PHOTO: VALENTINE SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY
Match of the Round
Kahibah FC v Thornton Redbacks FC
Sunday 2nd July, 2:30 pm at Kahibah Oval
This weekend’s match of the round shapes as a key battle in the war for top four – Kahibah have the chance to jump from fourth to as high as second and knock Thornton down a peg or two this weekend at Kahibah Oval.
Jarrod Penfold scored the solitary goal for the Green and Black last time they played Thornton, their round six catch up match was delayed until more than six weeks past its initial scheduled date which means the two teams will be more familiar with one another than they perhaps ought to have been at this point in the season.
Kahibah put a stop to some bad form after two losses on the trot with their 2-1 win over New Lambton on Wednesday night and propelled themselves back into the top four. They’re now level on points with Thornton (despite the Redbacks claiming a game in hand), but they have a game themselves on the fifth-placed Belswans. Whilst only a handful of points from top spot, they’ll need a big push at this end of the season to live up to some lofty preseason expectations.
The Redbacks missed out on finals football last season by eight points, but look set this year to play an important part in who features in the big matches come August. They managed to scrape the win against West Wallsend last weekend, and currently third – although they’re square on points with Kahibah and Belswans who are fourth and fifth respectively. While the end of the season is a long way out, this match shapes as huge to both sides as they look to firm up their spots in the top four.
Thornton coach Darrel McAllister was confident his side were up for the challenge this weekend.
“Kahibah got us 1-0 in the first round which was pretty close, we’re a bit closer to them now than people thought we might have been before a ball was kicked but if we want to win something, we have to be able to beat the top sides,” McAllister said.
“They’ve got some of the best players in the comp, Dave Hodgson, Jamie Hadlow did well at Belswans last year, both Kepreotas boys… they’ve got that perfect balance of experience and youth, they’re a pretty quality side and it’s hard to find a weakness but there are a couple of areas we think we can get them and we’ll target.
“Before we went into the bye we had some okay performances but we didn’t take the opportunity, we’re working on that and everyone gets better in the second round so it’s more about performances, the players might be looking at the ladder and doing their sums but eight games out is a long way out to start to be doing the maths.”
West Wallsend SFC v South Cardiff FC
Saturday 1st July, 2:30pm at Johnston Park
The Gunners snuck home last weekend and they’ll have to be more clinical in front of goal this time around if they want to take full points from a wounded West Wallsend at Johnston Park on Saturday afternoon.
It was the Bluebells who triumphed the last time these two sides met, in a round six catch up match up. The Cox brothers chipped in with a goal each, and Fletcher Price nabbed the other in a 3-2 win on the 3rd of May. South Cardiff haven’t beaten Westy in the league since the two shared the stage in the NBN State League way back in May 2012 – a 3-1 win at Varley Park.
West Wallsend are currently ‘the best of the rest’ – sixth place on 19 points, with six still separating them from the five sides at the top jostling for four spots. They were unlucky to not take a point from round 16’s clash with Thornton after losing right at the death and were washed out against Cooks Hill on Wednesday night. Their forward play will have to be top notch this weekend, as South Cardiff are one of the best defensive sides in the competition.
Given the defensive solidity of the Gunners so far this season, it’ll be interesting to see how the loss of captain Corey Nicholas impacts South Cardiff this weekend. He was sent from the field for a pair of bookable offences last weekend against Toronto and will leave a hole next to Denis Fajkovic at the back. The coach is confident, however, that there are players in the 23s squad who are putting their hand up for the spot and they’ll prove their worth this weekend.
West Wallsend coach Gary Rowe wasn’t playing down the importance of this weekend’s fixture and wasn’t pleased Wednesday night’s rescheduled match against Cooks Hill was called off.
“I wanted the game played to try and take some confidence out of that into the weekend, after a frustrating result last weekend I was hoping to get a decent result to give us some impetus into what is a must-win match this weekend,” Rowe said.
“The loss of Ryan Cole is massive, another positive of playing tonight (Wednesday against Cooks Hill) was wiping that suspension clear, but we’ve got the players who are capable of covering but as I’ve said all year it’s a matter of us turning up with the right mentality and commitment.
“We’re better with him than without him, but there’s people in the group who can do a job for us… Michael Baillie will be back this week and he’ll come straight back in I would think, and Tye Jones was suspended last weekend and he’ll be back.”
South Cardiff player/coach Denis Fajkovic denied his side’s meteoric rise up the standings has increased the pressure on the team.
