Thornton Redbacks (2nd) vs. West Wallsend Bluebells (3rd)
Sunday 26th August, 2:30 pm, Thornton Park
1st Leg Score: West Wallsend 1, Thornton 1
After a tight, tense tussle at Johnston Park in the first leg, West Wallsend will travel to Thornton needing to score in order to avoid missing out on the Grand Final due to the ‘away goals’ rule.
Although Thornton enters the fixture with the slight advantage on their side, the Redbacks won’t be able to bank on it especially considering the disorganisation the Bluebells’ forwards, Tye Jones and Sam Holt, caused them in defence last time out.
When West Wallsend last visited Thornton Park earlier in the year they copped a 6-1 battering – which their biggest loss this season – and incredibly the last time they won there was back in 2013.
For Thornton though, playing at home has been their forte as they’ve only two close matches there all year but more impressively, have scored a big 30 goals in the ten games played.
A win, or 0-0 draw, would see the Redbacks qualify for their first Grand Final in NEWFM Northern League One history, but coach Gary Wand admitted that he believed it would once again be a neck-and-neck contest.
“There’s really nothing between us and Westy,” Wand said.
“They have a different style of play to us, but there’s not much at all between the two sides.
“It’s just going to come down to the team who takes their chances.
“We’ve just got to hope that it’s our day.”
Wand confessed that although they can sneak through with a nil-all draw, his side wasn’t going to sit back.
“All year, we’ve always tried to win the game,” said Wand.
“We’re not going to change a thing. We’ll go out with the same approach as last time.
“I’ll be very surprised if it’s not close in some way, shape or form this weekend.”
Cooks Hill United (1st) vs. Belmont-Swansea United (4th)
Saturday 25th August, 2:30 pm, Newcastle Athletics Field
1st Leg Score: Belswans 1, Cooks Hill 1
Last weekend saw emotions boil over making the 1-1 draw a fiery contest, and with a spot in a successive Grand Final still completely up-for-grabs both teams, this Saturday’s match may include more of the same reactions.
Recent history has proven that these two sides bring the best of out each other and a close game is almost always guaranteed.
Like the other semi-final happening over the weekend, Cooks Hill have attained a slim ‘away-goals’ advantage, and considering this fixture is between the two best defensive teams in the league, it may come into play if both back-lines shine.
The Cookers have dropped points just once when playing at home this year and haven’t lost a game at the AthField since April 2017 – 18 home matches ago – and coach Graham Law was expecting his team to once again lift to another level when taking the field.
“The players take great pride in playing and performing at home,” Law said.
“Good sides treasure home advantage.
“I have no doubt that the players will self-manage.”
After the first leg’s action, Law made clear of his ire at some of the tackles and challenges that Belswans made that he believed were “over the line”, and in the second leg, he said that he’s expecting another physical encounter especially considering the boys from Blacksmiths are currently down on the aggregate score.
“I expect them to set up something similar…but we’ll be different across the park,” said Law.
“It’s a big game. Belswans are a good team and we recognise that and respect them. “We don’t need to score. They do.
“We always set up to attack…if you set up to draw, you’re more likely to lose.
“They need to come and win the game. As the tie stands, we’re in the Grand Final.
Belswans coach Josh Rufo said he and his team weren’t fazed by Law’s comments after the match, and that they were only focused on the job they needed to do to proceed into the Grand Final.
“He can think whatever he wants,” Rufo said.
“We go out there to win. Were a competitive football team. I’ve got no interest in that, I think it’s all rubbish.
“From our end, we play how we want to play. Consistently, we’ve been a very good football team.
“How do you get the ball back? You do whatever you need to. If they’re soft, they’re soft, that’s not my problem.”
“We’re only focused on what we’re doing, we don’t worry about what they’re doing.
Rufo admitted that although his team executed the game plan well last weekend, there were still areas that needed to improve for the second leg clash.
“It’s just 1-1 at half-time…We’re not letting this go,” Rufo said.
“We talked about being more clinical in the final third.
“For anyone that watched the game, I think they’d say we could have had three or four by half-time.
“There’s a whole host of players that Cooks Hill will need to try and contain.”