Match of the Round
Singleton Strikers v Thornton Redbacks
Civic Park, Saturday 2.30pm
Singleton’s chaotic season defensively and Thornton’s most recent difficulties in attack will give the Strikers and the Redbacks something to focus on when they meet in the match of the round on Saturday.
These shortcomings could make for an exciting and potentially unpredictable fixture at Civic Park, with both sides winless in their last two games and eager to get a win under their belt to aid their respective finals hopes.
Cessnock’s midweek defeat make a victory even more crucial, with Singleton looking for their first home win of the season. The Strikers have played their last two games at home and suffered narrow defeats to title contenders Belswans and New Lambton.
Thornton have also suffered a recent downturn, with the Redbacks beaten by Wallsend midweek and throwing away a 1-0 lead against Toronto to draw the weekend before.
Strikers coach Mick Jarvis was critical of Singleton’s defensive issues which he said needed to improve.
“[Our back line] been a little bit of an issue because we haven’t managed to have a consistent set up at the back this year,” Jarvis said.
“Having that natural understanding with each other where you play together for a long time [helps massively]. [The reason for it] is just through unavailability.”
Jarvis said Jackson Skinner had been the only real mainstay in defence this year. Jarvis also gave special mentions to midfielder Lachie Nicol for his versatility in filling in at centre back when need be. He also highlighted newcomer Blaydan Laverick’s adaptability.
“I’m happy with the job that Blaydan did again [on the weekend]. He seems to be doing a job at the back everywhere we go this year. He’s pretty adaptable. I’m really happy with his integration into first grade,” Jarvis said.
Jarvis also noted Thornton’s particular emphasis on their defensive block, admitting it will be one of Singleton’s more difficult challenges concerning the attacking phase.
“We know [Thornton] likes that style of football where they play a back five. It’ll be very, very difficult to break down,” Jarvis said.
“Being more clinical in front of goal is something that we will probably be working on this week. Being so difficult to break down, you have limited chances. We need to convert those.
“[Thornton] have a lot of height at the back and that is something we don’t have a lot of. That is one thing that will affect how we go about our business but not much will change about us. We want the ball on the deck, we want to play football and we want to test ourselves.
“Thornton are going to be a difficult side. They’re very smart tactically [and have] good composure. But I’m hoping persistence beats resistance.”
After banging in five goals in their first two games to fire up the season, Thornton have only scored one goal in their last two games.
But Redbacks co-coach Scott Winslade said spectators should expect a sharper Thornton Redbacks going forward this weekend.
“Everyone keeps saying we’re so defensive but we’re creating seven, eight, nine chances a game,” Winslade said.
“Yes, our focus has in the past been if you don’t concede, you don’t lose. But we’ve got to start winning games and put a little bit of pressure on our strikers.
“We believe that we’re good enough to beat anyone in front of us but we have to start playing a little bit more like that, being more aggressive with our forward play.”
Singleton’s quality is not overlooked at Thornton. While wanting to play their style of football, Winslade still wants his team to be wary of Singleton’s threats. The Strikers’ experience will undoubtedly shine through if Thornton presents too much of an opportunity for their competitors to score.
“[Singleton] are a really good side. They don’t change their personnel too much, probably because of where they’re situated but it’s still always a tough game,” Winslade said.
“They work hard, they hustle, they’re not scared of a scrap if it gets to that kind of game. But I have confidence in our boys every week because even when we’ve looked down and out, we still find a way back into things.
“We’ll endeavour to do our best. I’m sure it will be a game worthy of the match of the round. Hopefully, we go up there and get a win.”
Kahibah FC v West Wallsend SFC
Kahibah Oval, Sunday 2pm
A battle of contrasting form will occur at Kahibah Oval as a confident Kahibah host the so-far underwhelming West Wallsend on Sunday.
Kahibah are four games undefeated after Wednesday night’s 3-2 victory over Cessnock, with the streak including a draw with second-placed New Lambton.
Coincidently, West Wallsend have not only shaved points off the Eagles but beat them at Johnston Park at the start of the season. Unfortunately, it is the only points mustered so far as they proceeded to lose the next four, conceding 14 goals in the process.
But West Wallsend will be looking to turn things around against Kahibah, even more now after Wallsend’s midweek victory over Thornton. The win sees the Red Devils leapfrog West Wallsend at the bottom of the table.
West Wallsend hold bragging rights over Kahibah, scoring a convincing double on the Rams last season.
“[West Wallsend] are a very tough team to beat,” Kahibah coach Mat Moncrieff said.
“Looking at the table, you’d think Westy are having a bad season but when they play us, they always bring their A-game. Last year they beat us both times, they gave us a proper flogging at our home ground.
“Their team sheet suggests they’re a strong side.”
