PHOTO: VALENTINE SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY
Match of the Round
Kahibah FC v Cooks Hill United FC
Sunday June 25, 2:30pm at Kahibah Oval
Many had this one circled as a potential mid-season title decided a couple of weeks ago but stumbles from both Kahibah and Cooks Hill mean the pair will approach this one on Sunday afternoon as an opportunity to kick their seasons back into gear.
A tit-for-tat battle back in round five seen Kahibah hand the Cookers their first loss of the season – a 3-4 win at Newcastle Athletics Field which left Cooks Hill coach Graham Law bemoaning a 15-minute lapse in concentration that cost his side the match.
Both of these sides were tipped as competition favourites going into the start of the season, and Kahibah’s recruitment meant they may have just shaded Cooks Hill. They missed their chance to close the gap on the Cookers last weekend and were lacklustre in their loss to West Wallsend. It was just their third loss of the year, and are currently out of the top four for the first time since round three.
Cooks Hill dropped five points from a possible thirty in the first eleven rounds of competition (remember the bye!) – their only slip ups were against Kahibah and Singleton. Since the ‘second round’ of matches, however, they’re yet to take full points from any of their fixtures and are seemingly in dire need of a boot up the proverbial. A win this weekend might be the spark the Cookers’ need to kick on and tighten their grip on first place.
Belswans’ Tega Marcus has streaked away at the top of the goalscoring charts, but there are some Cookers’ who are well and truly at the top of the pile too. Lee Ashton and Nick Russell are third and fourth with twelve and nine goals respectively, and they’ll need to dig deep for that scoring form this weekend against a resolutely defensive Kahibah team.
In stark contrast, Kahibah’s leading goal scorer Jamie Hadlow has only five goals from nine starts. Ash Illfield and Gocha Abishlava are next best having chipped in with three apiece, and the trio knows they will need to look at extending their season’s tallies if they want three points this weekend.
Singleton Strikers FC v New Lambton FC
Saturday 24th June, 2:30pm at Howe Park
Singleton managed to all but assure they won’t be finishing the season at the bottom of the ladder with a midweek win over Cessnock, and they’ll be keen to solidify their jump into ninth place with a win over New Lambton this weekend.
It was the Eagles who took three points the last time the two sides met – a 4-2 win to a ten-man side at Alder Park, thanks (in part) to an Alex Ihlow double. They’ll have a different type of challenge to face this weekend – New Lambton are without a game in nearly four weeks.
On the other hand, Singleton enjoyed a bye in round 15 before knocking off Cessnock 4-0 in Tuesday night’s fixture. They’ll come into this clash fresh, and keen to keep on rising up the ladder – a win against New Lambton on Saturday could propel the Strikers as high as seventh on the ladder.
A series of washouts has stunted any hope New Lambton had of building some mid-season momentum. Last weekend’s rain washed out their clash with South Cardiff, as it did their mid-week catch up against Thornton. Perhaps a slightly easier task this weekend against Singleton, but seven points from their last four means the home side won’t be pushovers this weekend.
New Lambton coach Andrew Packer sounded just as keen as his troops to get back out onto the field.
“The boys are desperate to get out on the pitch and play, they’re really looking forward to it, it’s almost like we’ve had a big break really,” Packer said.
“We’ve trained pretty hard during this time to try and keep it (the effort) as close as we can, but fingers crossed we can get it all together and hopefully put it all together this weekend… you can see the effect the break has had on their touch and their decisions, it’s the little things but it won’t take anything away from our work rate and our discipline.
“If we get the attitude right and we’re willing to work hard, we’ll get over the line… everyone’s available and has been for a long while now, we had that loss to Broadmeadow and then we started again on a bit of a roll so it’s unfortunate, but we’ve been pretty lucky with injuries and we just have to kick on now.”
Singleton coach David Willoughby was happy with the impact of his side’s midweek success.
‘It was a shot in the arm, we controlled possession very well and the boys were very excited after the game with the result,” Willoughby said.
“New Lambton’s time off the pitch doesn’t change the way we play, in fact we’ve chopped and changed the whole 11 in the same period so there’s not a lot of continuity there for us either… we’ve had washout and a bye in the same period, so when push comes to shove we’ve missed two weeks and they’ve missed four.
“Jae Dawes picked up a broken nose midweek but outside of that everybody is reasonably fit and well… there is a bit of a bug going through the town, so we’re keeping an eye on that too.”
Thornton Redbacks FC v West Wallsend FC
Saturday 24th June, 2:45pm at Thornton Park
Thornton is among the sides who are without a match for some time, and they’ll have to be well and truly up for this one if they’re determined to keep the three points from a resurgent West Wallsend side this Saturday.
It was action on the pitch and the sidelines last time these two sides clashed – the Redbacks dismantled a disappointing West Wallsend side 6-1, and Bluebells coach Gary Rowe was sent to the stands for a second half outburst from the technical area.
Rain has been one of Thornton’s biggest enemies of late – it, plus a pesky bye means by the time they take to the hallowed Thornton Park turf, it will have been four weeks since they’ve played a match. It’s a big one for the Redbacks – if they win their two games in hand, they can jump to first so it’s crucial to take three points this weekend.
This weekend is perhaps the tipping point of West Wallsend’s season – backing up round 15’s upset win over Kahibah with a win against another top four contender this weekend will put them level on points with Thornton, and give them a real shot at the top four.
