PHOTO: VALENTINE SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY
Match of the Round
Thornton Redbacks FC v Cooks Hill United FC
Saturday 8th July, 2:45pm at Thornton Park
Pushed out of the top four by a solitary goal last weekend, Thornton are right up against it yet again on Saturday afternoon when they take on a stuttering Cooks Hill outfit at Thornton Park in round 18’s Match of the Round.
It was a ten-man Cooks Hill who took all three points against the Redbacks last time the two sides faced off, coming back from a two-goal deficit to knock off an ambitious Thornton side 4-2. The Cookers’ worked their opponents out early in that clash, and this weekend is shaping as a keen tactical test for both managers.
Last weekend was Thornton’s chance to put a mortgage down on a spot in the top four, but they fell 1-0 to Kahibah. This weekend offers a chance at redemption, and the opportunity to make a big impression on the rest of the competition with a win over the league leaders this weekend. Worryingly, the usually free-flowing Redbacks attack has managed only five goals in its last five outings and will need to improve for three points this weekend.
Cooks Hill had the chance to truly kick themselves back into gear after that 7-1 win over Cessnock last weekend but were upset 5-2 by West Wallsend midweek. That means Graham Law’s side lead at the top has been cut to two, which makes this weekend’s match among their most important of the season to date. Goals haven’t been a problem for the Cookers so far this season – Lee Ashton is third on the competition charts with 12 from 13 appearances, and he’ll need to be similarly accurate this weekend.
This weekend’s match will be one to watch for the tactically astute football fan – Thornton outmanoeuvred Cooks Hill for the first twenty-five minutes of their clash in round 7, only for Law’s side to adapt and hit four past the Redbacks. Both sides have averaged around three goals a game so far this season, and have managed to keep it tight at the back too. This is a real battle of the heavyweights – there’s a reason it’s this weekend’s match of the round.
One man who will be crucial to the way this story goes is Thornton captain Nathan McAllister. Currently second on the goalscoring charts with 14 goals in 13 appearances, McAllister has only scored once in Thornton’s last five outings. A goalscoring display from him, helped by the likes of Liam Penglaze and Jamie Subat around him, may be the difference for the Redbacks this weekend.
Of course, the Cookers have goal scorers of their own. Ashton as aforementioned, but he’s not the only one with attacking pedigree in that side. Nick Russell has chipped in with 10 goals, and Cal’s Lewis and Gallagher have seven each so far this campaign. The addition of Joey Sutherland proved handy when he picked up three against Cessnock last weekend, and the Thornton defence will have it all to do from the first minute until the last this weekend.
Cooks Hill coach Graham Law was looking to move on quickly from Wednesday night’s loss to West Wallsend.
“Fair play to West Wallsend, they caught us off guard the way they sat with four strikers and went long, we try to play out from the back and I was desperate to get in at halftime and sort it… they came with a game plan and it worked,” Law said.
“I said at the start of the season there’s not much between the teams in the competition and it’s worked out that way, but the rest if you don’t turn up on the day then they’ll take something off you and we’ve proven that… you could look at our form as a mid-season slump but I think other teams have maybe got a bit stronger and we’ve had to change our tactics and play a little more direct.
“If someone had told me at the start of the season that we would be top of the table with four games to go I’d have taken it… a lot of teams tend to change their style when they play against us, and we’re finding we’re coming up against teams and their energy levels are far higher than they are against other teams.
“Every season there’s one team everyone else wants to shoot down and that appears to be us this season, and that’s what I’m trying to drum into my players that we need to approach every match with the same energy level as the opposition because we’re coming up against teams now and they’re treating the game against us as a grand final, so if we don’t approach it with some energy then we won’t take anything out of the game.”
Belmont Swansea United FC v Toronto Awaba FC
Saturday 8th July, 2:45pm at Blacksmiths Oval
Toronto will come into round 18 on the back of two losses on the trot, and their task won’t be any easier this weekend when they take on a high flying Belswans outfit at Blacksmiths Oval.
It was the Stags who took all the points the last time these two sides faced off – a 4-3 victory over a ten-man Belswans outfit, which propelled them five points clear of last-placed Cessnock at the time. A penalty double helped Toronto out on the day, and they’ll need to find similar inspiration to claim another good result this weekend.
After a slow start to the year, Belswans have rocketed up into fourth and into form – five wins on the trot, with 17 goals for and only two conceded. It’s a fantastic run of form which has them top of the form table accordingly, and many would expect them to continue their run this weekend. The potential return of Josh Hall to the matchday squad (injury) will be a welcome headache for coach Josh Rufo.
