Match of the Round
Cooks Hill United (1st) vs. Thornton Redbacks FC (2nd)
Saturday 23rd June, 2:30 pm, Newcastle Athletics Field
What a showdown this is set to be! The second place Thornton Redbacks will travel to face the league leaders Cooks Hill, at the AthField in a match where getting the three points will be crucial if they wish to challenge for the premiership.
Thornton has been one of the few teams to have managed a victory over the Cookers this season where they scored four goals – the most scored in a match against the defending champions since May 2017 – and is the only team so far to have not conceded more than two goals in a single match this season.
Cooks Hill has amped up a gear since Graham Law returned from his mid-season trip to Scotland and have quickly shaped up to once again be the outright favourites of the premiership and championship.
In the nine matches, Law has been present on the sideline, Cooks Hill has only conceded five goals, and have been unstoppable this season at home as they are still yet to drop a point when playing at the AthField and have only conceded three goals in the seven they have played.
Thornton Redbacks’ coach Gary Wand admitted his team were preparing for an extremely tough game.
“They’re strong right across the board,” said Wand.
“The reason they’re better than anybody else is that they take their chances.
“We’re going to have to be right on our game and take our chances to be in with a chance.
“You have to be aware of their strengths. Guys like Nick Russell and Lee Ashton are guys you have to watch…but I want to try and give them something to worry about as well.”
Belmont-Swansea United (6th) vs. Singleton Strikers (3rd)
Saturday 23rd June, 2:30 pm, Blacksmiths Oval
After breaking an 11-year winless streak last time they met with Belswans, Singleton have developed from a potential mid-table side, into a team that looks set to feature in the top four for the first time in their history.
The Strikers’ leapt back into the winners’ circle with a win over Toronto last weekend, but their upcoming opponents have been experiencing a wealth of form and have jumped up to within one point of the top four after struggling to begin the year.
It’s been eight weeks since Belswans last tasted defeat and although their offence is currently the worst in the league, their defence has been one of the better ones.
Belswans’ coach Josh Rufo said although they’re enjoying an unbeaten streak, that no one at the club is focusing on it and that the emphasis is still well and truly fixed on reaching their goals.
“We haven’t been talking about it. We set some very clear goals at the beginning of the season and were just working very hard as a collective group to get there,” said Rufo.
“We’re well aware that we can go down as quickly as we’ve come up.
“We’ve worked very hard and had a lot of challenges, but at the end of the day, if we’re in there [top four], we’ve done the right thing and if we’re not, we didn’t deserve it.”
Rufo stated that he believed the Strikers deserved to be where they were on the table, but that their position there meant that the burden was on their shoulders now.
“Singleton are there for a reason – the table doesn’t lie, as they say. We’re expecting a really competitive but to be honest, the pressure is on them at the moment. So we’ll just do our own thing and see what happens.
“They’re a really hungry group of players and they have a good coach. If we can match their desire and their effort, and throw in a bit of our technical quality, that’s what we’ll need to do to win.”
West Wallsend Bluebells SFC (7th) vs. New Lambton FC (10th)
Saturday 23rd June, 2:30 pm, Johnston Park
It’s been a windy road so far this season for these teams. Both have shown high-quality football at times but have been far too inconsistent to find any sort of form.
After going on a four-game winning streak near the beginning of the season, West Wallsend has since only won one from their past five, as have New Lambton.
The Eagles have begun to lift their game under new coach Jim Foley, but are still unable to collect wins on a consistent basis – something that they’ll need to change if they want to salvage their season and make a late run towards the top four.
West Wallsend on the other hand, sit just two points outside the four despite sitting in a mid-table position.
New Lambton’s coach Jim Foley said his team’s focus was on their own game and that there was many areas they needed to improve on if they want to beat the Bluebells.
“Our priority is not much so on West Wallsend, but instead were trying to make sure we get some rhythm into our game as quickly as possible,” said Foley.
“We need to improve our ability to be able to understand how to manage certain situations. In my observation, that’s been our main downfall.
“We have lapses in concentration and we have moments where we lose our discipline and some teams have taken full advantage of that.
“Are we yet where we want to be? No, I think we’re well short. But this whole process is making us stronger and making us better.”
Toronto Awaba Stags FC (11th) vs. Kahibah FC (9th)
Sunday 24th June, 2:30 pm, Lyall Peacock Field
In the reverse fixture of this match, Toronto won in a thrilling, high scoring battle, and with both teams continuing to struggle near the bottom of the table, neither side will want to come away with the loss.
That loss back in Round 4 stands to be the only time Kahibah has ever been defeated by the Stags, and if they want to move on from that historic defeat, their defence will need to display the kind of strength and organisation that has been shown in recent weeks (six conceded in five games) rather than that at the beginning of the year (17 conceded in six games).
Toronto currently holds the worst home record though, having only managed one point at Lyall Peacock this season.
If either of these teams can solidify their defence, it’ll go a long way in potentially gaining a victory, however, if not, it may be another high-scoring affair.
Wallsend FC (8th) vs. Cessnock City Hornets (5th)
Sunday 24th June, 2:30 pm, The Gardens
So far this season, Wallsend and Cessnock have both had similar campaigns – both began the year with undefeated streaks but have since petered out and struggle to display the same kind of form that they once experienced.
The Hornets bounced back from their recent run of disappointing form though with a strong win over South Cardiff and as a result, now sit just two points outside the top four.
The Red Devils though, are trudging through a five-game losing streak and are desperate need of collecting the three points in order to keep within distance of playing finals football.
What works in Wallsend’s favour is the away record of their opposition as Cessnock have only managed to win one game away from home this year.
Cessnock City coach Brendan Slade said with the competition being as close as it is, that they’re just taking the competition game-by-game.
“Our focus is just on winning each week. We’re taking it one game at a time and we’ll so how far we can go,” said Slade.
“We’re just going to concentrate on possession like we have done all year.”
“We’ve got Isaac Peek coming back from suspension and we might have Kyle Williams out too.”
“I’ve pushed Josh Dwyer up the field and he’s a fantastic talent. So we’re going to try and give him some more ball because he can make something out of nothing.”
South Cardiff FC (4th) have the bye.