Match of the Round
Merewether United (4th) vs Wallsend (5th)
Sunday 28 July, 2.30pm, Myamblah Oval
Merewether welcomes Wallsend to Myamblah Oval this weekend as the pinch for the final four comes to a head in Round 19.
With the Red Devils trailing by eight points, and only three fixtures left to play before the semi-finals, it’s very much crunch time for the fifth-placed team. This Sunday offers one of their best chances yet to put themselves right back in the finals race: a six-point swing puts them just five points off the final four.
It’s not exactly panic stations for Wallsend just yet. The team must remain calm, coach Brad Jones said of the mini-grand final for his side, if they want to get a positive result.
That said, the Devils boss knows how important the next 90 minutes will be for the TAFE NSW Women’s State Cup champions as they look to continue their success in the league: “It’s three points or bust.”
“We understand the importance of this game, and we’re ready to go,” he said.
“The team has bought into the game plan. Last week the scoreline didn’t reflect our quality, and at the end of the day, we controlled the game for long periods. We didn’t just take it to the runaway premiers, we put them under serious pressure.
“If we can do that to New Lambton, who has been class all season, then there’s not a team in the competition that we can’t do that, or more, to. The girls took a lot from the game last weekend, and we believe this is a game that we can definitely win.”
Wallsend and Merewether have each pipped the other once this season in their head-to-head battle. United claimed a 7-1 win recently as Rhali Dobson fired into shining form with four against the Red Devils. Earlier in the season, Wallsend won their home fixture 3-1.
In fact, outside of the New Lambton loss last weekend, Wallsend hadn’t tasted defeat since tumbling by six goals at Myamblah Oval in Round 12.
Two wins over arch-rivals South Wallsend and a 6-0 thrashing of Thornton piled on the points, while draws with Adamstown and Warners Bay kept the side undefeated.
With Wallsend potentially one of the form sides of the league at the moment, Llamas’ coach Cass Koppen has preached “patience” to her squad as they battle to lock fourth.
“We just need to keep patient and trust our ability. Wallsend has apparently been in great form and have welcomed back a few key players who have bolstered their attack,” she said.
“They will be competing for a finals sport, so we know they will do what it takes to get points.”
Adamstown Rosebuds (6th) vs Football Mid North Coast (8th)
Sunday 28 July, 2.30pm, Adamstown No.1 Oval
While the battle at the top still rages for finals positions, Adamstown and Football Mid North Coast are caught in another standings contest that could stretch right to the final whistle of Round 21 – the race to avoid the Women’s Premier League last-place position.
After a thrilling 3-3 draw between Mid North Coast and Thornton last weekend handed both clubs a point, and Adamstown were edged 1-0 by rivals Merewether at Myamblah Oval, all three teams find themselves locked on seven points apiece.
This weekend’s meeting between the Rosebuds and the Middies offers perhaps three of the most important points of either club’s seasons now. A win on Sunday afternoon puts the victor right into pole-position in sixth – if results in other games go their way.
Both fixtures between the sixth and eighth placed teams have been tight contests so far in 2019. The Buds most recently nicked a 1-0 win in Port Macquarie in May, while Layni Fens earned Mid North Coast a 2-0 win at No.1 Oval in their first meeting in Round 5.
The impact of the game’s result hasn’t been lost on home-side coach Paul Devitis either.
“This weekend’s game is obviously massive in relation to the bottom of the table. I think both teams will be going out there with one intention in mind – to win,” he said.
“There’s a good chance it will be a pretty open game considering both teams will be going out there to score goals. Our major focus has been preparing for that, and building up in the middle third to get ourselves those goal-scoring opportunities.
“Our defence in particular has been performing very well the last couple of months, and we will need them to really step up against so we don’t let Middies create opportunities. We did that well against Merewether last week and will be looking for more of the same, particularly from Elly Cook and her defensive line.”
