By Isaac McIntyre
Match of the Round
Thornton Redbacks FC v Cessnock City FC
6.30pm, Saturday 30th May
The Match of the Round sees the 9th placed Thornton Redbacks welcome Cessnock City to Thornton Park, with both teams looking to climb out of the bottom end of the ladder and begin pushing for a place in the top four.
The Redbacks have been struggling for strong results in the season so far, taking only their second win midweek between Round 11 and 12, and has also lost six times in the season so far, taking only a single draw.
Cessnock City have also had a poor start to the season, having played over half of their games in the league now and have won only twice, collecting an extra point off a tight draw. Eight losses have put the Hornets into a rut however, and confidence has been low in the Cessnock camp recently, with a win needed if their last ten games are to turn around their season.
The Redbacks’ have struggled to find the back of the net in their performances so far, but standout forwards have been Timothy Gleeson, Jason Thomas and Nathan Mcallister, and the team will be looking to them to show their skills in front of the net again if they are to come away with a win at their home ground.
Cessnock’s main problems have come from leaky defence at the back, and coach Stephen Thomson has been working on improving their strength in keeping opponents away from the goal mouth.
With the Redbacks coming off their 4-1 win over Cooks Hill midweek, Cessnock’s defence will now be put to the test, with the Thornton players looking to emulate their counter-attacking dominance.
“We need to work on the positioning and transitioning and I want to get to the benchmark of the season, which means that we have to get our back line strong and solid,” Thomson said.
“We have the second half of the season to work on these shortcomings and I think that this game will be the first step in solving them.”
A win for either side puts them above the other team in the clash, and equal on 8th with ten points. One team will be left behind on the table this Saturday evening, while the other will be only two strong wins outside the top four – this fixture could change the fortunes of one team for the better, and one team could slide even further into a defeated rut.
Valentine FC v Cooks Hill United FC
3.30pm, Saturday 30th May
Table leaders Valentine will prove a challenge for travelling Cooks Hill United this Saturday afternoon as they play off against each other at Cahill Oval.
Valentine have continued their streak of dominance in the league, still undefeated and sitting in first place on twenty-three points, with seven wins and two draws, and Alan Hackett’s side look for another three points to keep Cooks Hill out of the top four places.
United meanwhile are eyeing the chance to put a stop to Valentine’s loss-free season so far, and Cahill Oval may be the staging ground for that first defeat.
Warren Spink’s side have been strong in recent weeks, taking four wins and two draws to go with their four losses in the season, putting them in fifth place on goal difference.
“Weeks off the pitch make it hard for the team to keep gelling together and so now we have to return in a massive clash and make sure that we’re ready,” Spink commented.
“Our structure is tight at the back and side plays well together, so we’ll be looking to control the game over Valentine and if we can hold the possession then Valentine aren’t going to be able to bring their attacking prowess to bear against us.”
“We have to once more be a wall at the back and then dangerous going forward and if we can hit them on the counter and take an early lead then we’ll be able to deliver them their first loss, something that every team in the league wants to do.”
Hackett’s side will also be looking for an early lead to put themselves on top, but the battle at Cahill Oval could see Valentine slip out of first place if they can’t bring their full level of skill to the fray, and Cooks Hill’s form may be the decisive factor in this high-level clash.
Kahibah FC v Belmont Swansea United SC
2.30pm, Sunday 31st May
High-flying Kahibah welcomes Belmont Swansea United to their home field as they look to capture three more points on the first game on Sunday.
Kahibah have collected seventeen points so far in eight games, with only a single loss marring their almost-undefeated record. They have taken five wins and two draws in that time as well and now look for another win to put themselves further ahead of the competition.
Belmont Swansea meanwhile have struggled to make their chances count, with only three wins in nine games, as well as a draw that left them sitting in eighth place and on ten points.
The BelSwans are looking to turn a close victory over the Redbacks almost two weeks ago into a series of wins that can return them closer to where they performed last season.
