By Isaac McIntyre
Match of the Round
Valentine FC 5 def. Cessnock City FC 1
3.30pm, Saturday 16th May
Valentine welcomed Cessnock City to Cahill Oval for the Round 11 Match of the Round, with both teams looking to kick-start the weekend with a strong performance and a claim at all three points on offer.
The game opened with a fast paced attack from Cessnock City, and it looked like the travelling team were going to take Cahill Oval by storm with an early chance, but the ball just couldn’t find the back of the net, and a second chance that came soon after was sent out for touch, leaving Valentine to orchestrate a counter attack.
Alex Burrell shone for Valentine in the answering salvation, putting the home side up and letting them take control with dominance in the game.
The confidence of the lead saw Burrell and Scott McGinley continue their runs against Cessnock’s goals, and mistimed tackle gave McGinley the chance to step up to the penalty spot and slot it home to double the goal margin.
The half time whistle gave the Hornets a respite from Valentine’s attacks, with Coach Stephen Thomson looking to make changes for the away side to try and recover the two goal deficit.
Things looked grim for Cessnock as the half dragged on however, and while Mitchell Cox was able to claim one back for the Hornets, Valentine’s goal scoring list continued to climb, with Luke Barnier adding his name to the list.
Mitch Harper also managed to get onto the end of a series of passes that resulted in a goal, and Alex Burrell ended the game with a brace after slotting another chance home to widen the margin to four goals for the home side.
Their undefeated run continuing, Valentine sent the Cessnock City Hornets packing as they looked towards their next mid-week fixture, and another chance for three points.
“We’re taking it game by game right now, and if we can keep the undefeated run going then that’s going to keep us bringing in the points,” boss Alan Hackett said of the strong Valentine run.
“We play Belmont Swansea on Wednesday, and then we come up against Wallsend on the weekend, and I rate them highly in the competition. We’ll look at them (Wallsend) on Thursday though, because first we have the Belswans and they can’t be underestimated.”
Thomson was disappointed that the early chances couldn’t swing the momentum of the game towards his side, but focused on the fact that his squad had played well in the game.
“Valentine are by far the best side that we’ve played, with their positioning and transitioning the best we’ve seen, so although we played pretty well, we were made to regret those two missed chances that could have put us in good stead,” he said.
“One of our shining lights has been Jayden Gunther, who we picked up from Weston this year, and although he’s only young he’s really been keeping the rest of the boys fired up and he’s been great.”
“Even though we’ve lost, the boys are still positive too because we’ve still got the second half of the season to go and if we can win a few more games in that second half we can change the table around. We’ve just been unlucky so far, and we need that luck to change.”
Valentine clash with Wallsend next weekend in a match that could see a new top-placed team step into the promotion position, and all eyes will be on the battle The Gardens at the end of next weekend.
Cessnock City also face a difficult clash against Cooks Hill United, after the boys in white and black have had a week off to prepare for the challenge and recover from a string of mid-week games.
Both matches are set to mix the table up as the season goes into the second round of fixtures, and three points will be vital to every team involved.
Singleton SC 2 def. West Wallsend SFC 1
2.30pm, Sunday 17th May
The first game on Sunday saw Singleton clash with West Wallsend, with both teams lining up at Howe Park with one focus in mind – continue to improve their standings in the table as they head into the second half of the season.
Although both sides were closely matched, West Wallsend took the upper hand as the game dragged on, with Singleton defending on their home pitch.
A goal for West Wallsend looked to be the turning point for the travelling side, but Singleton were not to be easily defeated, and the home field advantage, as well as recent improving form, gave the side chances to come back into the match.
Both Klaudon Armhitaj and Daniel Bartlett found the back of the net for the Strikers, giving them the lead, and the win at home for the side. The home crowd cheered as the side came off, after causing the upset of the round.
The win puts Singleton into sixth place on the ladder, only two points behind the defeated West Wallsend, and for the away side it sees them slip out of top four as Kahibah step into the finals spots.
Next weekend West Wallsend take on Kahibah to battle back into the top four spot, with both teams looking to deliver performances that can ward off competitors for their hard earned positions.
Singleton look to take another win against Belmont Swansea United, who could overtake Bailie’s side with a win and climb into sixth place over them. Singleton will need the win if they are to continue challenging for the finals in the second half of the season – one of their much needed objectives.
Wallsend FC 4 def. Toronto Awaba FC 2
2.30pm, Sunday 17th May
Wallsend returned home to The Gardens this weekend, taking on Toronto Awaba as they continue to hound Valentine for the top spot, and the chance for promotion, in the league.
The script was thrown out the window as the game kicked off however, with the first half seeing the Stags take control of the game and the travelling side left Wallsend struggling to keep up with the rapid-fire pace of their attacks, eventually resulting in Toronto Awaba taking the lead with a sharp goal.
A second goal before half time left the home team struggling ever further, with the two goal margin looking to be difficult to recover from in the second half, especially with Toronto Awaba’s lethal form in their attack.
A change came from Wallsend’s Josh Rufo however, putting midfield playmaker Chris Gazzard on at the half time break. Gazzard had been benched after returning from injury, and was slowly being reintroduced to the team.
