MATCH OF THE ROUND
Belmont Swansea United 1-2 New Lambton FC
New Lambton took home arguably their most important three points of the season so far, downing leaders Belmont Swansea United 2-1 on Saturday to aid their premiership retention crusade.
Coming into the fixture the teams were locking horns on the top of the table, each having lost one game and drawn two. The only factor splitting them were total wins as Belswans had eight and New Lambton six.
The high-stakes fixture played out as expected with both sides playing their brand of football to perfection.
After soaking up most of the early pressure at Blacksmiths Oval New Lambton’s high emphasis on transition paid off after 25 minutes during one of their many counterattacks. Left winger Joel Caldwell opened the scoring, cutting inside and hitting a beautiful long-range effort.
The second half saw the Eagles go up a gear and invoke some stress onto the opposition defence but to no avail in open play football.
It took a penalty awarded following a Daniel Bryant foul on Morgan Okeno for New Lambton to double their lead. Belswans goalkeeper Bryant was also shown a red card for the incident, with Riley Taylor slotting away the penalty for the visitors to add to his growing goal tally.
Belswans centre-back Nathan Bevan scored towards the end of the game but unfortunately for the hosts that was all they could muster, ending the game 2-1.
New Lambton have now climbed within three points of the league leaders, the closest anyone has been to Belswans since round three, with the Eagles also having two games in hand.
Belswans coach Mick Stafford took plenty of positives out of the incredibly intense game despite the defeat, with his side now facing a treacherous back end of the season as they look to defend their now fragile lead at the top.
“I’m super proud of our boys. We fought to the end with 10 men, showed a lot of belief and never backed down in any way against a very good New Lambton team,” Stafford said.
“It was the most intense game of the year that I’ve been involved in and I daresay Tom [Davies] will agree. Tackles were flying in, emotions were running high, quality football was played and quality tactics were laid out by both teams.
“New Lambton seemed to take their chances better than us and that’s what got them the victory. But all in all, I’m very happy with the situation the club is in and we will take a lot of positives out of that game.”
New Lambton’s approach to the game left Stafford baffled as he took their unusually defensive style of play as a compliment to Belswans’ hard work throughout the season.
“It was very surprising to see [New Lambton’s] tactics in the first half with 11 players behind the ball,” Stafford said.
“We all should take that as a compliment on the football we’re playing. As I said to Tom, their coach, if we could play that game every week for 18 rounds, it would be a very enjoyable season.”
New Lambton coach Tom Davies said that their tactics were an aspect they had been developing and perfecting throughout the season. The emphasis on total team defence has paid off with four clean sheets prior to the Belswans game.
And with 25 goals scored after 10 games, it was seemingly not affecting the attacking end.
“A little bit disappointed that we didn’t keep that clean sheet considering they went down to 10 men but credit to Belswans, they kept fighting right to the end,” Davies said.
“It was really positive defensively how we were able to shut out Belswans for a lot of the game and keep it down to a few key moments. The back four did well, considering Brad Andrews was away. So, Anthony Carter had to come into the backline and did a super job alongside Corey [Nicholas].
“[Defence from the attack] is something we’ve been focusing on all year. It took a while to get it right at the start of the year but we’ve turned the corner.
“Over the last couple of weeks the players have started to fully understand how strikers working hard to put pressure on the ball and trying to win the front third of the park can affect the game. But the forwards getting back to recover on counterattacks is also important.”
“When the opposition are on top, we’re working hard to make sure that we’ve got the numbers behind the ball. That has been the focus for the last couple of weeks.”
Singleton Strikers 2-2 Cessnock City
A second half goal saved Singleton Strikers from a detrimental loss and kept Cessnock out of reach of the finals race on Saturday.
Continuing with the unwanted pattern Cessnock City conceded another early goal at Civic Park as Hayden Nicol finished off a quick piece of combination play from the Strikers, which caught the Hornets off guard.
The goal sent vibrations through the Cessnock players as they rattled into gear and scored two quick goals courtesy of Curtis Johnson and Zachary Kronholm to send their team into the sheds a goal up.
Singleton exited the change rooms after half-time with a clear mission but it took until the 75th minute for midfielder Jackson Cox to bring it back level. Unfortunately for the hosts the efforts were not enough for a win, meaning spoils were shared in the Upper Hunter.
Cessnock recently hit a rough patch of subpar first half performances, particularly in the first 15 minutes. That seemingly has not changed as Cessnock conceded early once again. But the fighting spirit to take an unprecedented lead shines hopeful lights over the horizon for the Hornets.
“Singleton is quite a classy team, very fast, and they caught us on the break early,” Cessnock coach Brad Miles said.
“It’s disappointing considering everything we’ve worked on throughout the week but our boys were much better today. We were much more committed and had more urgency in our game compared to the last few weeks.
“It wasn’t like previous weeks where we were just scrappy at the back. Singleton were just clinical when they finished their goal. But we got back to the job and didn’t let it affect us and clawed back to 2-1 up until the last 20 minutes.
“It was pleasing to get the point. We’ve been working hard, so I’m happy to see that it’s come to fruition on the pitch. It’s a good result.”
Despite the score Singleton had acres more chances and possession but poor delivery and execution prevented the Strikers from scoring any more goals.
“We started similar to how we finished against South Cardiff with quick ball movement going forward and we picked up the first goal through some nice combination play in the box,” Singleton coach Mick Jarvis said.
“In terms of football we dominated. We went into the sheds with everyone shaking their heads as we should’ve been well and truly up but we were down 2-1. But there were no alarm bells because we know what we are capable of.
“So we went into that next half and were relentless with corner after corner and shot after shot, hitting the post, getting deflected. It just wasn’t our day.