“We have to get back into our winning ways, and turn out point collection like we were doing last season,” Paul Matthews stated about his side’s performance.
“The two late goals against Thornton put the whole team into a good mood and the confidence of that come-back win is going to be vital for us when we next play.”
“I want to make sure that we can stop Kahibah in their tracks and make sure that we can win a lot earlier than extra time at the end of the match.”
A win for Kahibah would put them four points above the fourth placed Lake Macquarie City, while Belmont Swansea could finish as high as fifth on the ladder if results go their way in the round, and if they can turn around their performances with another win in a row.
Wallsend FC v Lake Macquarie City FC
2.30pm, Sunday 31st May
Top teams clash at The Gardens on Sunday as Wallsend looks to retain their top four position while Lake Macquarie City fights to return to promotion spot that they held at the beginning of the season.
Wallsend have slipped up only twice in the season so far in nine games, taking seven strong wins and losing only twice to other top four competitors. Their second place position comes from their strong attack and equal defence, with nineteen goals in nine games showing their skill in front of the net.
Similarly, they have conceded only six goals in the entire season, with their defence often proving to be the edge in their matches, and Lake Macquarie’s attack will have to return to form if they are to have any chance for the three points they are seeking.
Their 3-1 loss to Singleton put a halt to their high-flying wins, and with the Walker brothers failing to find the back of the net a struggle of confidence may be looming on the horizon if they can’t return to a three-point victory this weekend.
“We have to figure out our problems, and we need a chance to prove them out on the field and put them into practice,” Lake’s coach Barry Ross stated.
“This loss of confidence has put us in a rut and if we can’t find the back of the net off a proper shot soon then we may have a problem with squad confidence.”
“We have a lot of star players in the whole club however, so if someone is struggling then we can put them into the reserves and give them a chance to come back to form and meanwhile we’d have another great player to fill the ranks from the u23s. We’re struggling for a win at the moment but it won’t be long before we’re challenging for the top place again.”
The win is vital to both sides if they are to look towards the promotion spot, with Wallsend having a chance of taking the lead in the season if Valentine can be stopped in the round, with 24 points giving Wallsend the lead.
Lake Macquarie need the win to get back into the mix at the moment, with seven points separating them and their return to the Premier League, and both sides will be playing their dominant brand of football at The Gardens this weekend in a match that shouldn’t be missed.
West Wallsend SFC v Toronto Awaba FC
2.30pm, Sunday 31st May
As other teams fight to keep their top four positions, West Wallsend meanwhile has dropped to sixth place and now looks for a win over Toronto Awaba at Johnston Park to stake a claim back into their finals positions.
The last game of the round gives West Wallsend a chance to get back into the top four positions, with three points allowing them to close the gap between fourth placed Kahibah.
The home side has taken four wins in the season so far, as well as two draws that have left them on fourteen points, while three losses have slowed their strength and positioning on the league standings.
Toronto Awaba meanwhile has been stuck on the bottom of the table with only two wins in ten matches, and a victory away from home could give the Stags a chance to finally move off the bottom of the table and into ninth place.
“Righting the ship is still the complete plan at the moment,” West’s Gary Rowe said of his side’s struggle to make it back into the top four position.
“Once again, we’re not so much focusing on where we are at the table at the moment, but instead making sure that the team is playing really well and always giving a great performance against the other side.”
West Wallsend’s struggles have come from their inability to outscore their opponents, with nineteen goals scored and nineteen goals conceded, but Rowe has faith in his team’s defence.
“We are good at the back, we have good shape and we know what we’ve got to do at the back, but we need to finish off some more of our chances at the front and that means that we need to create more chances.”
“Defence isn’t a problem, attack is on the upswing and once we deliver good performances every single week the finals positions will come.”
The last game of the round could see West Wallsend return to where they had been at the start of the season table-wise, or the Stags finally break out of their eleventh placed struggle and begin a climb up the table with victories to their name.