PHOTO: VALENTINE SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY
Match of the Round
Thornton Redbacks FC v South Cardiff FC
Saturday 15th July, 2:45pm at Thornton Park
Thornton pulled a point out of nowhere with a late flurry last weekend, and this weekend presents their best chance to make headway on a jump back into the top four against a South Cardiff side without a win in their last two.
It was Old Boys Day at Ulinga Oval the last time these two sides faced, but it was Thornton who impressed on the pitch – doubles from Will Whitehall and Jack Halverson helped the visitors on the day to a 6-0 win over South Cardiff. It was the start of a good run for the Redbacks – they won their next three on the trot.
This weekend’s match shapes as an interesting tussle. Thornton like to take the game by the scruff of the neck and outscore their opposition, while Southy prefers to be tight at the back and nick a goal. Different methods led both sides to the same result last week – a draw, albeit it was 2-all for Thornton and nil-all for South Cardiff, which advanced each of their finals hopes.
Thornton left it until late last weekend but managed to grab a point from Cooks Hill. They were scheduled to play Toronto midweek, but lighting troubles at Thornton Park has delayed that match further. With only four regular season matches to play for the rest of the competition, the Redbacks are in the unusual position of having six to play thanks to a rainy June. It’s crucial they’re switched on throughout the next month if they want to bridge the gap between themselves in fifth place and this weekend’s opponents in fourth.
Labelled this season’s dark horses at the start of 2017, South Cardiff have certainly lived up to the mantle. They’re fourth with just four games to go, but if Thornton wins both of their games in hand they can bridge the five-point gap between the two sides. However, a win at Thornton Park would all but assure the Gunners that a first finals appearance since the 2011 State League finals. They lost on penalties to Broadmeadow Magic that year, but the finals experience of the likes of player/coach Denis Fajkovic (he won the first NPL NNSW Grand Final with Lambton in 2014) would come in handy.
Thornton coach Darrel McAllister said he wasn’t putting any extra pressure on his side ahead, for perhaps their biggest match of the season.
“I think we know what we need to do, I don’t think we’re too far off the mark we just need to be a little more clinical in front of goal, we’re reasonably happy with all the other stuff and we’re jut going to ask for a first grade performance this weekend,” McAllister said.
“We’ve got a few areas we feel we might be able to get at Southy, last time we played them they’d played a couple of games and (had) only conceded four when we played them, the result probably didn’t reflect the game and we probably just took our chances.
“A couple of players picked up knocks last weekend… Jack Halverson came off with a whack to the ankle, Josh Benaquista is still out but he’s close to being back to training and Callum Baxter made a return to 23s last weekend but apart from those guys, we’re all pretty good.”
West Wallsend SFC v Belmont Swansea United FC
Saturday 15th July, 2:30pm at Johnston Park
Singleton all but dashed any Bluebell hopes of finals football with a tight 1-0 win last weekend, so West Wallsend will be out to spoil the party for Belswans, who can jump into first place with a win this weekend.
Belmont-Swansea snuck home last time out against Westy, a 4-3 win which perhaps flattered the Bluebells as they managed a brace in the final ten minutes to make the scoreline more respectable – and give Belswans a fright! This weekend’s visitors will want to be more clinical this weekend.
Last weekend’s loss to Singleton was a cruel blow to West Wallsend’s finals hopes. They’re now six points adrift of the top four, and fourth place (South Cardiff) have a game in hand which seemingly dooms their hopes of finals football. They’ll need a much-improved performance this weekend, chances were hard to find against Singleton last weekend and execution worse still. If things are similar against Belswans this weekend, it could be a long afternoon.
It’s been a week at a time for Belswans coach Josh Rufo all season, and despite only four games left on the calendar he says it’s the same story this weekend – no focus on a potential share of first place if a win is forthcoming this weekend. Tega Marcus scored three when these two sides clashed back in round 8 and has 18 goals for the season. He’s not the only one to watch though – Joel Shearer and Josh Hall have shown their class in recent weeks, and Belmont-Swansea have threats all over the park.
Rufo was keen to stress there are still points on offer.
“There are still 12 points on offer and it could easily go the other way if we don’t get the results we could drop out of the top four,” Rufo said.
“I think there will be a reaction from Westy, and I think they’re a very competitive side and it’ll be a tough game… ultimately football is won with the football, so I believe we’ve got some players that can match it physically in that part of the game but that doesn’t change things for me.”
Kahibah FC v Singleton Strikers FC
Sunday 16th July, 2:30pm at Kahibah Oval
Cooks Hill have the bye this weekend, which means Kahibah (in second place on 32 points) are best placed to snatch first place for themselves this weekend – but in their way are a plucky Singleton side, fresh off a win over West Wallsend and keen to hit their straps toward the end of the season.
Andre Gumprecht’s side were clinical last time out against Singleton – a 3-0 win up at Howe Park, which took them to within two points of Cooks Hill. This time around, they’re already within two points and a win here will dislodge the Cookers’ from the top and Kahibah will replace them.
Of the three sides below Cooks Hill, it is Kahibah who are best placed to take advantage of their bye this weekend and potentially jump a point above them into first place. They could have jumped level last week but weren’t able to break down the Gunners. Kahibah are without striker Dave Hodgson after he was sent off last weekend, but it may allow them to alter the way they play with the injection of some young pace into the front line.
