Match of the Round
South Cardiff FC v Toronto Awaba FC
Ulinga Oval, Sunday 2.30PM
South Cardiff will look to piggyback off their midweek success on Sunday if they want to get their season back on track, with Toronto Awaba standing in their way.
Before Wednesday night’s round eight 3-0 win over Wallsend South Cardiff only had one point in their three games at Ulinga this season, including the 6-1 defeat against New Lambton last weekend.
Toronto Awaba are in a much better position with the Stags coming off the back of a well-earned victory over Belswans, which places them comfortably in third position.
“We did really well against Belswans, so we need to back it up against South Cardiff and keep raising the bar,” Toronto coach Jarrad Hiles said.
“We won’t take [South Cardiff] lightly and we’ll be prepared to play as we do every week. And the boys are playing for each other, so the confidence is good.”
A last-second goal from South Cardiff winger Tom Sparre saw the Gunners come from two goals down to snatch a draw when they met Toronto Awaba in their round five fixture.
“Coming off a heavy defeat, [South Cardiff] will be fired up to make amends on their home pitch,” Hiles said.
“Thinking back to when we played them in the first round we let a 2-0 lead slip, so that still burns with us as well.”
South Cardiff coach Scott Taylor knows the necessity of a result against Toronto. A win for the Gunners would keep the finals race tight and restrict the Stags from pulling away.
“[Toronto] are pretty solid at the back, got experience in midfield and a lot of young kids who do a lot of running off the ball and with the ball,” Taylor said.
“They’re doing really well. We’re in for a tough one.
“We’ve got to try and bounce back and no heads are down. We’ve got to take [the loss to New Lambton] on the chin and look to make someone else suffer on the end of us.
“I think both teams will be better than [the first game] as it was a pretty scrappy game. In this league, it is a case of who’s up for it on the day. It will be another tough gig but we’ll be up for it.”
South Cardiff’s injury list remains slim, with only Jack Diebold out with a knee injury.
Some of Toronto’s quality are set to return. Zane Winslade and Pete McPherson will likely make a comeback after short-term offsets.
But Scott Smith and Kristopher Cook are still out due to suspension and hamstring issues respectively.
Belmont Swansea United v Thornton Redbacks
Blacksmiths Oval, Saturday 2.30 PM
Belmont Swansea will aim to take full advantage of a slim Thornton at home this Saturday after their first back-to-back losses of the season.
But Thornton’s depleted due to injury and illness is not harming their spirit. If anything, it is lifting the remaining players’ ability to fill the boots of the unavailable cavalry, as exemplified in Wednesday night’s rescheduled round eight fixture against New Lambton.
Two late goals to make the score 4-1 gave the Redbacks an undeserved three-goal defeat in an otherwise uplifting performance.
For Belswans narrow defeats to table toppers New Lambton and Toronto Awaba over the last two weeks have punctured their title chase but not their mentality. Mick Stafford’s team will be ruthless in training to correct their negligence in certain aspects of their game.
“I’m keen to get back on track at home against an always good Thornton team,” Stafford said.
“Reflecting, it was a case of us using a lot of energy and emotion in the New Lambton game. Maybe that took its toll against Toronto but there are definitely some lessons to be learned out of that game that we’ll be working on at training this week.
“[Thornton] are always a hard team to break down and that’ll be the first thing, looking at how we can break them down. But the focus for us is going to be a clean sheet again. That’s always a key to getting back on track and that’ll be our goal on Saturday.
“I’m also looking for a reaction from a few players from the last couple of weeks where we’ve lost both games.”
Thornton co-coach Scott Winslade said the Redbacks have a mountain to climb on Saturday as they aim to make the run home more comfortable than it is turning out to be.
“[Blacksmiths Oval] is a tough place to go. It’s always a strong line-up you’re going to but we’ll go there and look for a result. We certainly don’t go anywhere without trying to get something,” Winslade said.
“We’ll have to dig deep, they all know that this week. It’s a tough run of fixtures. If we can go there and get something, we’ll be happy with it. We’ll always try and win a game but it’s going to be extremely difficult with so many people being out.
