Match of the Round
West Wallsend SFC v Thornton Redbacks
Johnston Park, Sunday 2.30pm
Old friends will lead their respective teams against each other as Darren Sills’ West Wallsend host Gary Wand’s Thornton Redbacks at Johnston Park on Sunday.
The Bluebells have conceded seven goals from their opening two games this season. Two goals came at the hands of last year’s premiers New Lambton and five goals against Toronto Awaba under lights last Saturday.
West Wallsend will be demanding a sturdier defensive line heading into their fixture against Thornton with Sills disappointed with the defensive display from his team last weekend.
“Unfortunately our guys need to understand and realise that what they do without the ball is most important. They have to defend with their brains. If you don’t defend with common sense, you’re going to get caught out,” Sills said.
“We will work very hard on [our defensive work this week] like we have done earlier in the year. For some reason, we switched off [against Toronto].
“We will have more personnel back this week, which will definitely help us after the weekend.”
Despite their defensive woes West Wallsend remain an attacking threat scoring six goals in two games. Matthew Paul, Dain Greentree and Tyler Rankmore linking up with suspension returnees Sam Robson and Josh Knight will only strengthen that perception.
“You don’t want to pay money at the gate to watch a 0-0 draw or 1-0 win. I’ve never been one for that, I enjoy my footy and I enjoy attacking football,” Sills said.
“[Matt Paul] is full of energy, he’s a great inspirational player. [We] have a couple of others that are not far behind in that respect as far as energy levels.”
Unfortunately for West Wallsend with Knight and Robson returning striker Josh Carroll has been ruled out for this weekend.
“On the downside, we’re going to lose Josh Carroll through suspension. We’ll have to manufacture a striker out of what we have available this week, so we’ll see how it goes,” Sills said.
Sills spoke highly of Thornton and his coaching counterpart Wand, with the two working together at Weston previously.
“They are a well-structured team coached very well by Gary Wand. Gary and I were at Weston a few years ago together, so I know the way Gary operates and thinks,” Sills said.
“[I have] a lot of respect in the way he portrays himself and the respect he has and shows towards the players is first class. But, at the end of the day, even though we’re friends, we want to beat each other.”
Now co-coaching at the Redbacks with Scott Winslade, Wand took all three points at Johnston Park last year.
“It’s always a tough game [at Johnston Park]. They will be pretty keen to beat us. We beat them down there last year 3-0,” Wand said.
Redbacks are entering this fixture off the back of a midweek 2-2 draw against Cessnock City, conceding a last minute free kick.
A lack of match fitness for Thornton may be a crucial factor in the closing minutes on Sunday, considering this will be only the squad’s second game.
“[Cessnock] played very direct, which is tough to play against when you’re not match fit,” Wand said.
“Substitutions will play a big role for us.”
Thornton Redbacks will be without Ryan Broadley and Sam Rossi is still doubtful.
Kahibah FC v Singleton Strikers
Kahibah Oval, Saturday 2.30pm
Singleton coach Mick Jarvis is wary of the quality Kahibah possess in the middle of the park on Saturday but also sees it as an opportunity they can exploit.
The sides played out two close matches last season, with Singleton winning 2-1 at Kahibah Oval before they played out a 2-2 draw at Howe Park.
Jarvis predicted how Kahibah will line up.
“[Kahibah coach Mat Moncrieff] knows what he’s doing. I think he’ll have them play Robbie Turnbull in the six to control the defensive midfield role. To use Robbie in the gaps, there is good experience for them to have,” Jarvis said.
“In saying that, there are some old legs too. You see the fitness in our boys, they just go for the 90 minutes. If we can control and respect the ball more and move it around, we can hopefully get them chasing [the game] a bit more than us.”
Respecting the ball is a crucial point Jarvis focused on if Singleton want to replicate their successes from two years ago.
“We just need to respect the ball more, that’s all. While we had some good spells of possession, we still weren’t clinical enough with the ball,” Jarvis said.
“It’s just about chipping away and being better in what we do.”
Singleton’s midweek fixture against South Cardiff was postponed, meaning that the Strikers will not have to play three games in eight days after pulling up only reasonably after the Cessnock game last weekend.
“They pulled up a bit stiff but they all put their hand up for the weekend,” Jarvis said.
Marlow Court-Kriesch will make a return at left back for the Strikers, while Joel Barner is in doubt.
While Jarvis seems reasonably cluey about Kahibah’s line up, the picture was not as clear for Moncrieff.
“I’m going in a bit blindsided playing against Singleton,” Moncrieff said.
Apart from knowing the level of quality Singleton possesses, Moncrieff has not heard anything about the Strikers, having little intel into how they have changed over the off-season.
“I don’t even know what their team is like. I have no idea what [Singleton] have different this year to last year. [I know] they have a new coach but apart from that, I’m not quite sure,” Moncrieff said.
Despite this, Moncrieff will come prepared saying his troops were fit and ready to go.
“Everybody will be back this week. We’ll have everyone to pick from, so there are no excuses. Hopefully, we all turn up, give them a good game and come away with three points,” Moncrieff said.
“Obviously for the last two or three years, [Singleton] have consistently been one of the top four to five teams so hopefully we get to test ourselves against another decent opposition and we can come out on top,” Moncrieff said.
“We have a very different team to what we were last year, so I’m hoping it’ll be a good game and we can get our season rolling.”
Belmont Swansea United v Toronto Awaba FC
Blacksmiths Oval, Saturday 6pm
Belmont Swansea United will be looking for significant improvement against dark horses Toronto Awaba on Saturday.
The Stags opened their season with an emphatic 5-2 victory over West Wallsend but they will enter the fixture only two days after a clash with Wallsend, making it a harsh three games in eight days to begin the 2022 campaign.
