Match of the Round
South Cardiff (5th) vs. Singleton Strikers (7th)
Sunday 29th July, 2:30 pm, Ulinga Oval
This weekend features multiple matches that will have an incredible impact on how the top four will shape up, and the match of the round between South Cardiff and Singleton will be a fixture that may knock either team out of the race.
For the visitors, there are no questions about it – they must win, and if they don’t, it’s season over.
The Strikers experienced a great run of form throughout the season that saw them go eight games undefeated, but disappointing results in the back-half of the year has unfortunately almost completely derailed their hopes.
The Gunners were beaten last weekend by Belswans and knocked out of the top four meaning now only a win will see them return there.
Holding one of the better-attacking records in the competition, South Cardiff’s offence has been one of their key strengths, while for the Strikers, it’s been their downfall.
Singleton has been held scoreless five matches this year – more than any other team – although last time they faced the Gunners, only one goal was needed when they won at home, 1-0.
Singleton coach David Willoughby said he was expecting an agitated South Cardiff team and that he was confident his team would demonstrate some fearlessness.
“I think we’re getting them [South Cardiff] at a pretty good time,” Willoughby said.
“I think South Cardiff will be very anxious and very nervous.
“I think they’re going to be very desperate which is good for us and they’ll play with a fair bit of fear.”
Willoughby said his team are disappointed that they’re at the cusp of exiting the finals race, but that the confidence around the club is quite high following a rather successful season.
“We put ourselves in a good position unexpectedly in the middle of the year, but we’ve just struggled with long-term injuries… we just didn’t have the arms and legs to keep the roll.
“We also probably haven’t managed games as well as we could have.
“The boys aren’t happy that we’ve fallen away, but we’re still happy with where we are as a club.
“We’re still progressing and in the last two years, the club has improved in lots of different areas.
“Our season has been positive, and before a ball has been kicked on the weekend, we’re going to finish in a good place. More importantly but, we’ve put some more building blocks in place to move another step forward.”
West Wallsend Bluebells SFC (4th) vs. Cooks Hill United (1st)
Saturday 28th July, 2:30 pm, Johnston Park
West Wallsend has pulled off some great results this season, including two great wins over rivals Wallsend, however, this weekend they come up against one of their greatest challenges as they face the back-to-back premiers in order to retain their top four position.
For Cooks Hill, they’re coming off of the bye and before that, they celebrated winning the premiership with a dominant 5-0 victory, so confidence will be at an all-time high as they prepare themselves for a challenging finals series.
Cooks Hill are yet to be held scoreless in a single game this season and also have an average of four goals a match from their past four appearances, however, the Bluebells have showcased some great attacking numbers as well scoring 14 in their past three games.
West Wallsend still has to play second-placed Belswans, so gathering all the points they can from this one, will be crucial as they near the end of the regular season.
Thornton Redbacks (3rd) vs. Wallsend FC (6th)
Saturday 28th July, 2:30 pm, Thornton Park
Only a few weeks ago, Thornton looked to have grabbed a definite spot in this year’s finals series but has gone winless in their past three matches, they are now back amongst the pack in the scrap for a spot in the top four.
Wallsend is another team who feature in that group. Sitting outside the top four by four points, the Red Devils could wave the finals goodbye if they came away with a loss like they did last time against the Redbacks.
In their past five matches, both teams have shown up-and-down, inconsistent form. Wallsend has won three and lost two, while Thornton has won one, drawn two and lost two – meaning the result this weekend could be quite unpredictable.
Thornton coach Gary Wand said he was expecting a raring Wallsend side.
“It’s going to be a very tough one,” Wand said.
“They’re coming off a pretty big defeat against Westy, and we gave them a little bit of a touch up last time we played so they’re going to be pretty fired up I think.”
Wand said there were many areas his team needed improving in but that there were a couple of key things they were looking at for this weekend.
“We have to start taking our chances.
“We’re not defending well either, not just the big four, but together as a team.
New Lambton FC (9th) vs. Kahibah FC (10th)
Saturday 28th July, 4:30 pm, Alder Park
It’s the one game this weekend that doesn’t affect the finals race at all, however, as both sides would agree, there’s plenty of pride, and opportunity for improvement, on the line.
Last weekend, New Lambton picked up a handy victory over Singleton, while Kahibah managed a fantastic 10-man comeback to draw against Thornton, however, the Green and Blacks haven’t found a win in four weeks.
With no pressure on either of these two teams’ shoulders, there’s a chance for both coaches to experiment and try new things in order to find what works ahead of next year.
Cessnock City Hornets (8th) vs. Belmont-Swansea United (2nd)
Sunday 29th July, 2:30 pm, Turner Park
At the half-way point in the season, no one would have been blamed for thinking that these two teams would be in reverse positions on the table now, but with just three weeks to go in the season, Belswans look to have strangled a nice position in the top four, while Cessnock are fighting for dear life.
The Hornets picked up a strong victory against the wooden-spooners last weekend and will need to continue that trend in every game remaining to feature in the semi-finals, including this week against the red-hot Belswans who haven’t been beaten in 12 weeks.
The last time these two faced off, the boys from Blacksmiths held on for a strong 1-0 at home, and if that result happens again, it’ll be lights-out for Cessnock.
Belswans coach Josh Rufo admitted his team were preparing for one of the hardest challenges they will face.
“I expect this to be the toughest game of the season to be honest,” Rufo said.
“Both teams are fighting for a spot in the finals so I’m expecting it to be a very hard game.”
“They’re young, very enthusiastic and they know they have to win to get into the finals so that’s a big challenge to deal with.”
“We’re going there with every intention to win the game.”
Someone who’s returning this weekend for Belswans is one of their new signings, Josh Sutton, who’s return to the club has reinvigorated the team, and Rufo was happy to have him back this week.
“He’s made a huge impact in the short space that he’s been with us and we’re very happy with his contribution.
“Overall but, it’s a team game and he’s just added to the experience and quality that we have across the park.”
Toronto Awaba Stags FC (11th) have the bye.