“We shot ourselves in the foot early this season. We know that. We’ve needed to be better in certain games and we’ve drawn games we should have won. Going into the finals, there are probably four or five teams vying for third to fifth. And I think we’ll be one of them.
“Regardless of the next couple of games [against New Lambton and Belswans], the five after that are the ones that are going to be really important. I know that we’re capable of going on a run. But we’ve got to pull our finger out and turn draws into wins.”
The hospital bill has hit the Redbacks hard. Defenders Zac Skippen and Sam Rossi are notable outs. Their seasons are heavily shortened and they will be looking to make a return for the last couple of rounds.
Jake Millsteed and Ryan Broadley will return but six other players are still unavailable, while Belswans will have close to an entire squad this weekend.
Singleton Strikers v Wallsend FC
Civic Park, Saturday 2.30PM
Wallsend travel to Singleton on Saturday in a last-ditch effort to get some credit out of a painful season for the Red Devils.
Wallsend have dug themselves a deeper grave in their most recent fixtures. They lost to both their wooden spoon rivals, being 1-0 to Cessnock and 3-0 to South Cardiff making the gap now seven points to the ninth-placed Hornets.
But Singleton’s poor home form could fall in Wallsend’s favour, as the Strikers have only mustered one win out of their six games at Civic Park.
Mick Gatt needs his Wallsend side, specifically the attackers, to take a few steps forward to remain competitive in a hotly contest Northern League One competition.
“We had a good game against [Singleton] last time but again we couldn’t to take our chances,” Gatt said.
“We’ll be looking at getting a result this time around and it’ll be a challenging one as [Singleton] are always a good side. But considering their last couple of games, they’ll be looking for redemption.
“Tommy [Stewart] has controlled that back line and taken ownership of it all with Greg Anderson ruled out for the rest of the season. He’s taken the onus on himself and he’s a great playing to have in the squad.
“Kieran [Delaney] controls the midfield distribution role. He’s got a cool, calm head on him. They’re going to be very integral for Saturday’s game.
“We have plenty of quality in that final third. But players like Angus Hall, Brad York and Manuel Barrera Amorocho need to find the back of the net. I think once they get to one or two each, the floodgates are going to open but we’ve got to make sure that we take advantage of the opportunities we get.”
After an agonising defeat to Kahibah on the weekend Singleton came out unscathed midweek as they convincingly defeated West Wallsend 4-0 in their round seven catchup fixture. The recent change in tactics seems to be paying off for Mick Jarvis’ side.
“I was happy with the football the boys played on the weekend. We should be looking to do well this weekend and pick up some much-needed points,” Jarvis said.
“My view is that if we would’ve been playing to our potential all year long, we wouldn’t be where we are on the ladder. We just need to put our best football on the park this weekend to give ourselves the best chance to hold on to that fifth spot that everyone is contesting for at the moment.”
Singleton seems to only have one definite out through Jackson Skinner’s ankle injury but the Strikers have a few niggles that need a close eye kept on.
Wallsend also have a few knocks and bruises from the Cessnock and South Cardiff games as Stewart and York fight knee niggles among a few other injuries.
West Wallsend SFC v Cessnock City
Johnston Park, Sunday 2.30 PM
West Wallsend host Cessnock City on Sunday in what promises to be an entertaining fixture given their recent history.
Cessnock scraped a 2-1 win in their round five fixture earlier in the year, coming back in the second half by scoring two goals and leaving the Bluebells shellshocked.
But Cessnock have not won at Johnston Park since 2015. West Wallsend’s dominance on home soil was exemplified last season as they demolished the Hornets 6-1.
West Wallsend assistant coach Geoff Blomfield said it would be a fiery contest considering the attacking philosophy of the two clubs.
“It’s going to be another hard slog,” Blomfield said.
“Cessnock has been a good side this season and have been pretty consistent in the last couple of weeks. We’re down on a few troops at the moment, so it will be a hard game as always against Cessnock.