Belswans coach Mick Stafford is fully aware of the Stags’ capabilities
“I’m expecting a real tough game against a Toronto side that has been improving the last few years and I think it’s going to be a tough match on Saturday night,” Stafford said.
Belswans fell to New Lambton 2-1 at Alder Park last weekend, failing to hold their lead at half-time and ultimately paying the price.
“We need to work on keeping the ball more and being in control of the game when we’re in front,” Stafford said.
Stafford relayed that his squad was battling injuries and COVID with squad rotation necessary.
“With all our players in and out of our squad through injuries and COVID at the moment, it’s hard to build those combinations and we just have to keep battling away and improve as the season goes,” Stafford said.
“It’s a constantly changing landscape with us at the moment.
“We take the best of us [from the previous games] and knuckle down in what I’m expecting to be a tough game against a good, young [Toronto] side.”
Toronto Awaba coach Jarrad Hiles holds full faith that his squad can produce again against a competition heavyweight.
“You’re always up for a game against Belswans. They’re well coached and well drilled. They’re a pretty physical team. It’s a good challenge for us,” Hiles said.
“We will just have to try and compete with the physicality. I’m sure the boys won’t shake the task, we have to match it with them.”
The Stags are on a high after their first match and will be looking to use that energy on Thursday to carry over to another win on Saturday.
“Hopefully, we all get through Thursday okay. [We’ll] take stock and again just do the simple things well and hopefully the boys are keen to give a good account for ourselves,” Hiles said.
Wallsend FC v Cessnock City FC
The Gardens, Sunday 3.20pm
Wallsend FC coach Michael Gatt will welcome his former club Cessnock City to The Gardens on Sunday.
Gatt and players Greg Anderson, Tom Stewart, Brad York and Riley Croucher made the switch from the Hornets in the off-season.
“It’s always a good challenge to play your ex-club and we all left on good terms, so I can’t see it being anything too drastic,” Gatt said.
“There will always be fire in the system for it and I’m sure Cessnock would love to get the win over us and our boys would love to get the win over them, so it’ll be a good competitive match,” Gatt said.
Wallsend have taken the brunt of the recent postponements due to the wet weather, being the only team not to play a single minute so far this season.
The Devils will be hoping to open their account on Thursday against Toronto, pending weather, once again.
“It’s a hard one to balance. [The boys] are dying to play and it’s getting to the stage where they are starting to get frustrated as well. So it’s not about just getting them physically ready, it’s trying to get them mentally ready for the game as well,” Gatt said.
The upside to having no football is that everyone will be available for the game on Sunday.
“Everybody should be back on deck for Sunday, so that’ll be a pleasant surprise,” Gatt said.
Coaching at Cessnock only last season, Gatt is aware of the Hornets’ potential within their youthful squad.
“[Cessnock] are a good young side. They have a lot of good young players up and coming,” Gatt said.
“Obviously, your standouts are Zac Kronholm, Isaac Peek, Benny Priest and Blake Roy. All those guys can turn a game on its head within an instance. They are well balanced throughout, so it’ll be a challenge for us.”
Cessnock City’s opening fixtures against fellow Hunter teams Singleton and Thornton have been relatively buoyant in executing their route one style of play.
Cessnock coach Brad Miles alluded to the hype around the shed for the game and the situation that it presents.
“We’re looking forward to [the game]. There’s a lot of hype around it with former Hornets playing for Wallsend,” Miles said.
“We just have to concentrate on our own game.”
Despite copping a fair number of injuries in match against Singleton that rendered three players unavailable for the Wallsend game, Miles is optimistic that they can overcome Wallsend.
“I’m confident that with the group of boys I have, we can get the job done,” Miles said.
South Cardiff FC v New Lambton FC
Alder Park, Sunday 3.30pm
South Cardiff will be faced with yet another tough test in the form of New Lambton with the match rescheduled to be played at Alder Park.
The pair have already faced Belswans resulting in contrasting score lines but similar performances.
Both clubs finished their respective games against Belswans strong, having them on the back foot for the last 10 minutes, proving fitness will not be an issue for either team despite how early it is in the season.
In their last competitive fixture, the Gunners faced reigning NPL Men’s NNSW premiers Lambton Jaffas, going down 6-0 in the Australia Cup.
South Cardiff coach Scott Taylor said it was an excellent opportunity to give his side a defensive workout, labelling the affair as better than five training sessions.
Taylor said South Cardiff could use that defensive shape training and ever-present fighting spirit into motion against New Lambton.
“[It’s] a big test for us, we know they’re a good side. At the end of the day, we’ve [only] played one league game so far,” Taylor said.
“I think [we can keep up with New Lambton]. If we do the right things and keep a good shape, I think we can stay in the contest and have every chance [of winning].
“It will be about keeping a good defensive shape and looking to use the pace we’ve got up front to cause them some problems.”
New Lambton coach Tom Davies knows there is some improvement needed to continue their excellent form and stay at the competition’s pinnacle with its ever improvement climate.
“I think across the board, everyone is going to be a lot more competitive, especially when they play against us, knowing that everyone wants to try and beat us. Particularly the first rounds when you play each team, it’s always usually super competitive,” Davies said.
“You always have to be confident in our ability as a team. But there are a few things we need to touch up from the weekend especially being mentally focused and bringing the same application each week.”
Davies is also aware of the reinvigorated South Cardiff flame lit in the early stages of this season.
“I’m sure Southy will be up for the game this weekend as we will aim to be as well and hopefully it will be a good game of football,” Davies said.
In terms of squad availability, South Cardiff have a clean bill of health.
Tom Siderovski is back for New Lambton from a hamstring strain, while Jackson O’Sullivan is now unavailable with a similar injury.