Match of the Round
West Wallsend SFC v Belmont Swansea United
Johnston Park, Sunday 2.30PM
West Wallsend host Belmont Swansea United at Johnston Park on Sunday looking to recover lost ground from the week gone by.
The Bluebells have much damage to repair after surprising losses to Cessnock and Wallsend over the last week, making the run home much more complicated than it could have been.
A more composed and uplifted Belswans will face them after all-but securing a top two position and the reserve grade premiership against Cessnock last weekend.
West Wallsend are seventh on the table, two points behind fifth-placed Singleton. But the Bluebells have a game in hand on the Strikers and two games in hand on sixth-placed Thornton.
West Wallsend coach Darren Sills said it was now up to the players concerning the Bluebells’ ability to qualify for the finals.
“It’s our grand final and it’s Old Boys’ Day, so it’s very exciting,” Sills said.
“We have nothing to lose and we’ll throw everything at them and see what we can do. We’re under no illusion that [Belswans] are one of the top two sides and it will be very difficult for us but we’ll give everything we can [and] see how we go.
“[The players] should have their own self-motivation. Hopefully with a kick in the bum from being beaten by those two sides, they respond. We tend to go okay against better sides historically. Hopefully that will happen this weekend.
“We desperately need to win to keep our finals hopes alive. A loss will make it extremely difficult to have any chance of making it, so the boys understand that and we’ll see how we go.”
Belswans coach Mick Stafford can relax and feel relieved after all but locking in a top two spot and securing the reserve grade premiership last weekend. But the work is yet to be completed as they still have eyes on the first grade premiership.
“I’m expecting a pretty tough match out at Wembley,” Stafford said.
“You look at [West Wallsend’s] squad on paper and they’re probably the most experienced in the NPL out of any club in the competition, so they’re definitely not going to be taken lightly.
“The main thing is we enjoy our football and time together because we’ve worked hard to be in this position and while still concentrating on that chance that we may be able to catch New Lambton, which everyone’s forgotten about as well.
“We’ve just got to maintain our fitness and try and get as many bodies as we can on the park but again there’s a few injuries and holidays this week.”
But to continue a miraculous comeback heavily reliant on a New Lambton slip-up, they must overcome West Wallsend.
“I think [West Wallsend] will be looking to bounce back pretty quickly and they’ll definitely lift to play us,” Stafford said.
“There should be a lot of passion in the game. But again, we’ve just got to stick to our structure and the small things we work on in training and hopefully get another three points.
“The players know what they have to do. There’s pressure on from below in reserve grade, guys trying to get a spot in the first team but we’ve just got to trust in what we’ve been doing throughout the year and whoever comes in will do their job as they have all year.”
West Wallsend will be without Josh Knight through suspension as well as Jayden Barber and Mitchell Kramer.
Singleton Strikers v Toronto Awaba FC
Civic Park, Saturday 2.30PM
Toronto Awaba will make the difficult trip to play Civic Park to face Singleton Strikers on Saturday with the potential to secure a finals spot after a nine years hiatus.
Singleton’s temporary home has not been a happy hunting ground for the Strikers so far, securing only two wins and one draw from seven games at the venue this season.
Toronto also spoon-fed Singleton goals when they played their home game at the Lake Macquarie Regional Football Facility, winning 4-1 in a dominant display.
But Singleton coach Mick Jarvis knows his squad is capable of turning their home form around. This would further the buffer of a chasing pack of three clubs including Thornton and South Cardiff. They still have a slight but realistic chance of making finals if results swing their way.
“It’s a big weekend for first grade and at the club,” Jarvis said.
“It’s our Old Boys’ Day at home, so we should be looking to get a lot of support this weekend.
“Against Toronto was the last game we played before we changed the way we set up and how we go about doing things. It was pretty much the straw that broke the camel’s back.
“But now we’ve conceded only two goals and scored eight since then. I’m looking forward to seeing how far we’ve come since we last met them.
“Having all that support and knowing how much the three points will mean for all three grades this weekend with the run into the finals, you can say it’s a must to get these points this weekend.”
While the lack of home-ground advantage for Singleton and previous results all lean towards a Toronto win, Stags coach Jarrad Hiles will not depend on any of it. Although he is still confident his side can come away with a win.
“It’s always a tough road trip up there, Singleton at Singleton,” Hiles said.
“Both teams are desperate to stay in that top five, so there should be a good crowd, good atmosphere and good football.
“But I’ll throw those stats out the window. I don’t want to be the third [win at Civic Park for Singleton]. I wasn’t there when we played them but I watched the game back on Veo and Singleton looked quite good. They got the ball down and played a good brand of football.
“They’ve got some danger players with speed and pace and they’re pretty physical and again, they’ll be desperate to get their third win up there. We’ll take all that into account and be prepared to do everything in our power to walk away with something from the game.”
The anticipation of potentially securing a top five spot with a win this weekend would normally put pressure on players, teams and coaches. But Hiles sees this as an opportunity.
“I don’t think it’s pressure, it’s more motivation to finish in the finals,” Hiles said.
“We haven’t been in there for nine or 10 years, so it’s not pressure, it’s a good yardstick and motivation for the boys and it would be a good reward if we can get there. But there is still three games left and we’ll take it one game at a time.
“I’ll be happy to walk away with something from Singleton and enjoy the drive home.”
While Jacob Dundas, Connor Fitzpatrick and possibly Kristopher Cook will return this weekend, goalkeeper Drew Olsen will serve a one-match suspension.
Singleton Strikers will only have one unavailability through suspension with Blaydan Laverick unavailable.
Thornton Redbacks v New Lambton FC
Thornton Park, Saturday 3PM
New Lambton will almost certainly secure the Northern League One premiership when they travel to Thornton Park to face the Thornton Redbacks on Saturday.
