Match of the Round
New Lambton FC v Belmont Swansea United
Alder Park, Saturday 3pm
Alder Park will host two of the title favourites in a massive heavyweight clash on Saturday as New Lambton take on Belmont Swansea United.
While it is still early in the season both sides will place great importance on the result considering how crucial it could be come the end of the campaign.
Top of the table Belswans have won two from two to start the season including a 3-1 win over Kahibah midweek. A win would extend their lead to six points after three games, with the rest of the competition still holding matches in hand.
Contrastingly, two-time defending premiers New Lambton are approaching their first home game off the back of a surprising 4-2 defeat at the hands of West Wallsend on Wednesday night.
“[It’s] not the ideal start. In certain moments of the game [against West Wallsend we] just didn’t deal with situations that we should have, [which lead to] conceding easy goals,” New Lambton coach Tom Davies said.
Davies expects his squad to sharpen up come Saturday afternoon, considering the quality the Eagles possess within their ranks.
“In terms of the way we’ll approach the weekend, we’ll talk about what we can improve on internally more than anything leading into Saturday’s game,” Davies said.
“[I’m] a bit disappointed with [Wednesday] night but hopefully the team has had a bit of a reaction. We need a bit more intensity across the 90 minutes and that’s kind of the aim heading into the weekend,” Davies said.
Davies also expects a tight match, respecting the competitiveness that Belswans bring to Alder Park every year.
“I reckon the contest will be tight. Both teams will set up quite well. It’s just a matter of taking chances and being patient early in the game, as both teams have a good defensive block,” Davies said.
“But yes, it’s about possessing good habits in us, reflecting on last night and looking at what we can improve on.
“I imagine it will be a competitive game as it always is with Belswans.”
Belswans coach Mick Stafford’s opinions on the fixture do not stray too far from Davies’, with both coaches looking to improve further and expecting a tight tussle.
“I’m pretty excited to go out there and test ourselves against [New Lambton]. It’s always a really good hit out. They play good football, so it’s always a good game to be a part of,” Stafford said.
“[Belswans] like playing [at Alder Park] for sure. I don’t think we’ve been beaten [at Alder Park] before, so it will be good to go over there and give it a red hot crack.”
Reflecting on the midweek fixture against Kahibah, Stafford said his squad would need plenty of improvement despite sitting pretty at the summit of Northern League One.
“We were poor for most of the game [against Kahibah] but we stuck together and ground out a win against a pretty competitive side,” Stafford said.
“I think we’ve got to pick out, learn from the mistakes we made [on Wednesday] and look forward to getting back into our groove against a pretty strong New Lambton team.
“We are still getting used to a few combinations but we are a stronger team than last year, so I’m pretty excited again to test ourselves out against who have been the best team in the last couple of years.
“[I’m] looking forward to another good game of football.”
Matches between these clubs are always a spectacle and unsurprisingly tight affairs. Belswans managed a 1-1 draw with the eventual premiers at Alder Park last season.
Thornton Redbacks v Wallsend FC
Thornton Park, Friday 8pm
The two Reds face off under lights on Friday with Thornton Redbacks hosting Wallsend.
The late night kick-off should prove reminiscent of their recent Australia Cup games and eventual capitulations at the hands of Zone Premier League sides. Both clubs will look to make amends and are armoured with near-full squads.
“Injury wise, we’ve got everybody back who was a bit iffy, so that’s the one big positive for not playing for three weeks,” Thornton co-coach Gary Wand said.
Sam Rossi, the only injury worry for the Redbacks, is slowly building up for his first grade return and may feature come Friday.
“We will probably play [Rossi] off the bench. We were hoping to get him to play reserve grade over the last couple of weeks but with the games called off he wasn’t able to. He may be in a position now to play first grade,” Wand said.
Wand is aware of the new blood the Red Devils side. The mix of last year’s Wallsend squad and an influx of Cessnock talent will undoubtedly have Thornton on their toes.
“They were a good side last year,” Wand said.
“This year they got quite a few guys from Cessnock. It’s going to be interesting to see how they go. They are a bit of an unknown quality.”
Wallsend coach Michael Gatt is aware of the improvement Thornton have gained and is preparing for a challenging yet winnable battle at Thornton Park.
“Thornton have probably been the side that’s improved [the most] over the past couple of seasons. So, they really haven’t changed anyone. They’ve obviously gained Jayden [Ziernik] and James Tassell [this season] that I’ve had a lot to do with over the years [at Cessnock]. They are going to add more firepower to them,” Gatt said.
“We finally have everyone back out of [COVID-19] isolation, which is always positive, so we should have a full squad. We’ll get a good hard session in [at training] and the boys will be ready for Friday night.
“Now that we’ve got everyone available, bar Kieran Delany, I think the midfield will be a good battle for us. We’ve got Guilherme [Evangelista], Ethan Spiers and a few of those boys that will be in the centre of the park trying their guts off. They will do the job they need to do.
“It should be a challenging game.”
Thornton defeated Wallsend 2-1 at Thornton Park last season.
Toronto Awaba FC v West Wallsend SFC
Lyall Peacock Field, Saturday 7pm
Another game to be held under the lights is Toronto Awaba hosting West Wallsend at a rejuvenated Lyall Peacock Field.
“[Lyall Peacock Field] has completed the ryegrass program. I had a look at the ground last week and it looked schmick,” Toronto Awaba Jarrad Hiles said.
