front four’s this season last weekend, but they struggled to penetrate the South Cardiff defence. Singleton have the fourth-worst defence in the league and given they’ll be missing two regular starters the Hornets might fancy their chances this weekend – they’re still without a win in the league this season, and if they let more points go this weekend the wooden spoon may have their name written on it.
Singleton coach Dave Willoughby was confident of going back to back for the first time this season.
“We’re going to approach this game the way we’ve approached the last three – try and keep it, build some pressure and execute in the front third,” Willoughby said.
“We can cover the loss of Tristan with Stuart (Thompson) who didn’t play last week, but Brad (Millar) is a big loss, he’s probably been the standout of the season… his ability to get at people is good and he has more assists than anyone else in the group, so we’ll miss him.
“Not quite sure who’s going to take his spot yet but it will be one of the boys out of the 19s, I can’t nominate anyone at the moment and we’ll see how they train on Thursday night, but I’m not sure on who it’s going to be just yet.”
Cessnock coach Lino Gatti was looking forward to what he regards a very winnable match.
“I’m very positive, we’re getting closer all the time and we are improving every week,” Gatti said.
“First grade is getting closer, I feel in the second round we should be getting at least a couple of wins, and I’m very confident this weekend… we’ve lost two players from the squad (Oly Spurway and Luke Marino) and we’re down to 21 (across 1st grade and 23s).
“I’ve never looked at the table, so six points from second last is news to me… I think we’ve come a long way from where we were at the start of the season, we’re developing and improving, we’ve had a couple of disappointing results where we should have taken full points but I’m expecting a win this weekend.”
Kahibah FC v Toronto Awaba FC
Sunday June 11, 2:30pm at Kahibah Oval
Toronto will be flying high after last week’s resounding win over West Wallsend, but face a much sterner test when they head to Kahibah Oval this weekend.
Kahibah managed to be free flowing up front and tight at the back the last time these two sides met – a 5-0 win in round 2 at Lake Macquarie Regional Football Facility, and with this match shaping as an opportunity to move even closer to first place the Green and Black will be leaving nothing on the pitch this weekend.
The Green and Black enjoyed the bye in round 12 but hadn’t anticipated a wash out against New Lambton last weekend. The postponement means they’ve now not played a match of football since the 21st of May when they hit six goals in a 5-1 win over Cessnock.
They weren’t at their best in that match against Cessnock, and Kahibah have yet to really hit their straps this season. Toronto may find it tough to score this weekend given the home side’s defensive strength, and with the likes of Dave Hodgson in the line for a return to the starting lineup, Kahibah go into this one as a heavy favourite.
A draw and a win in their last two matches is the first time this season the Stags have been able to put two results together. If the draw against Cooks Hill didn’t do enough to raise spirits, then the win over West Wallsend will have Adam Routledge’s team flying high ahead of this clash.
However, Toronto will have to face a sobering statistic this weekend – they’ve taken only a single point from five away matches this season (against Cooks Hill in round 12), and boast the worst away form of any side in the competition. Whether this is simply a mental barrier or something larger remains to be seen, and given this weekend’s opponents, they may be up against it once more.
Kahibah boss Andre Gumprecht said the first priority was making sure the rain didn’t disrupt the weekend’s play.
“We have to hope it’s (the game) will happen, but for us, it’s a little challenge because we’re a little out of rhythm after not playing last weekend,”
“It may or may not affect us, but trying to prime the player’s is difficult with hardly any chance to train on the field this week… you can go into a gym or indoor environment but that’s more keeping the conditioning up rather than preparing for the match.
“It’s quite a challenge, Toronto played and won last weekend so they’re hyped up, they’re a physical side and they’ll try to outmuscle us and we need to be aware of this… if you have a pitch which is difficult to play football on, then physical attributes can sometimes make the difference.”
Toronto coach Adam Routledge was insistent his side doesn’t pay special attention to clubs in the top four.
“It doesn’t even get mentioned, we knew we were playing Cooks Hill two weeks ago, we know we’re playing Kahibah this weekend, all the teams are good teams and we don’t approach the matches any differently,” Routledge said.
“This weekend will be much of the same, the ability is there but our attitude across the board had been letting us down, our attitude has been improving and with it results too, and I’m hoping we can continue to improve against another good side this weekend.
“No injury concerns which is handy, it’s a full squad of 15 or 16 to pick from this weekend which is great, we didn’t train on Wednesday night because of the rain so we’ll try and get on before Sunday, so fingers crossed we can keep going and remain competitive.”