Thornton coach Darrel McAllister was keen to get his troops back on the park.
“We’ll find out what kind of an impact the break has had Saturday, we think we’ve done enough and you’re conscious of it as a coach,” McAllister said.
“To break that period up was good, those first couple of weeks were handy to freshen them up after a pretty torrid run and then it was just disappointing when we were ready to go, we got some bad weather so we’re trying to crank it back up again and sharpen them up, they’ll be ready to go and keen to get going.
“We’ve got a couple out this weekend, we’ve got enough in our squad that we feel we can get the job done… we have a couple of defenders missing, so we’ll do an hour’s training on Friday night and make some decisions after that.”
West Wallsend boss Gary Rowe was definitive in his response to queries his side were beginning to eye off the top four.
“Nope. We’re still focused on making sure we can hit the ten wins, and what we are talking about is trying to get a result against Thornton,” Rowe said.
“We’ve always struggled against them up there (at Thornton Park), so our focus is trying to go up there and beat them and try to get back on a bit of a run… we have Cooks Hill next week, so the goal is to make sure we’re getting points.
“The boys are more than capable of getting the job done if they play with the same level of commitment they did last week, if we get that then we’ll go close to getting the result… last time against Thornton we lost our discipline and the game got away from us late, we’ve fixed that since then and we’re better across the park.”
South Cardiff FC v Toronto Awaba FC
Sunday 25th June, 2:30pm at Ulinga Oval
Last Sunday’s rain washed away any hopes of three points for either of these sides in Round 15, and they’ll each have their own tough targets set this weekend when they clash at Ulinga Oval.
You could have missed the first 85 minutes of the round 5 clash between these two sides, and still have seen the good parts. A 90th minute own goal put Toronto into the lead, and player-coach Denis Fajkovic converted a penalty just seconds later to level it up – only for the referee to call it back for an encroachment, and the number 7 to fire over the bar and hand the Stags a 1-0 win, their first of the season.
South Cardiff were shafted from second after Belmont Swansea won and the Gunners’ were washed out last weekend and as such slipped to third, but have games in hand on both Belswans and Cooks Hill above them. A win this weekend could potentially put them level on points with Cooks Hill at the top – a loss could see them drop as low as fifth.
Toronto have been cruising back into some form of late, but washouts mean they’re without a match since the first weekend of June. As a result of matches played around them, they’ve slid to tenth on the ladder and they’ll be determined to do the double over South Cardiff this year, and fight their way back up the standings.
Two Gunners’ strikers sit in the top ten of this season’s goal scoring charts – Antonio Ahmataj and Troy Runge have popped up with 7 goals each, equating for 14 of South Cardiff’s 25 so far this year. Toronto captain Nick Roberts has scored six at an average of just over one every two games, and these three will be the ones to watch at the weekend.
Wallsend FC v Cessnock City FC
Sunday 25th June, 2:30pm at The Gardens
Cessnock are anchoring the bottom of the ladder, and Wallsend managed to take a point from a stumbling Cooks Hill last weekend in the dying stages. It’s shaping as a perfect opportunity for the home side to get their season back on track – but will Cessnock upset the apple cart on Sunday?
They certainly stuck to the script back in round 5 – Wallsend dismantled the Hornets 4-1 at Turner Park that day, and Red Devils coach Chris Gallagher said after the match that the scoreline may have been a little more one-sided on a different day.
Will that day be Sunday? Wallsend are without a win since round 10, when they upset Thornton 2-1 with a solid defensive showing. They managed a point against league leaders Cooks Hill last weekend, but it was their first in four matches and this weekend’s opponents may present a good opportunity to take three points.
The Hornets virtually cemented their place at the bottom of the ladder with a 4-0 loss to Singleton on Tuesday night, and it comes after a lacklustre 2-1 defeat at the hands of Belswans last weekend.
Wallsend coach Chris Gallagher seemed quietly confident his side would be able to get the job done this weekend.
“We’ve lost a couple more players to injury and to work, but we had a couple of boys play from our 23s against Cooks Hill, so we’ll see how they go,” Gallagher said.
“At the start of the year, he had the aim of ten wins for the year and we thought if we got that, we’d be in and around the finals chat and with the results and the way they go each week, you just never know… we’ve had to refocus and win everything from here on in.
“We seem to play well against top three teams, but it’s the other teams we seem to do not so well against… we definitely don’t have Cessnock’s number and there’s always that fear of complacency, but we’ve shifted our training venue to try and maintain that focus and emphasise it doesn’t matter who you play because anyone can beat anyone.”
Cessnock coach Lino Gatti wasn’t pulling any punches prior to this weekend’s clash.
“I thought we were very poor on Tuesday night, and I hope we can go from very poor to just poor this weekend,” Gatti said.
“On Sunday morning, I’ll be going to church and praying for a win – and so help me God, I hope we win because that’s all we’ve got left. We’ll come and try, there were boys like Tendai (Chivizhe) and Johnson Song busting their gut on Tuesday night and those are encouraging signs.
“I’m considering bringing in our 23s goalkeeper Dylan Cheetham, and I’m looking at him to potentially step up for the last six games of the season with a view to next season… it depends on how he pulls up after Friday night’s training, but he’s played the last five games for the 23s in goals and they’ve won three of them.”