PHOTO: Valentine Sports Photography
Match of the Round
Belmont Swansea United FC v Wallsend FC
Saturday, July 6, 2.30pm
Belmont Swansea and Wallsend will face difficult decisions at selection time for the NEWFM First Division Match of the Round at Blacksmiths Oval on Saturday as they both prepare for next week’s start to the semi-finals.
Second-placed Belswans, who are on 41 points, play fourth-placed Wallsend (37 points) with neither team able to change their finals opponents.
Belswans, who are a point ahead of Kahibah, will finish second or third, while Wallsend will finish fourth. Wallsend can draw level with Kahibah but trail them by 20 goals on for and against, meaning the Red Devils will play minor premiers Lake Macquarie and Kahibah will take on Belswans in the semis.
Wallsend downed an understrength Kahibah last week 4-1 but have at least four players just one yellow card away from incurring a suspension and therefore all are unlikely to play in the last round.
Belswans are coming off a 1-0 loss to South Cardiff in which captain Joel Shearer made a 45-minute return from a hamstring injury.
Coach Brad Paul hoped to give Shearer 70 minutes against Wallsend to help him prepare for the playoffs.
Paul said other players with injury concerns looked set to play on Saturday.
“We had Joel Shearer, Kyle Wilson, and Fletcher Price all train well on Tuesday,” Paul said.
“We will have good numbers and are focusing on positive results for all grades on Saturday.
“The rotation process that we’ve been using over the last few games will continue. This week Jarrod Noon comes back in and Josh Sutton will be sitting out.”
Wallsend player-coach Dave Hodgson said goalkeeper Luke Jennings, Luke Cook, Heath Kepreotes and Paul Wheeler were all resting this weekend and possibly “one or two others”.
He said he would look to striker Tega Marcus, who had scored four goals in the past three games, to show the way, while Jack Lyddiard, who scored twice on debut last week, would play some part in the top grade again.
Singleton Strikers FC v Cooks Hill United FC
Saturday, July 6, 2.30pm
Singleton will be out to secure sixth spot and cap a solid season with a result against Cooks Hill United at Howe Park on Saturday.
The Strikers, who finished fifth last year, have recovered from a slow start to the season, which had them last after nine rounds, to be in the box seat to take sixth place.
Singleton are on 22 points and ahead of West Wallsend, who have the bye, on goal difference. Cooks Hill and South Cardiff, who are on 19, can join go level with them this weekend but only the Gunners and Bluebells can beat them on goal difference.
Strikers coach David Willoughby said his side were looking to finish the season on a high.
“Obviously we wanted to play finals but to make the final four in the FFA Cup in Northern NSW and then finish top six in the league, I think that’s turned it into a good season,” Willoughby said.
He said the Strikers had only one change from the side who defeated Toronto Awaba 6-0 last week, with midfielder Sam Ford returning to Brunei this week to complete his coaching A-licence course.
Rob Field, who scored a double last week, takes Ford’s starting spot. Kieron Burrell scored a hat-trick last week and was in doubt for the final round with injury but Willoughby said his team were “fit and looking forward to completing the season on a positive note”.
“I have been able to expose a couple of under 19s in first grade over the last month which has been good for our continued improvement,” he said.
Cooks Hill lost 3-0 to Thornton last week in a performance player-coach Mal Hinchliffe was pleased with.
Hinchliffe believed Cooks Hill were unlucky not to gain a free kick when conceding their first goal last week and that they created enough chances to be ahead at half-time.
He was hoping for a turnaround in fortune in the last game and had no changes to his side.
“We cross off the season against Singleton and hopefully we have some better luck,” Hinchliffe said.
“I can’t fault the players. The morale is good and the will to win is still there.”
Kahibah FC v Toronto Awaba FC
Sunday, July 7, 2.30pm
Kahibah will warm up for their semi-finals against Belmont Swansea with a big day for the club at home against Toronto Awaba on Sunday.