Singleton snatched a somewhat fortunate win last weekend, a 1-0 win over West Wallsend which could have been 3-all, or more if both sides had taken their chances. It’s a problem which has plagued the Strikers for much of the season – they’re ninth-placed on the goals scored tally, with 26 to their name from 16 outings. However, with a full contingent to pick from this weekend, coach David Willoughby has plenty of options to choose from which is something he’s especially pleased with.
“There are a couple of boys who are sick, but to the best of my knowledge for the first time this season, all 28 senior players are eligible for selection,” Willoughby said.
“We have talked about being more clinical on numerous occasions, we could have finished maybe two more (against West Wallsend) and Bowen Bagnall and Joey (Civello) should have had a goal each, but we did what we had to do last weekend.
“For us this weekend, we need to shut the passing channels down in midfield and it’s probably going to be worse for us with Hodgson not playing, a very gifted player but on the ball he’s slow at this particular point in his life, there’ll be a young bloke who will take his place which will make it a little harder for Ryan (Hartwell) and Jae (Dawes).
“We’ve already given a couple of young boys a run, and there are probably two more who would have had a run before this but for one reason or another have had work or social commitments and couldn’t stick around and sit on the bench for first grade, there are two I wouldn’t mind giving a run too but they have to make themselves available.”
New Lambton FC v Cessnock City FC
Sunday 16th July, 2:30pm at Alder Park
There are a whopping 14 points separating New Lambton and Cessnock heading into Sunday’s clash, and the Eagles will be keen to extend that gap to 17 points and snap a five-match losing streak at Alder Park with a win over Cessnock this weekend.
Cessnock picked up their second point of the season against a wasteful New Lambton last time the two sides faced off in round 8 at Turner Park – a 1-all draw. It proved good preparation for New Lambton’s Westfield FFA Cup date with Kahibah the following Tuesday and Cessnock’s with Hamilton, but without similar motivation this weekend it’s anyone’s game.
Last time Cessnock had the bye, they shocked the competition upon their return to recording a 1-all draw with New Lambton. It was the start of a promising run for the Hornets, but it eventually came to nothing. This time around and neither side has anything but pride to play for. Cessnock’s youngsters haven’t lit the world on fire this season, but a point or three at Alder Park this weekend may serve as a small slice of redemption in what has been a miserable season.
New Lambton have all but caught up on their backlog of washouts, but didn’t do enough to be in finals contention with four rounds to go. It means they have the luxury of experimenting with style, structure and personnel for the remainder of 2017, and newly re-signed coach Andrew Packer revealed he plans on playing tinker-man for the rest of the season.
“Part of my mindset is keeping one eye on the future, and over the next few games I’ll be seeing how guys react to a couple of different formations and personnel, just make sure everyone has had a bit of a crack at first team time,” Packer said.
“Rory Tolhurst played (against Wallsend) and it was his first game for us, he’s played 23s all year but he’s capable of playing first grade. We’ve got some good midfield and attacking players but I thought he played well so he’ll get another chance, we’ve got some really good depth in the midfield and we need to strengthen a bit defensively.
“Against Cessnock last time we conceded one at their place, it was one of those games where we came away and thought we should have been a lot more than that and we should have easily won that. We’ll have to be good and we can’t underestimate them, the way they set up we found that tough to break down.
“If they want to sit back then we can control possession, if they want to sit high then we can counter attack… I’m confident that if we’re defensively strong then we’ll be able to get over the line and get the three points.”
Toronto Awaba FC v Wallsend FC
Sunday 16th July, 2:30pm at Lyall Peacock Field
Wallsend snagged their best haul of the season so far with five past New Lambton last weekend, and with the second-worst defence in the league up next on Sunday they’ll be confident of a good show against Toronto.
The Red Devils left it until late last time against Toronto, but they got the job done in the last ten minutes thanks to goals from Jackson Pett and Matt Williams. Toronto hasn’t beat Wallsend in the league since the latter were promoted to the second tier in 2015, but Sunday perhaps shapes as an opportunity for them to do so.
Toronto were aiming to consolidate their position and perhaps improve on last year’s tenth-placed finish, but it looks like they won’t be able to do so. They’d have to take a minimum of seven points to finish ninth or higher, but with a bye yet to come it looks unlikely they’ll advance further up the ladder. It might shape as an opportunity for Nick Roberts to hit double digits for the season – he’s currently on nine goals, which accounts for 40% of all Toronto’s goals this season.
Speaking of goals, they’re something Wallsend have struggled for this year albeit not as much as the Stags. They’ve managed 27 goals in their 16 outings this season, but they haven’t been able to pin down a consistent goal scorer among their ranks. Matt Williams and Trent Milton have been their best with six and five goals respectively, and they’ll need to do well again this weekend. Wallsend will be without defender Mal Hinchliffe, who was sent off in the first half against New Lambton last weekend.
Wallsend coach Chris Gallagher identified just where those goals had come from last weekend – and spoke about what his ambitions were for the remainder of the season.
“Midfielders! I think the boys found a bit of belief, we had close to a full strength squad for a change… it was just pure hard work and effort, the boys have been putting in all year and the chances that fell last weekend haven’t fallen all year,” Gallagher said.
“Our goal is to stop anyone else making finals… say if we play Kahibah and we can stop them winning the Premiership, it’s pretty much about if we can’t make it then we’re going to try and stop as many people as we can and have a good finish to the season as well.
“We need to avoid getting caught in anything this weekend, not get involved in any silly tackles or blow-ups, which is easier said than done. We just have to match it physically with them, last time we played Toronto the boys knew they’d played, which is good.”