Warners Bay (2nd) vs New Lambton (1st)
Sunday 28 July, 2.30pm, John Street Oval
Warners Bay welcome newly crowned premiers New Lambton to John Street Oval this Sunday afternoon as the Panthers look to stay ahead in the race for second.
The title may now be locked as New Lambton moved to 50 points last weekend, but Eagles boss Keelan Hamilton has a new focus in mind ahead of the finals – finish 2019 undefeated. There are just three games left, and the target is in reach.
Indomitable leaders New Lambton boast strong head-to-head records over every club in the league this season, and their upcoming opponents are no different. The Eagles rolled over Warners Bay in the midfield to score a 4-1 win at Alder Park in Round 12. Earlier this year, the premiers secured a 4-2 victory at John Street Oval.
“The focus for us is the same as it’s been all season, we’re just trying to be the best that we can be,” Hamilton said.
“Every time we’ve gone into a game this season we’ve tried to win it and that’ll be no different on Sunday. Warners Bay has been the benchmark in the competition for years so every chance to play them since we’ve come into the league is a chance to test ourselves.”
The goal to finish the season with an invincible record is on the top of the team’s minds now that they’ve tucked their silverware into the club’s cabinet.
“We want to finish undefeated if we can, and there’s that added incentive for us,” Hamilton said. “We don’t have anything specific to prove against Warners Bay, I think we’ve already done that. It’s just going to be another test because we’re playing against a good team.”
For the home side, the chance to face the Eagles immediately after their 4-1 title-clinching victory is a special opportunity. With just three regular-season games left to play, Craig Atkins is using the New Lambton clash as a litmus test for his playoff-bound squad.
“We are definitely looking forward to the challenge of taking on New Lambton this weekend,” he said.
“With the semi-finals only a few weeks away, it’s fantastic to be playing in games like this as it’s great preparation for the finals. We want to finish second and build momentum with quality performances in each game that we play, starting this weekend.”
South Wallsend (3rd) vs Thornton Redbacks (7th)
Sunday 28 July, 2.30pm, Walker Fields
The final fixture of the round sees two teams involved in very different battles, but both in need of the three points on offer at Walker Fields on Sunday afternoon.
South Wallsend enters Round 19 in short shape after a halved playing roster has coughed up mixed results for them in recent weeks. Two 4-0 wins over Adamstown and Mid North Coast have helped them keep hold of third place, but the job is far from done.
The Wolves chalked a 1-1 draw against Warners Bay last weekend, leaving them a single point ahead of the surging defending champions in Merewether. 35 points have all but guaranteed South Wallsend will play finals footy in 2019, but with the Llamas breathing down their necks the question remains whether it will be in second, third, or fourth place.
A fourth-place finish could be dangerous for the Wolves’ title ambitions. Meeting New Lambton sets them up against a team with the head-to-head against them thanks to a 4-3 win in Round 6 and a 1-1 in Round 13.
Conversely, if South Wallsend can take third and face Warners Bay, the only bad mark against the Wolves’ name in that matchup comes from a 6-1 defeat early in the season. Since then Cas Wright’s outfit has had the Panthers’ number with a 2-1 win and a draw.
The Redbacks also have everything to play for as they arrive at Walker Fields, however.
With Adamstown and Mid North Coast scrapping it out for three points in the battle to avoid last place, Thornton risks being left behind in seventh or eighth if results go against them this Sunday.
Alan Primmer’s side has had a tough run against South Wallsend so far this season though.
The Wolves rolled through Thornton 5-0 at the Redbacks’ home in April as Ashlee Brodigan netted twice before a hat-trick from the same scorer guided South Wallsend to a 5-1 advantage at home in Round 12.
Brodigan could again provide the difference come Sunday afternoon. The Southy striker netted hat tricks against the Buds and Middies recently and is in the hunt for the golden boot against Tara Andrews. If she wants to make up ground, she’ll have to start scoring in droves.