“We have to finish our chances. We’re dominating sides through the football we create but we’ve got to be more clinical in finishing all the hard work the players are doing.
“Jake [Barner] and Joel [Barner] are getting back to their best. They’re not quite there yet but they are getting there. They’re also not getting the service they need. It’s the quality of releases, maybe taking one touch too many, or being half a second too slow in releasing the ball that is doing us over.”
Singleton remain in fifth place, while Cessnock remain in ninth.
West Wallsend SFC 2-0 Toronto Awaba FC
West Wallsend re-joined the rest of the finals-chasing pack after crucially taking three points away from Toronto Awaba on Sunday.
Toronto won with a 5-2 thumping during their round three clash but a more even contest ensued this time with West Wallsend coming out victors as they finally returned to Johnston Park.
A handball by Toronto inside the penalty area gave West Wallsend a perfect chance to slot away a spot kick and lead the game. Just 10 minutes from half-time, a composed Josh Maguire stepped up and sent Toronto goalkeeper Shayne Van As the wrong way and caressed it home.
An invigorated Stags sought vengeance in the second half. They threw everything at West Wallsend but a counterattack was all that was needed to silence Toronto. Josh Carroll crossed to a wide open Matt Paul who struck it into the net, sealing the 2-0 win for the Bluebells.
Due to coach Jarrad Hiles receiving a five-game suspension, assistant Grahame Jones has been holding the reigns. His first game in charge was in their rescheduled round six match against Kahibah with the second the loss to West Wallsend.
Jones viewed the game as an evenly fought battle but a loss was probably more than not a fair result.
“We put in the effort considering we didn’t have our more experienced players,” Jones said.
“Pete McPherson, Scotty Smith and Jared Purcell were all missing but I still thought we played decent football. We had chances early on and then we copped a dubious penalty and went down 1-0.
“It was pretty even until half-time. When we came out after I thought we were in control of the game. [West Wallsend] were just trying to hang on to the 1-0. Then unfortunately we got caught on a counter and they scored their second goal.”
Finishing chances has been a recurring problem for Toronto this season and it seemed more prominent over the weekend.
“The key areas were just finishing. [West Wallsend] finished the penalty they got and then [Matt Paul] slotted the second goal home pretty well. We had a few chances but couldn’t finish them, which has happened a bit this year,” Jones said.
“We knew it was going to be a struggle. We lacked composure that we would normally have with McPherson and Smithy in the team but we can’t fault the guys because they still put in a massive effort.
“We’ve just got to reform and get on with it as we have Singleton on Wednesday night. We’ll have Purcell back and I spoke to Smithy. He’s saying he might be a chance of playing. We’ve got to get some numbers back as every game in this competition is a battle. We’ve got to take that game out of our head and go on to the next game.”
Third-placed Toronto could have extended their gap with the rest of the pack with a win. But the loss means they are only four points in front of seventh-placed Kahibah.
Toronto now have a chasing pack of four teams including Thornton, Singleton, West Wallsend and Kahibah who all hold at least one game in hand on the Stags.
Wallsend FC 2-2 Thornton Redbacks
Wallsend overturned a two-goal deficit in the second half to once again steal points off finals contenders Thornton on Sunday only for the match to be abandoned after 75 minutes at The Gardens due to a sickening incident.
The first half consisted of Wallsend dominating play as Thornton struggled to retain any real possession. Though the Redbacks defended appropriately to see the game out 0-0 for the first 45 minutes.
Wallsend were unlucky not to score but a frequent lack of composure derailed any chance of breaking the deadlock.
With a perceived change of tactics, Thornton came out of the sheds looking to score. Jake Millsteed scored two early goals in the second half to give Thornton a neat buffer for the rest of the match.
But goals from Manuel Barrera Amorocho and Ben Schieb for Wallsend set up a fiery final 20 minutes of football.
But any form of victory was extinguished in the 75th minute with Thornton goalkeeper James Wand being knocked out and left with stitches after he was punched by Wallsend striker Matthew Williams.
Williams had been booked moments earlier for a foul on Wand, with Williams swiftly shown a red card following the punch.
Wand was treated on the pitch until an ambulance arrived, with the match abandoned.
Thornton coach Scott Winslade was disappointed following the match.
“The pitch was pretty stuffed, so very scrappy,” Winslade said.
“It was hard to get control of the ball in the first half at all. It was very to and fro. In the second half, we came out and had a good first 20 minutes.
“It’s hard to take away much from a game like that. We couldn’t do a warm up before the game because the warm up area was flooded. So we had to go into the game a little bit cold. Our passing was not great and it was hard to get a flow happening between anyone.
“In terms of any takeaways, it’s just that we take the point and move on to next week.”
Wallsend coach Mick Gatt was more optimistic about the game, considering how his side played. From the Red Devils’ point of view they dominated and deserved the three points.
“The first half we dominated. We spent probably 40 minutes of the first half in their half,” Gatt said.
“If we could hit the target, it probably would have been 4-0, 5-0 at half-time but unfortunately we sprayed everything wide or over the top.
“Our boys dominated probably 70 per cent of the game. In the 30 per cent that we didn’t, Thornton took us to it. They looked really good, especially in the first 20 minutes of the second half, where they capitalised on it.
“Tommy Stewart stood up again with Greg Anderson out of play. He was very good at the back for us and Kieran Delaney in the middle of the park was strong and kept us going forward. ‘Rocho Barrera, in the 10 role, played the game of his life. Those three probably were the standouts.”
NNSWF will wait for the referee’s report before determining the outcome of the match.
The match between South Cardiff FC and Kahibah FC was postponed due to wet weather.