Hiles said Toronto, who commence their Northern League One campaign on Saturday, were solely concerned with their performance and what they can control and execute against the Bluebells.
“Like always we’ll go in and try and control what we can and if we’re doing the simple things well with the right attitude [we will be fine],” Hiles said.
“We’re going in fresh and we haven’t had a run in a while, so we will try and get a bit of momentum and get going for the season.
“I would like to say we’re very confident but it’s football and I know we’ll go in there and give everything we’ve got. We definitely won’t leave anything behind and walk off with any excuses. [We will] see what happens after 90 minutes.”
After the shock 4-2 win over New Lambton, West Wallsend coach Darren Sills was ecstatic with his team’s performance, particularly new signings Tyler Rankmore and Dain Greentree, who bagged a goal each against New Lambton.
“Both [Tyler Rankmore and Dain Greentree] were super. Tyler ended up getting coaches’ players,” Sills said.
“Tyler’s energy levels just lift everybody. He’s a very good player. I’m very happy to have him in the squad. Both are very good acquisitions.”
Sills is alert to the quality football Toronto are potentially viable of.
“Sometimes you approach these games thinking you have the points in the bag. [But] Pete McPherson and Scott Smith are [at Toronto Awaba] now. I’ve coached against both of those guys in their younger days and they are both very good still,” Sills said.
“Last year Toronto beat us without [McPherson and Smith]. We had all sorts playing against them. We’ll bring that up [in training] and go through some things.
“Toronto are not going to be easy at all, especially down [at Lyall Peacock Field].”
In terms of squad availability, Toronto are still without Smith, who is on holiday.
West Wallsend will be without Josh Knight and Sam Robson through suspension and Joel Magnee through illness.
Toronto won the fixture 3-1 last season.
Kahibah FC v South Cardiff FC
Kahibah Oval, Sunday 2.30pm
Kahibah will be eager to continue their hot record against South Cardiff on Sunday.
Kahibah have enjoyed an aggregate score of 9-0 in the team’s last three meetings, including a 2022 pre-season friendly ending 4-0. But Kahibah coach Mat Moncrieff is expecting a different South Cardiff to the one he faced only two months ago.
“We played Southy in pre-season but I think they’ve improved since then, so we’re expecting a different team this weekend,” Moncrieff said.
“We won’t take a big deal out of [the result against South Cardiff in pre-season]. We are hoping we can bring our best performance on Sunday and hopefully we can get a better result than [Wednesday] night.”
Kahibah faced Belswans midweek and lost 3-1 in the Rams’ first Northern League One fixture in 261 days.
“[We were] pretty disappointed we didn’t get anything out of the game. Just poor preparation, it took a while to get into the game, which is why [we conceded] a couple of soft goals,” Moncrieff said.
“[The] performance was good. We didn’t make the most [of our chances], to be honest.
“[I’m] a bit disappointed because we had a really good pre-season. [I’m] pretty confident we will be better out of it.”
Scott Taylor’s South Cardiff played Lambton Jaffas in the Australia Cup on Thursday night, ultimately going down 6-0 despite their spirited performance.
“[We are] keen for the [Lambton Jaffas game]. It will be a test for the players, and we’ll put up as good of a fight as we can,” Taylor said before the Jaffas match.
South Cardiff received praise after their narrow loss to Belswans in round one and Taylor needs his team to continue to play with the same hunger and fight.
“If we stay positive and take what we knew with the mentality out of [the Belswans game], we have another fair shout [this weekend],” Taylor said.
“Watching the replay against Belswans, we notice things we have to improve on, so it just comes down to getting on the training ground.”
Kahibah Oval witnessed only domination last year, with the Gunners going down 4-0 to the Rams.
Cessnock City v Singleton Strikers
Turner Park Sunday 3pm
Cessnock City and Singleton Strikers will finally get onto the pitch when they meet at Turner Park on Sunday.
Cessnock and Singleton have endured multiple postponements, delaying the start to their respective campaigns.
Facing Cessnock at Turner Park is rarely an easy assignment. It will be no different for Singleton, burdened with a 40-minute drive due southeast.
The last time the two sides faced each other at Turner Park resulted in a 1-1 draw.
“[We are] quite confident,” Hornets coach Brad Miles said.
Cessnock defeated Zone Premier League side Westlakes Wildcats 5-1 in the Australia Cup last weekend which included a hat-trick from Zac Kronholm.
“[Westlakes] were quite stiff competition and the boys did quite well considering a slow start. But we got into the groove and were good,” Miles said.
Singleton coach Mick Jarvis said that if his squad can focus on their own game plan there will be a good chance the Strikers will come away with the win despite the confidence Cessnock hold after their Cup victory.
“It’s just about focusing on what we do and [making sure we are] doing it well,” Jarvis said.
“If we can get all the players available I’m very confident we can start to season with a win which hasn’t been done in a few seasons [for Singleton].
“It’s pretty cliché but it’s about worrying about what we do and if we can do it well, then we should trouble a lot of sides.
“I don’t think you can read into [Cessnock’s win over Westlakes] that much other than they would’ve got a bit of confidence out of it, I suppose.”
The prospect of finally playing some football is exciting for Jarvis and his players.
“I think everyone’s in the same boat [when it comes to the limited game minutes and we can only go in and try to implement what we’ve been working on, so we are not going to know [how we truly operate] until we get some football played,” Jarvis said.
“I think we’d go insane if we don’t get any football played this weekend.”