By Isaac McIntyre
Match of the Round
Valentine FC v Cessnock City FC
3.30pm, Saturday 16th May
Table leaders Valentine return to Cahill Oval for the NewFM 1st Division Match of the Round, where they take on Cessnock City.
Valentine’s form has seen them climb two points clear in first place, having been undefeated in the league so far after eight games. Two draws have marred their almost perfect run however.
Cessnock City meanwhile have struggled to collect points so far, winning twice and drawing only once. They have also suffered five defeats, and with the half way point of the season looming they need results to go their way if they are to step out of ninth place and climb the ladder.
Valentine coach Alan Hackett knows that complacency could be the biggest rival to their success so far, and has kept the squad on their toes in that regard.
“No one is 100% safe in the starting eleven, because if we let the boys get settled we’ll start dropping more points,” Hackett stated.
“Everyone is competing for those squads, because when you’ve got a really strong Under 23s squad as well it means that we have the pick of the litter.”
“Right now we’re taking it one game at a time, and hopefully by the time we get to finals football we’ll have carved out the strongest starting line-up that we can.”
Cessnock coach Stephen Thomson believes that his squad has what it takes to deliver Valentine their first loss however.
“We’re strong, we’ve been putting in good performances and I think that we can put a stop to their streak,” Thomson said.
“We’re playing with the freedom created by our strong performances and I think that we can turn the tide against the losses that we’ve been having – we’ll go out there and challenge the top team for sure.”
If the Hornets can cause an upset in the Match of the Round it could see Valentine drop from their top position, and their first loss could put them on the back foot for games to come – this will not be a match to be missed.
Singleton SC v West Wallsend SFC
2.30pm, Saturday 16th May
The Singleton Strikers challenge West Wallsend at Howe Park on Saturday, with both teams looking to improve their position with a strong win.
The Strikers have begun to turn their season around, after a series of losses has turned into two wins on the trot, and Singleton’s coach Scott Bailie is looking to challenge for top four with a win.
West Wallsend is now teetering on the edge of the top four after being held to two draws in recent weeks and have fallen two points behind Lake Macquarie City.
A win for Singleton could put them only two points behind the fourth place position, and their recent form gives them confidence leading into the match.
Gary Rowe, West Wallsend’s boss, knows that they need to come out and return to form with a win if they are to keep their position on the table.
“Our shape needs to just be perfect,” Rowe stated. “We need to defend better as a unit and that’s causing the troubles at the moment.”
“Our priority isn’t exactly just top four right now, but we want to just improve on last season and once we come back and start playing again we’ll be there. The ability that we have is disappointing and lower table but our form will bring us back and we’ll get back to the finals once we click and we need to right the ship right now.”
This clash could also have a far reaching effect on the top four, with West Wallsend needing the win if they are hoping to keep their spot, and the three points will be incredibly valuable for both teams near the halfway point of the season – both teams have everything to play for and everything to lose.
Kahibah FC v Lake Macquarie City FC
2.30pm, Sunday 17th May
The first game of Sunday sees Lake Macquarie City travel to Kahibah Oval, where they look to try and return to their top place position in their match against Kahibah FC.
Lake Macquarie started the season strongly, but two losses and a draw marred their season recently. A win over Cessnock City returned them to third place, with five wins in eight games overall.
Kahibah meanwhile have come into their own form, remaining undefeated in over a month. Now sitting in sixth place, a win over the former National Premier Leagues side could put Kahibah in fourth place – all they need is results to go their way across the league.
Andre Gumprecht, Kahibah’s coach, believes that top four is certainly achievable for his strong team.
“We are challenging for the finals now, which is more than we wanted from the season, but I believe that the boys can make it,” Gumprecht said.
“Lake Macquarie is going to be the testing ground for us this weekend, and if we can put a good performance in against a strong team then we’ll prove that this hasn’t been a flash in the pan. We’re contenders, and we want to prove it.”
Lake Macquarie’s Barry Ross has been disappointed with his team’s outing in recent weeks and looks to take his team back to their strong attack from the start of the season.
“We need to get our strikers getting it in again, and the Walker boys are going to prove why they’re dangerous in front of goals,” Ross stated.
“We need the win this weekend or we could risk losing the finals position that we’ve held onto for eight rounds so far. Kahibah are a strong team but if we can crack their defence then we’ll be in with a chance.”
Like many of the other games in the round, this match could hold the fate of teams in its hands, with all teams in the league in close proximity on the ladder. Kahibah and Lake Macquarie both have a chance to put distance between their competitors and go into the second half of the season in control.
Wallsend FC v Toronto Awaba FC
2.30pm, Sunday 17th May
Wallsend take on Toronto Awaba when the Stags travel to The Gardens, and both teams have had strong performances in recent weeks – this game will prove both team’s form.
Wallsend have taken second place on the ladder after six wins and only two losses, and the chance for three more points against the Stags gives them hope that they could take the top place if Valentine lose their match.
Toronto Awaba have been struggling for points at the bottom of the table, with Tony Jovcevski focusing on letting the team have the freedom to find their form – only one win has given them three points however, and they have lost seven times.
Wallsend’s Josh Rufo believes that the team is on track to keep their objectives strong, and challenge for the promotion spot if they keep up their dominant wins.
“We’ll get our objectives, and everything has to keep happening in the games for us to get that,” Rufo stated. “If everyone keeps their performances up then we’ll have a good chance to challenge for the top.”
“We are maintaining form, and that’s what matters to us right now, we have to continue and if we drop another three points then we might have to worry.”
“For now, we look at every fixture competitively and that’s all that we really want out of the season – to look good in our first season and play competitively against every team that we come against.”
“We’re on course with our objectives, so now we just keep winning.”
The Stags cannot be ruled out however, with every game going to the wire with Jovcevski’s leadership, and the away side could upset the second placed Wallsend if the squad cannot find their pace on the day.
Thornton Redbacks FC v Belmont Swansea United SC
2.30pm, Sunday 17th May
The final match of the NEWFM 1st Division is to be played at Thornton Park, with Belmont Swansea United travelling to play head to head against the Thornton Redbacks.
The Redbacks have struggled for points in recent rounds, taking a single point from a draw and dropping points with five losses. The team have claimed only a single win and Darrell Mcallister is focusing on changing his team’s tactics to secure points.
The Belswans have played one game more than the home side, but have had similar results in the league so far – five losses and a draw drag down their two strong wins.
Belmont Swansea have seven points so far in the season, but a win on the weekend could step them up to seventh place, only a point behind fifth and sixth. The team’s coach, Paul Matthews, is focusing on his team’s finishing – if they can find the back of the net the points will come.
“We can’t keep being unlucky this much, we’ve been trying to correct this situation and for whatever reason it’s still not coming off in the game,” he said.
“We make the chances and then they go to waste. It’s about being settled in front of goals and we’re rushing, which is a problem.”
Matthews doesn’t think that his team’s position in the league has any bearing so far however, and believes that the second half of the season will be important to climb the ladder.
“I haven’t looked at the table so much, so the Redbacks could be above us for all I know, we have just looked inwards and we’re focusing on us, I don’t want to look at others.”
The final game could see one team change their fortunes as they start the second half of the season, and Thornton Park could see a new contender come into the race for top four.
Cooks Hill United FC