“There’s not much pressure, nothing changes for us, it’s just game by game… a lot of people tend to write teams off but the more you see of this comp, it’s so even and it’s a big game for us given how it’s all panned out, but no extra pressure,” Fajkovic said.
“Last time we played Westy, the goals they scored were (as a result of) errors so we just have to turn up and compete, every game we compete in we seem to be alright so as long as we turn up and do that we’ll get the win, if not come very close.”
The 1-0 win last weekend was closer than it perhaps should have been given the amount of chances the Gunners had, but Fajkovic was quick to point out it wasn’t an area of concern for him.
“We created chances and I’m happy we’ve created chances, and if we keep doing so we’ll score goals… we didn’t focus especially on finishing this weekend, it’s always incorporated in our training but not much changes for us.”
Cooks Hill United FC v Cessnock City FC
Saturday 1st July, 2:30pm at Newcastle Athletics Field
Cooks Hill spluttered their way back into the winner’s circle last weekend against Kahibah and will be looking maintain their three-point buffer at the top when they face a Cessnock side who may be on the way to writing themselves into the history books for all the wrong reasons.
Two late first half goals to Cal Lewis and Nick Russell helped secure the three points back on Easter Sunday, a 3-1 win in round six. The match was closer than the scoreline suggested, however, and given the form of these two sides, it’s not beyond the realm of imagination a similarly close game may be on the cards on Saturday.
Cooks Hill had a scheduled catch up match against West Wallsend on called off due to inclement weather, which means they’ll have a little more time to bask in their win over Kahibah – a victory which snapped a four-match winless run. That run threatened what looked a nearly unassailable lead at the top of the ladder, and this is one match they simply must win if they want to retain that lead.
Since the turn of the century, only one side has finished the Northern League One season without a single win to their name – Thornton, in 2012. Cessnock have come close on occasions to looking like they’d avoid adding their name to that list, but with only six matches left to play the Hornets are running out of time to keep their name out of that particular page of history and a win at the Newcastle Athletics Field this weekend looks unlikely.
Cessnock coach Lino Gatti wasn’t confident his side would avoid the most embarrassing of titles come the end of the year.
“We’re fairly likely to go through the season without a win, we won’t win a game… we’ve been very close on four games where we shouldn’t have lost, though,” Gatti said.
“I’m not expecting an upset result, again this week I’m bringing a couple of boys again and experimenting again with the backline, I’ll bring another centre-back in… I’ve got no strikers in the club at all so I’m relying on the midfield and the front guys to get a result, but the front guys haven’t been good enough all year.
“It’s like having a car with four wheels, but one tyre is flat and no matter what I do, the car can’t go very far on three wheels.”
New Lambton FC v Belmont Swansea United FC
Sunday 2nd July, 2:30pm at Alder Park
Belmont Swansea doesn’t have the luxury of games in hand like a number of other teams similarly placed around them on the ladder and a tough assignment against New Lambton this weekend will be circled as a must win if they’re to take steps in cementing their place in the top four.
It was a ‘Good Friday’ for Belswans when they hosted New Lambton in round six, a 2-1 win in which Belmont-Swansea coach Josh Rufo lauded his side’s technical ability. Considering the Eagles have to win virtually every match if they want a shot at the finals, they’ll be sure to take the game to Belswans this weekend.
New Lambton endured the type of run no side wants to – 28 days without a match thanks to bad weather and a bye. The matches are now coming thick and fast though, with a win over Singleton and a loss to Kahibah since last Saturday, a run of seven matches in 21 days is their next challenge to overcome. This is the third of said backlog, and among the most difficult on their potential run into an unlikely top four finish.
Of the five sides which are firmly in the tussle for the top four spots, Belswans’ position appears the most tenuous – they’re fifth with 25 points from 14 games played, and Kahibah has jumped them into fourth with a result win over New Lambton on Wednesday’s night’s match. Every match shapes as a must-win from here on in for Josh Rufo’s side, but New Lambton will present a stiff challenge.
Eagles coach Andrew Packer described Wednesday night’s loss to Kahibah as a ‘tough one to cop’.
“We had a lot of momentum and we got it back to 1-all and I thought ‘yep we’re going to go on with this and finish it’, but unfortunately our captain came off injured and it looks like Josh Cox has some medial ligament damage… when you have to replace your captain and goalkeeper in the last twenty minutes, one defensive error and that’s it,” Packer said.