“We’re just taking it one week at a time. We’re a different side from when we played them at their ground.”
Mid-season signings of Ben Higgins and Josh Maguire resolved West Wallsend’s horror start to the season. Their experience will be vital for a Bluebells victory.
Before their unsavoury 4-0 defeat against Singleton in their rescheduled round eight match West Wallsend had won four of their last five fixtures, keeping a clean sheet on three occasions.
“Josh Knight has been solid at the back with Higgins and Brock Oakley. We’ve had the same back four for the last few weeks, whereas earlier in the year we didn’t have the same back four week to week. But it’s been pretty consistent over the last four or five weeks,” Blomfield said.
“We’re starting to get some combinations happening. A few more games together and more training and they will be firing. Tyler Rankmore and Wade Ciaparra are in amongst that fold [as well as Matty Paul, Josh Maguire and Josh Carroll]. They’re all going pretty well.
“Bailey Jensen in the middle of the park has also been strong. He has been great for us all season.”
Cessnock have recently acquired the necessary form for a last-gasp attempt to play finals football.
By taking four points from the last two games and reigning victorious over the Bluebells earlier in the season, the Hornets are confident heading into the crucial matchup.
“It’s another important game. Every weekend is a grand final for us now. We just have to keep getting points and hopefully other results go our way,” Cessnock coach Brad Miles said.
“I spoke to a couple of the boys [after the result against Wallsend]. It was certainly a drought breaker. We needed that result really badly last weekend.
“If we finish in the top six I’ll be extremely happy and I think we’re on track to do that. If we can keep pushing forward and sneak a finals spot, it’ll be really good.”
Kahibah FC v New Lambton FC
Kahibah Oval, Sunday 2.30PM
Kahibah’s strength in numbers has returned better than ever this season ahead of the highly anticipated fixture against New Lambton on Sunday.
Kahibah were the last team to take points off New Lambton in round five. New Lambton salvaged a 2-2 draw in the game’s dying stages through last season’s Player of the Year Riley Taylor to complete his brace.
But with Taylor unavailable for the last couple of matches and in doubt again for Sunday, his unavailability may gift Kahibah more of a chance to steal points off New Lambton once again. They would be the only team to do so twice this season.
But the likes of Joel Caldwell, Chase Lattimore, Dylan Bozinovski and Fletcher Davis have been playing to the delight of Eagles coach Tom Davies recently, rendering the absence of Taylor near unnoticeable.
Kahibah coach Mat Moncrieff would not be blindsided by the possibility of New Lambton being short on staff.
“We were probably unlucky to draw in the first round,” Moncrieff said.
“A last-minute goal got them a draw. Nothing [New Lambton] brings to the field scares us but obviously their form is as good as anybody’s in the competition. They have a couple of killer players that we will be watching.
“But we’re excited. It’s always good when you go into a game and are not expected to win. We’ll put our best foot forward and give them a run for their money.
“Having no goals against us has been a big target because we’ve conceded way too many goals, even when winning games. So we’re as confident as ever.
“The squad is holding together really well and we’ve got a few more boys coming back this week, so our bench will be really good this week. We’re playing the best team on the table with our best team as well. So there’ll be no complaints about the availability of players, that’s for sure.
Plenty of firepower will be returning for Kahibah, including the continued climatisation of Rhys Tippett, who has recently been reinstated into the squad after a lengthy injury sustained last season.
“I’m sure if you give Rhys the chances he’ll bang them away and there are a few others in the club that are starting to hit their straps now too which is good,” Moncrieff said.
“This week Asher Beasley, Jacob Kepreotes and Jaidyn Kianou are all back on top of what we had last week.”
Lachlan Hodgetts also returns for the first time this year. The enthralling attacker grasped some reserve grade minutes against Singleton last weekend and may come off the bench if necessary.
“We’re looking forward to the challenge,” Moncrieff said.
“I don’t think they’ve dropped a point since we played them last. So maybe we have to play a similar game to get some points out of the match and we move on to the rest of the competition and hopefully keep pushing for our final berth.”