Sitting three points ahead of Belmont Swansea with a superior goal difference and a game in hand, it would take a mammoth slip up for the Eagles to fumble the title.
Standing in the way is Thornton Redbacks, who are coming off a narrow 1-0 win over South Cardiff with a heavily reduced squad.
Thornton co-coach Gary Wand knows the quality of New Lambton but hopes his side can keep the momentum running past this fixture and into their final game.
“They’re a good enough team to play in the NPL as it is, so it’s going to be tough. It always is against those blokes,” Wand said.
“I’d love to [better the result from the last time we played New Lambton]. Whether we can or not, that’ll be interesting. I’d love to make it hard for them and scare them. But we’ll see what happens, it’s going be very hard.
“We’re going to stick pretty true to the side that beat Southy the best we can because they deserve it.”
New Lambton, who it was announced last week would be promoted to the NPL Men’s NNSW competition in 2023, will want to win their remaining games against Thornton, Kahibah and Cessnock for a perfect run into the finals.
The Eagles will also hope to improve upon their performance last time they faced Thornton. Despite the 4-1 score, some saw the result as a false representation of the game as the Eagles scored two late goals.
While Thornton will have a much stronger squad available compared to the round eight clash, it will still be considered a monstrous effort if the Redbacks can steal anything from the game.
Cessnock City Hornets v Kahibah FC
Turner Park, Saturday 3PM
Kahibah return to the pitch after a 15-day absence as they travel to Turner Park and face Cessnock City Hornets on Saturday.
The Rams would have enjoyed the extended break solely based on the crazy game last time out against South Cardiff in their rescheduled round 12 fixture. Kahibah lost 6-4, throwing away a 4-3 lead in the final half hour of the game.
But a recuperation throughout the extended time means a loss of game time, which Cessnock could well capitalise on.
The ninth-placed Hornets have hit a decent patch of form, which coach Brad Miles is eager to hold onto for the rest of the season, especially this game against Kahibah.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Miles said.
“It’s sponsors day and Old Boys’ Day, so there is a lot to play for and I hope we put in a good performance in front of the people who make it possible for us to get out there.
“It’s good to know we can match it with the [top] sides. We were right in that game [against Belswans] and were a bit unlucky. We should have got a point from it but we’re confident coming off that.
“Our last three weeks have been really good and I’d like to carry that form into this game. We should be very competitive.”
Kahibah coach Mat Moncrieff is grateful for the prolonged break, allowing his side to recover and get in a couple of weeks of regular training, a necessary factor of the footballing calendar that has been mostly absent this season due to the unprecedented amount of rain.
But an easing back into games could see Cessnock capitalise on avoidable mistakes. This is something Moncrieff will be hoping to subdue come Saturday.
“Cessnock are probably in the best form this year, to be honest,” Moncrieff said.
“They gave us a really good game in the first round where we were lucky to win. We’re coming back from a few weeks off, so it’s always a bit dubious if the boys are going to be ready. But this will be the first two weeks where we’ve had a proper training routine.
“Training wise, we are prepared as we’ve ever been. Still, not playing a game for a couple of weeks hurts us a bit. But [Cessnock] are playing good football. They’re hitting their straps at the end of the season and need to be on our A-game to compete with them.
“They might be down the table a little bit but Cessnock’s results over the past three weeks says that they’re more of a competitive outfit and we’re going to be in for a hell of a game to try to keep our spot on the table.”
Cessnock front man Zac Kronholm is suspended.
Wallsend FC v South Cardiff FC
The Gardens, Sunday 3PM
Wallsend FC will be hoping to piggyback off the passion, euphoria and triumph of their shock Wallsend Derby victory when they host South Cardiff at The Gardens on Sunday.
The mindset of the Wallsend players presented throughout the game is something coach Mick Gatt knows his side can continue into the final two fixtures. The first challenge will be South Cardiff.
The Gunners are eighth but only three points behind a top five spot with three games remaining. It highlights how tightly contested the Northern League One competition is this year.
But if Wallsend’s buzz can continue into this weekend, Gatt has all faith his team can win two in a row.
“You can hear from my voice that I still haven’t got a voice back from Sunday,” Gatt said.
“But the boys are pumped and excited, so it is good [coming into this weekend].
“At the end of the day, we have to treat every game as if it was a derby. They’ve got to all rise for every game and keep the momentum going forward and keep the standard that we’ve set and that’s what the boys agreed to.
“We want to keep the points rolling in and build for next season.”
All South Cardiff coach Scott Taylor could re-iterate leading up to the game this weekend was the total unpredictability of the league and results being witnessed this season.
Taylor said he and his side would take absolutely nothing for granted when facing last place.
“We’re going up against Wallsend at their place and they’ll be up on a high after last week,” Taylor said.
“We’ll be in for a tough one again.
“With the way the season has gone, whatever you’re doing in one [game] doesn’t count to the next game and that’s been the fact across all games all season. I don’t think there are any lines to draw through any games and that’s the way the season has been.”
When asked about his thoughts on the prospect the Gunners could potentially still make the top five, Taylor quickly waved away the hypothetical and said they would not get ahead of themselves.
“At the end of the day, we can still get 26 points and wherever we finish on the table is wherever we finish,” Taylor said.
“You know what it’s like in this league. You can’t even look at any results and predict any, so it’s a total waste of time looking at anybody else’s results. Every game comes down to what happens on the day, who’s up for it and who gets a bit of luck or can put the ball in the back of the net.”
Wallsend will not be looking to make too many unforced changes after the 2-1 win over West Wallsend. But South Cardiff will be without star goalkeeper Izaac Terry due to a finger fracture. Reserve goalkeeper Zac Hamilton has been called to play the remaining three games between the sticks.