Match of the Round
Thornton Redbacks (7th) vs Football Mid North Coast (8th)
Sunday 21 July, 2.30pm, Thornton Park
Thornton and Football Mid North Coast face one of their biggest challenges this weekend when they meet in Round 18 at Thornton Park this Sunday afternoon.
Both sides have found themselves locked on six points so far this season. Each have won just two games, once against each other and once against Adamstown. With three points on offer this weekend, and a chance to bounce away from last place, everything is on the line.
The Redbacks and their travelling northern opposition both know it too. The teams have been taking their seasons one fixture at a time, but one eye has been locked in the vital games coming up in Round 18.
Alan Primmer admits three points at Thornton Park this weekend has been on his squad’s mind for a short time now. Last weekend, as Warners Bay piled on the goals against the seventh-placed Redbacks, Primmer took his half-time team talk to remind his girls they were preparing for an even more key fixture.
“We spoke about it at half-time last Sunday, it was mentioned that this game is key, and while Warners Bay was already 6-0 up we had to play better because we were getting ready for this game ahead, and the Adamstown fixture,” the Redbacks boss said.
“The whole focus has been getting our heads right because Middies can really punish you if you don’t have your head in the right place.”
The Redbacks will be at near full strength against Mid North Coast this weekend, though defensive star Alyssa Hall has been ruled out ahead of the meeting. It’s a heavy blow, Primmer said, considering how key Hall has been to their backline structure.
“We’re lucky to have Maddison Dean, who played with us last year, back in the squad now. She was unavailable last week, but she’ll step into Alyssa’s No.2 role and should give us a bit of handy pace at the back against Middie’s fast frontline,” Primmer said.
On the other side of the park, Mick Grass will be hoping Mid North Coast can overcome missing their own star player – midfield metronome Ruby Grass is facing her third week out, and the northern club’s coach is looking to his other centre stars to shine.
“With Ruby out we’re missing one of our mainstay midfielders, she’s still a chance to come back but there are some doubts. With her gone, we’ll be looking to our young midfield two of Emma Shipperlee and Chelsea Hall to step up. I know they can put in a shift for us.”
Thornton will also celebrate their Pink Day for Hunter Breast Cancer on Sunday. The Redbacks will have merchandise, stalls, raffles, and donation tins for the club-wide event.
New Lambton (1st) vs Wallsend (5th)
Sunday 21 July, 2.30pm, Arthur Edden Oval
New Lambton’s campaign has been long, and now in Round 18, the club is just three points away from mathematically clinching the Women’s Premier League premiership in 2019.
The opportunity to secure the premiership with at least 10-point buffer over the Warners Bay comes at Arthur Edden Oval on Sunday afternoon. Between the Eagles and table-topping glory stand in-form TAFE NSW Women’s State Cup champions Wallsend.
It’s not exactly the easiest fixture in the books. The Red Devils have been resurgent in the second half of the season, and remain undefeated since May in the Premier League and last fortnight’s State Cup. Victories over South Wallsend, Mid North Coast, and Thornton have paved the way for a chance at making the finals.
While Keelan Hamilton admits it would be remiss of him and his squad to not consider Wallsend’s red-hot form, the Eagles coach said the potential premiers were focused more on their four-game run-in to August’s playoffs.
“Every week we consider what the opponent can bring, of course, and Wallsend are in some really good form at the minute so they pose a tricky fixture this weekend,” he said.
“A few of the girls that were out injured for them are back now and in good fitness, so it’s going to be difficult. Should be a really entertaining game with both of us in form.”
While the three points at Arthur Edden Oval would be a culmination of the regular season run New Lambton have marched to, Hamilton said the victory doesn’t necessarily have to happen this weekend. With four games in hand until the final whistle in August, there’s plenty of time.
“We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but we know we can secure the premiership at home this weekend so that’s got everyone a bit excited,” he said.
“The team has four games to go though, so there won’t be any nerves in this fixture. There’s so much of the season to go, and this is just one more step along the way at the moment. That said, we are really excited. There’s been a lot of hard work to get to this moment, so it’s a good feeling to know we’re in a spot where we’re just one win away from that goal.”
New Lambton already holds the head-to-head over Wallsend for the season as well, bolstering their potential chances on the weekend. Most recently the Eagles defeated them 5-1 at The Gardens. Earlier in the season, they secured a 4-1 win at Arthur Edden Oval.
Hamilton believes the excitement, as well as the historic record against the Devils this season, will be handy. He doesn’t want to get too far ahead of himself just yet, however.
