Thornton Redbacks v South Cardiff FC
Thornton Park, Saturday 3pm
A loss for either side could leave their finals aspirations in the dust as Thornton Redbacks host South Cardiff on Saturday.
Thornton co-coach Gary Wand and South Cardiff coach Scott Taylor cited the fixture as a do-or-die clash as their respective sides look to pluck some much-needed momentum out of the air for a spot in the Northern League One Finals Series.
Thornton’s are one of the more heavily hindered teams in this season’s unprecedented erratic scheduling and weather patterns, with the match at Thornton Park subject to a pitch inspection.
Irregular game time and training have caused many issues on the medical front. Now, with the addition of defensive stars Zac Skippen and Sam Rossi to the injured list, Thornton’s hopes of finals are slim.
A win over South Cardiff would shine a ray of optimism over Thornton Park for the Redbacks as both sides look to better their round six meeting.
“We probably had the better of the first half [against South Cardiff in round six]. But they scored first and in the end we were lucky to snatch a draw,” Wand said.
“[South Cardiff] will be tough again. Two very desperate teams are playing. If we want any sort of hope [for finals], we have to start stringing some wins together and that applies to both teams.
“It’s going to be a desperate game and more than likely on a heavy pitch if we get on.”
To address the centreback worries, Wand is on the lookout for central defenders to partner stalwart Blake Thompson.
“Jack Charnock has played [centreback] on and off this year, so he is one option. We’ll play Jayden Ziernik or Joel Reddon as [the third] centreback. Jayden has actually been doing a good job for us all year.”
Jake Millsteed and Ryan Broadley will return for Thornton as well as Trent Partridge, who has been a long-term absentee this season.
South Cardiff have been luckier regarding squad availability but results have not swung their way.
Their first comfortable win came against Wallsend last Wednesday as they look to build on the momentum from that game into the back end of the season.
But more postponements will undoubtedly affect their form and send them and other teams back to square one. Hopefully for the Gunners the opportunity to turn their sporadic season around will arise against Thornton on Saturday, heavily depending on the weather.
Toronto Awaba FC v Kahibah FC
Lake Macquarie Regional Football Facility, Monday 8pm
It is a rare but welcomed Monday night clash at Lake Macquarie Regional Football Facility between Toronto Awaba and Kahibah, as round 15 will now be guaranteed at least one game despite the weather conditions.
This fixture is Toronto Awaba’s first game in 15 days due to last weekend’s postponement. The Stags will aim to strengthen their grip on third place and avoid the dreaded fourth against fifth elimination final.
But Kahibah have acclimatised to LMRFF throughout the season, training most Fridays at the venue and also playing on Wednesday night against Wallsend, where they narrowly came away 4-3 victors thanks to a Jasper Sambrook free kick in injury time.
Toronto coach Jarrad Hiles has been impressed by his side’s quality in depth this season. He has credited many youngsters who have made the step up this year, creating a balanced concoction of youth and experience.
“We always seem evenly matched with Kahibah,” Hiles said.
“Mat Moncrieff’s a mate of mine, so it’s always good to try and get bragging rights over him but he’ll be pretty determined to get on the pitch. It’s always a good game [against Kahibah]. There’s always a bit of feeling in it and always a good contest.
“The young fellas have stepped right up. In the game against Belswans, I think we had four players that were over 20-years-old and the rest were kids.
“The likes of Connor Fitzpatrick and Harry Relf stepped in and did really well and Jake Dundas always gives you everything. Reece Green is starting to get a bit fitter and having an impact on the game and Flynn Fittler and Bailey Snowden are doing a great job at the back as well.
“It’s been really pleasing to see the guys slot straight in and do well. They also have some valuable experience around them.”
Shayne Van As’ departure to NPL Men’s NNSW side Edgeworth FC has left a gaping goalkeeper hole to fill. But luckily for Toronto a ring-in is not necessary as Northern League One mainstay Drew Olsen has been given the opportunity to shine this season after stepping up from reserve grade.
Mat Moncrieff’s Kahibah have been floating in and out of a finals spot this season. A win against Toronto is imperative to capitalise on their games in hand against West Wallsend and Singleton, who also occupy the limbo zone.
Moncrieff predicts a tight game as it was the first time they meant in round six. The artificial pitch will allow both sides to play good football in what will be another tight scuffle.
“[Toronto] are in a good bit of form at the moment,” Moncrieff said.
“We played them three weeks ago midweek and it was a pretty topsy-turvy game. They dominated the majority of the first half and we dominated the majority of the second half. I don’t think there’s a great deal between the two teams so it’ll be a good, hard tussle.
“They have a wealth of experience and some super young blokes in the middle of the park that really hurt teams. We’ll be watching blokes like Jake Dundas because he is an outstanding player. We need to nullify his enthusiasm and attacking prowess. It will be a proper arm wrestle the way these two teams line up.”
Kahibah will have an almost full complement of players, while Toronto are only missing Scott Smith through suspension.