Despite the difference in ladder position, Moncrieff was not taking any aspect of the game for granted, with the difference in quality between the top and bottom teams minuscule. Slight errors that teams may have been able to get away with in previous years can now cost the game.
“[West Wallsend] still have the same two or three attacking weapons that are very good. Now they’ve acquired Josh Maguire as well,” Moncrieff said.
“We just need to nullify their really good attacking players and hopefully do some damage at the other end. But [West Wallsend] can score against any team. They have Josh Carroll, Maguire and Matt Ball that have all scored good goals against us over the last few years and can hurt any team.
“If we can shut them down hopefully we can get some free-flowing football and get some chances in the box. We’ve got four or five guys that will score plenty of goals this year. We’re a pretty good attacking weapon but we just need to shut [Westy] down.”
West Wallsend coach Darren Sills highlighted his team’s losing streak and is eager to end it this weekend.
When asked about his team’s confidence heading into the game, Sills was straight to the point.
“We’ve lost four in a row,” Sills said.
“So, if anything, our confidence is not quite there yet.”
West Wallsend’s defence has been leaking goals this season conceding 16 in five matches, the most in the competition. They have mainly been caught out on quick transitions instead of the usual build-up play, which the Bluebells defend well against.
This aspect has been demonstrated multiple times this season as their main weak point, conceding the bulk of their goals within a short period of the match.
“At the end of the day we’ve got to be better with what we do defensively,” Sills said.
“I keep harping on about it but it’s basically what we’ve got to do right.”
Once the defence is sorted Sills said West Wallsend could once again shift their focus to the attackers which they may be short of this weekend, with Tyler Rankmore, Dain Greentree and Josh Carroll were all doubtful.
“I won’t know until Thursday night [which players are available],” Sills said.
“If they are available, I think they’ll do a good job. If they’re not available, we hope that the guys that are coming in to replace that sort of quality, I hope they do a job as well.”
Wallsend FC v New Lambton FC
The Gardens, Sunday 2.30pm
Wallsend will be buoyed by their midweek win over Thornton when they host heavyweights New Lambton on Sunday.
The Red Devils won their first game of the season 1-0 over the Redbacks to finally get their season underway after nine treacherous weeks, mainly consisting of washouts.
And with the rain likely to hold off, The Gardens will be fit for play.
“It’s the same story every week. We just want game time,” Wallsend coach Michael Gatt said.
“[New Lambton] are good quality side but our boys are [champing] at the bit to go, so it’s going to be a cracking match as per normal when we play them.”
Wallsend have been mostly unable to train on a pitch. Gatt said the forced alternatives do no justice to the actual training, explaining how the players feel.
The poor conditions render their win against Thornton extra significant.
“It’s disappointing for [the players],” Gatt said.
“Physically, they’re underdone. Mentally, they’re disappointed that they’re not playing. We’ve been working hard together as a squad to make sure that we’re ready to go when we finally get the green light to play a game.
“The boys have been doing more video sessions than anything else and a couple of gym sessions here and there but nothing on a football pitch anywhere with the ground being so underwater.”
Regarding how Wallsend will approach the game against New Lambton, Gatt wants his players to keep the ball away from their attack as much as possible, considering their recent form.
“[New Lambton] have a lot of strike power up top,” Gatt said.
“Defensively, we know we’ve got to be better. If we can shut them down in the middle of the park and stop them going forward, then we’ll get a result from it. But obviously, they’re the benchmark of the competition.
“Their first half against Cessnock on the weekend was impressive. We’ll just go at it like any other game.”
New Lambton will have to regroup after their last-gasp 2-1 loss to NPL Men’s NNSW club Cooks Hill United in the Australia Cup fifth preliminary round on Wednesday night.
But the Eagles have won their last two in the league keeping clean sheets in the process, proving why they are back-to-back premiers.
New Lambton coach Tom Davies said their strength when going into a game was sealing the result early.
“It depends how we start,” Davies said.
“The main thing is how we approach the first half hour. Lots of things can happen over 90 minutes. But for us it’s about how we start the game, setting the tempo. Whether we’re controlling it and doing the right things across the park, particularly in the middle, will be the focus.”
Davies is also aware of Wallsend’s desire for points, specifically after their Wednesday night win.
“It’s going to be a challenge, Davies said.
“Wallsend will be wanting to put out a statement themselves. We have to be mindful of that. We just need to be consistent, mentally focused, particularly with another game midweek.”
“I think in terms of finding that consistency and rhythm, we’ll focus on continuing that. With where Belswans are at the moment, we have to keep putting the pressure on them and keep focusing on picking up good results for the next month or so.”
South Cardiff FC v Belmont Swansea United
Ulinga Oval, Sunday 2.30pm
Belmont Swansea United coach Mick Stafford believes his side’s clash with South Cardiff will be completely different to the one they played in the opening round.