“It will be a good occasion for the club if we can get over the line, but it isn’t dire straits if we can’t, and we’re not counting our chickens before they’ve hatched,” he said.
Merewether United (4th) vs Adamstown Rosebuds (6th)
Sunday 21 July, 2.30pm, Myamblah Oval
This weekend at Myamblah Oval sees the final regular-season meeting between inner-city rivals Merewether and Adamstown, as each club looks to reach a different goal for their 2019 campaigns.
For Adamstown, three points against the Llamas offers them a chance to step further away from the battle to avoid the wooden spoon.
Right now the Buds are a single point clear of the two-way tie at the bottom. A superior goal difference over Mid North Coast gives them more breathing room if the clubs draw level, but that’s not a chance Adamstown will want to take.
The problem for the travelling side will be that Merewether holds the two-game head-to-head in the derby fixtures. A 3-2 comeback went against the Rosebuds in Round 4 at Myamblah, before the defending champions blew Adamstown away 6-0 at Adamstown Oval.
That head-to-head record is a boost for Merewether who are looking for the three points for a different reason. Right now the Llamas hold a five-point lead over the chasing fifth-placed Wallsend.
With how red-hot the Red Devils have been in recent weeks, there’s no guarantee they won’t collect points from games they shouldn’t. If Merewether wants to avoid their spot in the playoffs, and their championship defence, coming down to the wire, three points are key.
It’s a bigger ask than usual for the club, however, as Cass Koppen confirmed Sarah Hartree (ACL), Rebekah Stuart (injury), Leah Guiffre, Ellie Withers, and Jamee Ellis (away) had all been ruled out of the playing squad. Emma Allen also returns from Nationals.
“Everyone is gutted for Sarah after she did her ACL at Port Macquarie last weekend, she’s a massive loss for us because she’s been a consistent performer for us for about five or six years, and has so much experience,” Koppen said.
“With so many out we’re just going to have to dig deep. I think our more experienced players like Rhali Dobson and captain Alison Logue, as well as Jane Macdonald in the midfield, are going to have to play big roles this Sunday.
“They’re our leaders in the team, and we’ve spoken about being this many players down before and still getting results so no excuses from us. We still have a lot of quality on the park, so we’re aiming for the win and we know we can get the result we’re looking for.”
South Wallsend (3rd) vs Warners Bay (2nd)
Sunday 21 July, 2.30pm, Walker Fields
South Wallsend welcomes Warners Bay to Walker Fields this Sunday afternoon in the final fixture of the round, with both teams locked in a tight tussle for second place.
With just four rounds, plus catch-up games, left to determine the nature of both team’s positions in the top four, the potential three points on offer in Round 18 could prove key for the Wolves and the Panthers.
It’s not a thought lost on Warners Bay coach Craig Atkins, but the travelling helmsman revealed his squad is more focused on solving gaps that have opened up at the back with absences in Sunday’s upcoming fixture.
Alongside Nadja Squires’ ongoing absence, Gemma Lawson and Airlie Davis have been added to the ‘outs’ column for the Panthers. Shannon Day and goalkeeper Maddi Latter have also been ruled out.
Davis especially has made the defensive flank her own in recent weeks, and Atkins knows he’s facing a headache restructuring the backline to make sure she isn’t missed against the Wolves.
“Gemma and Airlie being out means we have to look for some replacements at the back. Ellie Brown comes back this week so that’s a ready-made replacement for Gemma which is good. We have a few things we’re going to have to figure out with Airlie’s absence,” he said.
Ally Boertje would be making her mark between the sticks for the Panthers with Latter out, but to combat the rest of the changes Atkins revealed he may make “some movements at the back” formation-wise.
“Airlie especially has been solid for us in the last few weeks, so there are some big shoes to fill there,” he said. “We’ll be looking for a replacement for her in training this week, but with how good she’s been and the impact she brings it may be easier to swap things at the back.
“If we can change the configuration of our players that may cover the gap that Airlie has left. Otherwise, we’ll bring someone into the squad, and whoever we do bring in I have full confidence they can do the job in front of them for sure.”
The defensive changes for the Panthers come under the shadow of another focus Atkins has been implementing in the squad since he began his tenure – lifting intensity.
“This game against Southy especially we know is going to be very physical, so we’ve been looking to raise our intensity in the final weeks of the league,” he revealed. “If you don’t give your opponent an inch then you have so much pressure, and we have been working on getting the squad to work for each other to that high level. That will be our main focus.”