By Isaac McIntyre
Match of the Round
Wallsend FC v Valentine FC
2.30pm, Sunday 24th May
The NEWFM 1st Division Match of the Round kicks off on Sunday afternoon at The Gardens, with first placed Valentine taking on second placed Wallsend in a battle that could see one team take dominance in the league.
Wallsend are looking strong, five points above their closest competitor, and at the moment their focus is fixed closely on the top position in the league, where rivals Valentine look set to fight for promotion. A win for Wallsend could see the side step into the top place, with Josh Rufo’s side hoping to take the second half of the season by storm.
“We’ve been missing three of our first starting players and they’re all going to be available again for the game,” Rufo stated.
“We’ll be the strongest team available for Valentine again and our side is very, very good with the players. It makes a difference.”
“I think that it’s probably about making sure that the team is very good and the football is very good. We need to be mentally and physically ready, the game will be very physical, and we need to match them on that level.”
Valentine’s Alan Hackett is keeping his mind on taking the season game by game however, and knows that every win counts.
“At the moment, the boys keep performing and so we have our spot in our own hands, it’s our own destiny,” Hackett said.
“If our opposition doesn’t let us play then we have to be smarter and do things better. We look one game ahead and that’s it, we’ve got one round down after that and then we take on Wallsend, who I rate really highly.”
“We’ll look at Wallsend on Thursday. At the moment the club is going well, the 23s are on top, the 19s are first or second and of course we’re at the top, so if you don’t perform you get dropped.”
A win for Valentine could put the team five points clear at the top of the table and that kind of supremacy on the ladder hypothetically could give Valentine the push they need to secure PS4 National Premier Leagues football next season.
Both sides need the top spot going into the second half of the season and know it’s easier to hold the top spot then fight for it as the fixtures come thick and fast – this game will be one of the biggest clashes of the entire season.
Singleton SC v Belmont Swansea United SC
2.30pm, Saturday 23rd May
The first game of the weekend sees Singleton play at Howe Park again as they face off against Belmont Swansea United, with both teams coming off a win in the last round.
Singleton have had good fortune fall their way in the last few weeks, with their training beginning to pay off and resulting in three wins in a row, and a leap up the table to sixth place.
Their first win in the streak came from a victory over Lake Macquarie City; a team that had sat in first place weeks before that, and now a fourth win in a row could see the Strikers climb to as high as fourth place, with finals football now in their gaze.
Belmont Swansea meanwhile have turned five losses in a row and a plummet down the ladder into a win over the Thornton Redbacks with two rapid-fire goals in injury time that boosted their confidence exponentially.
“Ecstatic is the only word to describe it, after what we’ve been putting ourselves through it’s great,” Belswans coach Paul Matthews stated after the surprising win.
“I think that we have to improve now, if we let this confidence and then victory go to waste then we may have problems, but I think we can keep going.”
“We have a few coming through because of work and changes and now we’ll be stronger and have a more solid squad in the second half of the season. I believe we have what it takes to change our fortunes now.”
A win could put United a single point behind the top four positions that they’ve been aiming for, and the victory could put them above the Strikers on the table as well.
Both teams have their finals hopes riding on this game as they come into the second half of the season, and a loss could spell doom for both clubs’ form if they cannot bring another of their stronger performances to bear at Howe Park this weekend.
Kahibah FC v West Wallsend SFC
2.30pm, Sunday 24th May
Kahibah Oval plays host to the battle for fourth place, with Kahibah facing off against West Wallsend in a bid to secure a finals place over the other side.
The home side could be considered the form team of the season so far, having not lost a game since their debut match against West Wallsend, and the brilliant performances have resulted in their fourth place position.
Four wins and two draws have given Kahibah their points, with the single loss marring their almost perfect record.
The team has also played two games less than most of the other teams on the ladder, and if they can take wins in both of the delayed fixtures it could see them come within a single point of second place.