“We’ve got to be better defensively, we conceded the first goal last night and you think ‘wow, how is that even possible’… you just have to ask yourself how are we defending that? I honestly believe it’s not just this competition though, it’s a defending problem and it seems like everyone in football has just lost the art of defending and we have to learn that.
“I definitely think we can win it, we’ve got the ability to going forward to win it, we jut have to make sure we’re rock solid at the back… they flogged Wallsend so it’ll be a tough one, we’ll battle it out and fight to the end of the season and hopefully pick up quite a few more points towards the end of the year.”
Packer wasn’t confident his side would be able to handle the congested fixture list laid out in front of them.
“We’re going to really struggle, we’re now going to lose two players (captain Dan Luther and goalkeeper Josh Cox) and because we’ve got guys that are away at the moment, we’re struggling for numbers but a lot of that comes down to us being a new club (in the NEWFM Northern League One) and we didn’t pack the team to the maximum.
“We made sure to build a lot from the young grades, our 15s, 17s, and 19s but unfortunately when it comes to our 23s and first grade we lost a few guys, we have about four that have gone away travelling and a few injuries picked up on Wednesday night are going to put us under the pump for the last couple of matches.”
Belmont Swansea coach Josh Rufo remained insistent his side’s focus is not on the big picture, but rather one step at a time.
“There’s still so many games and so many points available, so at this stage, we’re still approaching things week by week and obviously it’s another important game for us because we want to win and be closer to that top four, but the focus is still week by week,” Rufo said.
“Corey Wilson is suspended this weekend, Mitch Cook has work commitments and Josh Hall is still a question mark… there’s one or two others with work and family commitments, so we’ve got a few missing but we have a squad so hopefully that’ll give some opportunities to other players.”
Style of play has always been a big part of any successes Rufo has had with his side thus far this year and says that focus remains the same this week despite any possible issues with the Alder Park surface.
“The key for us is consistency, I’m confident that if we play to our strengths and to our principles over the 90 minutes that we should come out with a win so that’s key for us, consistently playing at a good level,” Rufo said.
“A lot of teams are one dimensional, whereas I think we can change it up when we need to… we can play short, we can play long, we can play physical whereas other sides can only play one style of football, the conditions are the conditions and we’ll be fine.”
Toronto Awaba FC v Singleton Strikers FC
Sunday 2nd July, 2:30pm at Lyall Peacock Field
Last place was all but decided last week when Singleton beat Cessnock, so this match shapes as a battle for tenth as Toronto hope to improve on last season’s finish and last weekend’s result.
Singleton came out on top in a tit-for-tat battle when the two sides faced off on Easter Saturday earlier in the season – a 4-2 win thanks to a Joe Civello hat trick securing the three points for the Strikers on the day. Neither side took any points from their round 16 clashes, and will each be eyeing this one as a potential opportunity to do so.
Toronto were unlucky not to take a point away from last weekend’s loss to South Cardiff, Denis Fajkovic labelling the Stags a ‘difficult’ side to handle which seems to be a common opinion held among coaches this season. A win at home today would be their fourth at Lyall Peacock of the season, and more importantly, would put them to within two points of securing a better points tally than last season.
The Strikers seemed to be coming into a little form with a win either side of the bye but were brought crashing back down to earth last weekend by a ruthless New Lambton side. Coach David Willoughby said midweek he’s looking for a reaction from his side this weekend, and the return of Tristian Muir to the first team squad will open doors for Singleton via his combination with Brad Millar down the left-hand side of the park.
Singleton coach David Willoughby described last week’s loss against New Lambton as ‘the kick in the pants we needed’.
“The players were disappointed with the performance last weekend and there were a number of apologies as they left the sheds, so they’re up to make amends,” Willoughby said.
“The ladder this year is irrelevant, this year is a building year for us and to give all the young blokes an opportunity to make errors, to play against New Lambton last weekend they were so structured which is good for us, so I’m not too concerned with where we finish this year… if we’re in the same spot this time next year, I’ll be devastated.
“I got to watch Toronto’s match against West Wallsend, and they’ve had a bit of an injection of playing strength, they’re moving the ball a bit better and I think the challenge we’re going to have this weekend is minimising the chances of their front three, because they’ve been very good.
“Joe Civello will be out this weekend due to a family function, and Nathan Hall is still two weeks away from his broken ribs and as far as I know everyone else is available for selection, but sometimes you have to wait until Friday to find that out.”