Andre Gumprecht’s team, who lost 4-1 to Wallsend last week, are third on 40 points and will finish second or third and meet Belswans (41 points) in the two-leg semi-finals.
They finish the regular season with Old Boys’ day and a National Breast Cancer Foundation fundraiser at Kahibah Oval.
Assistant coach Matt Moncrieff said the club had raised $12,000 over the past three years with their pink day activities and hoped to have another huge day this year.
On the pitch, Moncrieff said Kahibah had all players available but he was unsure what line-up they would field given their focus on the finals.
“There’s decisions still to be made but they will be based around having the best possible team available to play Belswans next week as well as putting on a quality performance in front of our old boys and junior teams,” he said.
Kahibah rested Sean Clerke and Ash Illfield last week to avoid a potential yellow card accumulation suspension and they would appear unlikely to feature again.
While Kahibah are preparing for the playoffs, Toronto Awaba are destined to finish second last and are looking to next season.
Coach Tony Jovcevski, who is stepping aside from the top job for 2017 but plans to stay involved with the club, said the game would be a chance to give more young players a taste of first grade.
The Stags have the worst for and against in the league despite a win and a draw against second-placed Belmont Swansea in a year Jovcevski said had been “eventful”.
Despite Toronto Awaba’s spot on the ladder, Jovcevski said the emergence of promising young players had been a positive for the club heading into 2017 and beyond.
Lake Macquarie FC v South Cardiff FC
Sunday, July 7, 2.30pm
Lake Macquarie’s focus will be on completing a clean sweep of minor premierships when they host South Cardiff on Old Boys’ day at Macquarie Field on Sunday.
The Roosters have secured top spot in first grade and under 23s and have the chance to do the same in under 19s and under 17s on the last day of the regular season.
Their under 19s lead by a point over Belswans, while the under 17s will jump ahead of West Wallsend, who have the bye, with a win over the Gunners.
Lake Macquarie return from the bye to face a South Cardiff first-grade side on a high after their 1-0 win over Belswans last week.
Roosters coach Anthony Richards said he had a full side to choose from for the last-round match before they take on fourth-placed Wallsend in the two-leg semi-finals.
South Cardiff are eighth on 19 points and can finish as high as sixth with a big win and other results going their way.
Gunners coach Andrew Packer said Daniel Wells had left for the US, Nick Pepper was in doubt with an ankle injury and last week’s goalscorer, Josh Casey had back soreness but his side were otherwise full strength and unchanged for their last game.
Thornton Redbacks FC v Cessnock City FC
Sunday, July 7, 2.30pm
Thornton Redbacks will welcome back defender Ben Henry as they try to finish the season against last-placed Cessnock City with a hat-trick of wins on Sunday at Thornton Park.
Henry has been out suspended but is back to boost the Redbacks back-line which has been undermanned in recent weeks.
Despite those troubles, Thornton have had victories over Toronto Awaba and Cooks Hill to ease the pain of missing the finals.
Redbacks coach Darrel McAllister has been impressed with his side’s performances over the past two weeks.
“We have been doing well but we just haven’t been good enough this year to be in the top four,” McAllister said.
“We are clearly the next best side but we just can’t beat the top four and if you can’t do that, you don’t deserve to be there.”
While the Redbacks recovered from a poor start to the season to climb the ladder, Cessnock have been unable to gain any momentum in a year punctuated by injuries, suspensions and absentees.
They are on 11 points and will finish with the wooden spoon.
The Hornets face a difficult task in attempting to finish on a high because of the loss of several players.
Cessnock regain Anthony Bower from suspension but are otherwise struggling with a raft of bans and injuries.
Coach Stephen Thomson said goalkeeper Matt Zechel and Jordan Willard were suspended, Max Wallington, Josh Bower and Liam Stephenson were out injured, while Connor Heydon has returned to the US.
West Wallsend SFC – Bye