His influence became known less than 30 seconds after the whistle kicked off the second half, with Paul Wheeler slamming a goal into the back of the net to show Wallsend’s return was coming.
Gazzard created two more chances, with Wheeler claiming another to solidify his brace, and forward attacking midfielder Marcus also managed to net a goal, putting the home team back in the lead less than five minutes into the second half.
One final goal came for Wallsend, with Trent Milton putting it into the back of the net to give the home team their own two goal margin, and all three points on the day after coming back from two-nil down.
Rufo was extraordinarily pleased with the character his side showed to come back and the claim the win.
“It was a tale of two halves for sure – the first half was embarrassing and the second half was a totally different football team,” Rufo stated.
“Chris Gazzard’s importance cannot be understated. We brought him on in the half time break in the change rooms and even though he’s still coming back from injury he changed the game when he came on and we owe the win to him.”
“We also owe the win to Rob James between the sticks. He pulled off a few wonderful, top-notch saves that kept us in it and made sure that the Stags couldn’t get out of control in the first half.”
“Gazzard was out with three others and now we’ll have them all back for next weekend, so now we’ll be back to full strength and hopefully we can put that first half performance behind us.”
Now the Stags travel to take on top four positioned Lake Macquarie City, while Wallsend look to return to form against the table-toppers, Valentine FC, in a match that could see Josh Rufo’s side come within two points of the promotion spot if they can deliver Valentine their first defeat of the season.
Thornton Redbacks FC 1 def. by Belmont Swansea United SC 2
2.30pm, Sunday 17th May
The final game played of the NEWFM 1st Division saw the Thornton Redbacks battle against Belmont Swansea United at Thornton Park to close out the half-way point in the season.
Both teams started strongly, with Thornton leading the attack and overwhelming Belmont Swansea with chances across Thornton Park.
The chances paid off for Darrel Mcallister’s side, as Kyle Duncan found the back of the net and put the home team up by a goal, and eyeing the three points if they could hold onto the lead. The Redbacks continued to look good, creating more chances that could have resulted in more goals if not for Belmont Swansea’s strong keeper.
Although the away side looked like challenging for an equalising goal as well, the half time closed out with Thornton still in the lead, and Belswans coach Paul Matthews had the job in the half time sheds to rally his side and make sure that they could find that vital goal.
The equaliser continued to elude them however, with Thornton running riot in the attack line and pushing for another goal that might put the game out of reach, but neither side could crack that vital second goal in the game.
Extra time loomed, and the Redbacks seemed settled into defence, holding off with the tight lead to get the three points, but the changes that Matthews had made to his squad paid off, with holding midfielder Daniel Dean stopping a Thornton attack and sending it up to Jamie Hadlow, who smashed the ball into the back of the net and found that important equaliser for the travelling side.
The Redbacks were shaken, and lost possession of the ball off kick off, once again unable to make it past Dean, and a second chance came for Joel Shearer, who calmly slotted the ball into the back of the net with less than 30 seconds to go on the clock, dooming Thornton to a loss after leading for the majority of the match.
Mcallister was shocked by the rapid fire change of the game, and was disappointed that his side couldn’t find the win after leading for 90 minutes.
“The team was good, possibly the best we’ve been recently, so it’s incredibly disappointing to go down after leading the game,” Mcallister stated.
“We’ve had a bit of a run of bad luck and then on the weekend we had ten or twelve good chances and we just couldn’t put them away, so our lead was pretty tenuous to begin with and then we managed to let it slip through our fingers.”
“We’ll keep talking at training and we’re going to keep working and one of these days everything will click and instead of losing the lead late we’ll tear the teams up and get the confidence going that way.”
Paul Matthews, on the other hand, was jubilant that his side had managed to hold on and eventually nab the three points from the jaws of defeat.
“I’m ecstatic,” he said. “It’s the only word to describe it really, after what we’ve been putting ourselves through with our performances recently it’s great.”
“We left it way too late, to be honest, and we were a little lucky with it, but scoring at any time feels great and considering we haven’t been scoring much recently it feels even better.”
“Overall we were down in a few areas, compared to what we’ve been playing, but there were chances both ways and I thought that a telling point of the match was the strength of their goalkeeper. I honestly didn’t have a whole lot of hope that we were going to get past him once we went down by one.”
“The changes that I made worked really well however, with Duncan Dean picking up every loose ball so that our attack could keep giving it a go, and Luke Glans was great as an impact substitute as well.”
The late defeat sees Thornton stuck in tenth place, looking up at the rest of the table, while Belmont Swansea climb to eighth, only four points behind a finals position now.
The Redbacks have a chance to recuperate next weekend however, with a midweek fixture leading into the bye on the weekend, their second of the season, and Mcallister’s focus will be on righting the ship after a disappointing capitulation.
Belswans meanwhile will clash with Singleton, with both teams eyeing off a position ever-closer to the finals spots that all teams are vying for – the match will be important for both sides as they continue their strong spell of form.
Kahibah FC v Lake Macquarie City FC
2.30pm, Sunday 17th May
Fixture postponed due to weather.
Cooks Hill United FC