Toronto let a point slip away in a last-minute surrender to Singleton at the weekend, before shipping six goals to Kahibah and letting the opportunity to make ground on ninth-placed Singleton. Nick Roberts has continued his good goalscoring run this season with three in his last two outings, and he’ll need to be at his scoring best if the Stags are to pick up only their second win in their last eight matches.
Belmont Swansea hasn’t lost a game since the 21st of May, and coach Josh Rufo was pleased with the way the run has built confidence among his players.
“When you win games it breeds confidence, and it makes it more enjoyable but we’re still a long way off the finished product,” Rufo said.
“I think it’s going to be a very competitive game, Toronto have shown they’re a very competitive team and I expect nothing less than a really even contest. If Josh Hall trains well this week then he’ll also be in the match day squad.
“Both those players (Hall and Joel Shearer) would be a welcome addition to any side in the competition, we’re very lucky to have two top notch footballers and for me it makes it a little bit of a headache, but I’d rather have that headache.”
News broke midweek that Rufo, along with brother Dan and fellow assistant Mick Stafford have extended their coaching tenures at Belswans. Josh said he was looking forward to ‘being a part of it’.
“The potential of the club is huge, and there is no reason why we can’t become a powerhouse in the NEWFM Northern League One competition and then push onto the NPL whenever that chance may come up… myself, the brother and Mick Stafford are looking forward to taking the club to the next level.”
South Cardiff FC v Kahibah FC
Saturday 8th July, 2:30pm at Ulinga Oval
A wounded South Cardiff side struck back midweek against New Lambton and will look to reignite their charge on top spot when they take on Kahibah at Ulinga Oval this Saturday.
Solid in defence are three words which could well define Southy’s season, and it was an attribute on full display in their last encounter with Kahibah. The Gunners scored early and defended their slim lead for more than 85 minutes to claim a 1-0 win, which sent them to second back in round 7.
The Gunners let second place slip last weekend with a final-minute defeat at the hands of a Josh Knight goal for West Wallsend, but bounced back into third with a midweek triumph over New Lambton. This is the start of their toughest run of games this season – second place Kahibah this weekend, followed by fifth-placed Thornton next weekend, Cooks Hill in round 20 and Belswans the week after.
Kahibah managed to navigate the banana slip that was Thornton last weekend and then backed it up with a resounding 6-1 win over Toronto midweek. That makes it three wins in a row for the Green and Black, and results on Wednesday night mean they’re only two points from league leaders Cooks Hill – they’ll be determined to do their part in closing the gap further this weekend.
If there’s one thing this match may lack this weekend, it’s goals. Kahibah boast the best defence in the competition with only 15 goals through in as many games, while South Cardiff have the third best defence in the comp – only 18 goals through in their fifteen matches. The Green and Black defended well without Andre Gumprecht against Toronto on Wednesday night, while South Cardiff put in an improved defensive performance with Corey Nicholas back in the side from suspension against New Lambton.
Singleton Strikers FC v West Wallsend FC
Sunday 9th July, 2:30pm at Howe Park
Singleton scored an incredible last minute win over Toronto last time out, but face a much sterner test of their abilities on Sunday afternoon when they take on the Bluebells at Howe Park.
It was West Wallsend who triumphed in a close tussle the last time these two sides met – a piece of individual brilliance from fullback Brad Andrews as he beat a handful of defenders and finished underneath Stuart Plant to hand his Bluebells side a 1-0 win. The result came just days after Singleton had triumphed 4-3 in a midweek FFA Cup fixture, and this clash will be the third of the season between the two.
Singleton triumphed in the dying seconds last weekend, and cemented their best run of form so far this season – they’ve taken nine points from their last five matches to sit ninth on the ladder, and just a win away from seventh. The Strikers are all but certain to avoid the wooden spoon, but a win this weekend would make it mathematically assured.
Meanwhile, West Wallsend are on cloud nine after a pair of wins in their last two outings has put them right in the frame for finals football. A 1-0 win over South Cardiff last weekend was backed up midweek with a huge 5-2 win over league leaders Cooks Hill, which puts them only a win outside of the top four. They’ll be eyeing this weekend as a must-win.