West Wallsend need the win to fight back into the finals football position that they had carved out for themselves after their series of wins, but after being held to two draws and falling to a late defeat against Singleton last round they now need the win to return to form.
“Our priority isn’t exactly just top four right now,” West Wallsend coach Gary Rowe commented. “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 been playing with at the moment has been 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.”
Kahibah and West Wallsend clashing is another key fixture in the round, with the game-changer looking to shift the whole top four if fixtures across the board go against either of the two teams. This game will be a closely fought battle with everything on the line.
Toronto Awaba FC v Lake Macquarie City FC
Lyall Peacock Field
2.30pm, Sunday 24th May
The Toronto Awaba Stags take on Lake Macquarie City in a match on Sunday that sees a top team take on a team that has struggled to find points in the season due to bad luck with their performances.
The Stags have been struggling to find the back of the net in their games and have lost eight games in the season, taking only three points from a single win.
Coach Tony Jovcevski has been focusing on making sure that the losses don’t over take the side and see them fall further and further into bad form – instead, a win over one of the top teams of the season could give the home side the turnabout they need to begin a resurgence.
Lake Macquarie have struggled to find points in their fixtures since title contenders Valentine defeated them at home, turning the tables against the former National Premier Leagues side, while top-scorer Tom Walker’s injury has made it difficult for the team to outscore their opponents.
Two draws and two losses in five games has seen the side slip to third place, seven points behind the promotion position, and only a single win has seen them keep on track for finals.
“Our defensive frailties are still there,” Ross stated.
“I signed a centre back for the game against Cessnock on Wednesday, and his name is Brad Tate. He featured for the 23s last weekend and put in a good shift, and I’m looking forward to his performances in First Grade.”
“We just have to keep working on our problems, we’ve sat down and had video sessions and whiteboard sessions and walked through the defensive responsibilities but when it comes game time they just make the wrong decisions and the lack of experience shows on the pitch.”
“The energy isn’t there and we’re losing challenges and duels and our last passes are making it hard, and I personally think it comes down to a lack of confidence, which I’m hoping Tate brings into the side. Apart from that, it’s felt like starting the season all over again.”
A win over the Stags is necessary for Barry Ross’ side if they want to have the second half of the season keep them in contention for a return to the PS4 National Premier Leagues, but the Stags need a win if they are to keep finals hopes alive – a loss could put them out of reach of their objectives this season.
Lyall Peacock Field is set to have the hopes of one of the two sides confirmed on Sunday afternoon, and the other team may see their immediate hopes fall by the wayside if they can’t perform for the 90 minutes.
Cessnock City FC v Cooks Hill United FC
Turner Park 1
2.30pm, Sunday 24th May
The final match of the Round 12 will be played between Cessnock City and Cooks Hill United, with the game set to be played at the first field at Turner Park.
Both sides have been fighting to put up a strong front in regards to finals football, but have fallen short of the top half of the table as the league moves into the second half of the season.
Cessnock have recorded only two wins and a draw to gain points, with six losses also clocking up their record, and the seven points have left the side three spots from the bottom of the table and seven points below a top four position.
Cooks Hill meanwhile have been putting in better performances, with three wins and two draws collecting them eleven points in total, but progress has been halted by three losses in the season so far as well.
“The boys are still positive,” Cessnock coach Stephen Thomson commented.
“We’ve still got all the second half of the season so we’ll look to win a few more in the second half and we just seem to miss out on all the luck and that’s always hard.”
“Next time we speak I want to have three points and the boys put in 100% but results aren’t coming our way. We want to change that.”
With both teams eyeing off the vital three points, the game looks set to be a battle of fast paced football and control, something both teams have been developing in the weeks that have preceded Round 12.
This game will be a great game to close out the weekend of matches, and is not a game to be taken lightly – the bottom half of the table could see a massive shift if one team takes a dominant lead and finds form from a strong win.
Thornton Redbacks FC