Belswans ran out 3-2 winners at Blacksmiths on the opening weekend of the season but said there would be no resemblance to that match of nine weeks ago.
“We’re a different side to what we were in round one,” Stafford said.
“We play a different style of football now. The games probably will look completely different, in my opinion.
“Over the last few weeks we’ve been playing with more discipline and structure off the ball. We’ve only conceded three goals in the last six games with [the new] style. That’ll look to continue for the rest of the season.”
Belswans have hit a purple patch winning their last four games and only conceding two goals.
Defensive was a slight issue for Belswans at the start of the season. But as the year has progressed and Stafford adapted, it has been one of the team’s major strengths.
“We’re just looking to continue on what we’ve been doing the last two weeks defensively and just keep that work rate and intensity the same,” Stafford said.
South Cardiff are finally back home after an agonising 10 weeks of playing away. Stafford labelled Ulinga Park as one of the more challenging away days for Belswans.
“It’ll be another tough test again,” Stafford said.
“South Cardiff at home are always a challenge up there on that pitch. We’ll have to be on our game on Sunday to walk away with three points.”
South Cardiff coach Scott Taylor has previously labelled their home ground a “fortress” alluding to the desire for an excellent home record this season.
“I think everybody will be champing at the bit to get out and play at home,” Taylor said.
“We’re going to have a hell of a lot of home games coming into the second half of the season now. So everyone will be keen to get out there and make it a winning start.”
Now that South Cardiff have their first win they are looking to build on that effort.
“Let’s hope we’re as competitive as we were last time [we played Belswans] and get on the right side of the three points,” Taylor said.
“It doesn’t matter on the opposition. Whoever we’re playing, that’s the plan moving into every game, try to get those three points. We don’t really look at the opposition. Obviously, Belswans are on one hell of a roll, that’s for sure. But we’ll be looking to knock them off.”
Toronto Awaba FC v Cessnock City
Lyall Peacock Field, Sunday 3pm
Toronto Awaba have been unable to take control of games and dominate in their recent fixtures but will be looking to reverse that trend when Cessnock make the trip to Lyall Peacock Field on Sunday.
Toronto have not played finals football in a decade, with their place in seventh position unfortunately familiar to them. But a win against the out-of-form Cessnock may be the kickstart to a long-awaited finals football campaign.
“If we want to try and push for finals, three points is necessary this weekend,” Toronto Awaba coach Jarrad Hiles said.
“Scotty Smith is back. He should hopefully give us a little bit more up front and hopefully we can score some goals. But nothing is handed to you. You have to earn it and put it all out there.”
Hiles said that his players had to be prepared to take any kind of result this season. But with this match holding much importance with the Stags’ chase for a top five spot, his players must be in their best form.
“I haven’t seen much of Cessnock play,” Hiles said.
“They’ve been on the back of a few bad results in the last couple of rounds, so they’ll be smarter [against us]. It’s always a close game when we play. But every week is a tough game.
“If you don’t turn up ready to play and give it everything, you’re going to struggle. I’ll take nothing for granted and I’ll try to instil that in the boys. They have to come out all guns blazing and be ready for another battle.”
It has been 10 years since Toronto last made the finals series in 2012. They lost to now NPL side Lambton Jaffas in the semi-final 7-3 on aggregate.
“[Making finals] was a goal of ours from day one and I think we’ve got a good enough team to be there at the end of the year,” Hiles said.
“We’ve been competitive in all games this year and we haven’t really been too outplayed. [The players’] attitude, commitment and efforts have been great. I’m sure they’ll be keen to get on with it and push for three points at home.”
Cessnock coach Brad Miles was noticeably upbeat heading into the game against Toronto, despite losing three in a row, including a 5-0 demolition at the hands of New Lambton.
“[Toronto] seem to be going okay,” Miles said.
“[They have] a couple of experienced heads, so we’ve got to be wary of that. I’m looking forward to it but we just got to get back to basics and get our mindset right.”
“We believe we’re good enough to compete. We’re a bit down on confidence at the moment but we’ll be right. We’ll pick back up and hopefully just worry about ourselves.”
Miles understood the areas on the field they are starting to lose. Now going into the middle part of the season, the Hornets will want to correct those bad habits if they stand any chance of retaining a fragile finals spot.
“Our passing and transition have been quite lethargic and slow and teams have just been able to pinch the ball,” Miles said.
“Our defence as well. We need to be a bit sharper and smarter at the back.
“But I think we’ll go pretty well. The boys are always ready. As I said, they are playing a team with a bit of experience under their belt. We just have to learn from our mistakes.”
Cessnock beat Toronto 2-1 in their only fixture meeting last season.