Westy coach Gary Rowe was ruing the absence of striker Ryan Cole for last weekend’s clash with South Cardiff, and he showed just why he was missed so when he opened the scoring in the big win over Cooks Hill. He and Tye Jones, who took his tally to ten for the season on Wednesday night, will be a handful for the Singleton defence this week.
Meanwhile, the Strikers will be looking to create problems of their own. Bowen Bagnall was the hero for Singleton last weekend, and he along with Strikers’ leading goal scorer Joe Civello will have to stand tall this weekend if the ninth-placed Strikers are to march further up the ladder. Perhaps more important for Singleton though will be the centre back partnership of Jackson Skinner and Stuart Thompson – they’ll have a lot of work to do to contain the Westy offence.
Singleton coach David Willoughby was under no illusions as to the challenges this weekend’s opponents will present.
“They’re very physical, physically dominant and there’s no real flair about them, they go about their business very well and try to intimidate people,” Willoughby said.
“I’m confident that we will be better, the five goals against New Lambton were very good goals and they gave us a football lesson… but that was an aberration, and every team has them. I’m not going to say we’ll get a clean sheet, but that’s the goal and we’ll keep working on what we need to do defensively and we are improving, believe it or not.
“I think since Stuart (Thompson) has been at the club Jackson (Skinner) has become a much better player, defensively we’re a very small team and Stuart has helped us be a lot stronger in the air defensively.
“Joey (Civello) is back this weekend, possibility that Nathan Hall may play 23s, he trained on Tuesday night and we’ll see how he backs up tonight (Thursday night) and I do believe we have everyone available.”
West Wallsend coach Gary Rowe was channelling his inner A-Team after the result against Cooks Hill.
“It was good, it was nice to have a plan come together and get a result, all the boys are pretty happy with themselves at the moment,” Rowe said.
“The boys were already pretty confident in themselves but it certainly pushes them to a different level, and it means nothing if we don’t do the job this weekend… they were nice and calm after the match, we celebrated for a brief moment and yeah we’re confident, but it doesn’t make the trip to Singo any easier this weekend.
“The focus has always been just to get ten wins and they’ve put themselves reasonably close to that target, our focus needs to be no ourselves and stop worrying about what everyone else is doing and if we win our games and its good enough that’s good, but if it’s not then the season is still a marked improvement on previous years.”
Wallsend FC v New Lambton FC
Sunday 9th July, 2:30pm at The Gardens
Two sides with lofty pre-season ambitions gone by the wayside – Sunday’s clash between Wallsend and New Lambton shapes as an opportunity for each side to streak clear of the mid-table logjam.
A late double helped New Lambton lock down all three points the last time these two sides met in round 7 earlier this season in a 2-1 win to the Eagles which was full of drama – a 35-yard screamer from youngster Harry Benbow and an ambulance to escort Dan Luther and his punctured lung from Alder Park shortly after halftime.
Wallsend have struggled big time in recent weeks – before their get out of jail win against Cessnock in round 16, they hadn’t enjoyed success since a gutsy 2-1 win over Thornton back in May. Defensive solidity was one of Wallsend’s pillars of success early in the season and indeed last season, but have leaked 19 goals in their last five matches. They’ll be hoping the bye last weekend has reinvigorated their defensive spirit.
Time off is not something New Lambton will have the luxury of enjoying – their loss to South Cardiff on Wednesday night was their fourth match in 11 days, and this weekend will make it five in 15. Of those in that run so far, the result in this weekend’s match may be among the most important in relation to their position on the ladder. A win will put them two clear of Wallsend in seventh place.
The Eagles have scored only one in their last three outings, but goals haven’t been much of an issue, in general, this season – Alex Ihlow has chipped in with eight from his ten appearances this season, and he’ll again be important this weekend. Wallsend are ninth of eleven on the goals scored list, and the likes of Matt Williams and Trent Milton (4 and 5 goals respectively) will have to stand up this weekend if the Red Devils are to get a result.
Wallsend coach Chris Gallagher said there was no ‘silver bullet’ they’d looked to work on in their week off.
“Business as usual, working on the same things we always do and there’s no secrets, we just have to keep working hard,” Gallagher said.
“We haven’t taken our chances and it’s a double edged sword, if you don’t take them then you pay the price at the backend of the game… moving forward everyone is a little more committed, the Cessnock game we had more chances than the score reflected but Cessnock dug their heels in and it could have been a bit of a banana peel if we didn’t take our chances late.
“I haven’t been convinced we’re doing well in either area of goal scoring or defending.”