Match of the Round
Belmont Swansea United FC v Singleton Strikers FC
At Blacksmiths Oval
Friday, March 25 – 2.30pm
Leaders Belmont Swansea will be bolstered by Valentine utility Corey Wilson and three returning players when they look to extend their perfect start to the NewFM First Division season against Singleton Strikers at Blacksmiths Oval on Friday.
Belmont Swansea have scored 10 goals across three wins to start the year under returning coach Brad Paul and look likely to field their strongest team to date against Singleton, who have started their campaign with two hard-fought draws.
Wilson, a defender or midfielder, linked recently from Valentine, who are preparing for their step up to the PS4 National Premier League this year.
Paul said Wilson is likely to make his debut for the club in first grade against Singleton and his squad was also welcoming back Luke Cook, Tim Schultz and Josh Sutton, who missed the 3-2 win over Thornton Redbacks last week.
Joel Shearer scored a double in the victory, while Jamie Hadlow continued his impressive start to the season with the other goal.
While Belmont Swansea have made a flying start to the season, Singleton have been solid under new coach David Willoughby with 1-1 draws against South Cardiff and Cessnock City.
Willoughby, who is on his honeymoon, was away for the stalemate with South Cardiff and will miss the game against Belmont Swansea, which is certain to be their biggest test of the season so far.
Singleton president David Andrews praised the defence of his side last week and they will surely need an even better display to keep the in-form Belmont Swansea attack at bay on Friday.
West Wallsend SFC v Wallsend FC
At Johnston Park
Friday, March 25 – 2.30pm
One of the great rivalries in Northern NSW Football will be resume when Wallsend make the trip to neighbours West Wallsend at Johnston Park on Friday.
Wallsend, who were founded in 1887, and West Wallsend, established in 1891, share a long and rich history of derby clashes and this shapes as another spirited encounter.
West Wallsend finished last in 2015 but have made an encouraging start this year with a 3-2 win over South Cardiff, a 3-1 loss to Belmont Swansea and a gritty 0-0 draw with Lake Macquarie last week.
The Bluebells were compact and determined in defence against the strong Roosters attack and coach Gary Rowe said his squad were bracing for another test of their discipline against Wallsend.
“It will be another tough one, but we’ll try and dish up more of the same,” Rowe said.
West Wallsend will be fresher than expected after their round three FFA Cup game against Thornton Redbacks on Tuesday at Johnston Park lasted about 20 minutes before play was halted because of a lighting problem.
The Bluebells were down 2-1 in the match which will now be held at Thornton on Wednesday night.
The postponement means suspended West Wallsend striker Ryan Cole remains sidelined for the Wallsend game, however the Bluebells get back centre-back Jarrod Olivieri from a one-game ban.
Goalkeeper Tyler Warren, who was strong in the draw against Lake Macquarie, is in doubt with an ankle injury.
Wallsend, meanwhile, welcome back forward Trent Milton as they look to find top form after a steady start to the year.
The Red Devils, the major premiers last year, beat Cooks Hill 2-1 last week thanks to a double from David Hodgson but they lost to Lake Macquarie 2-1 the round before. They started with a 4-1 win over Toronto-Awaba.
Coach Josh Rufo said his side are at full-strength this week and were steadily improving but yet to produce their best in front of goal.
South Cardiff FC v Kahibah FC
At Ulinga Oval
Friday, March 25 – 2.30pm
South Cardiff coach Andrew Packer is bracing for the toughest test yet of his side’s defence when they hit a rested and red-hot Kahibah at Ulinga Oval on Friday.
The Gunners sit fifth after drawing 1-1 with Singleton last week, which followed a 1-0 win over Thornton and 3-2 loss to West Wallsend.
Packer was unhappy with his side’s defence early in the second half against Singleton but he has been pleased with overall progress of the new-look team.
Cameron Treweek returns to strengthen South Cardiff’s defence, while left-sided attacker David Hecimovic is also back after missing the draw.
Packer, an A-League grand final-winning defender with Sydney FC in 2006, has worked hard on South Cardiff’s efforts at the back and was looking forward to the test against Kahibah, who have scored 14 goals in their two games and are coming off the bye.
Andre Gumprecht, who played for the Central Coast in the 2006 A-League grand final, is captain-coach of Kahibah.
“We’re pretty sorted there in defence,” Packer said.
“We’ve just got a massive challenge on Friday night in front of us. Kahibah’s going to be a really good one for us and a good gauge of how far we’ve got to go to be right up there.”
Kahibah will be without key signing, former South Cardiff striker Sean Clerke, who is suspended after being sent-off in the 7-2 win over Cessnock City.
Lake Macquarie City FC v Thornton Redbacks FC
At Macquarie field
Friday, March 25 – 2.30pm
Lake Macquarie and Thornton will both have two additions to their line-up as they try to put disappointing results in round three behind them at Macquarie Field on Friday.
Thornton lost 3-2 to Belmont Swansea after leading 2-0, while Lake Macquarie were unable to break down last year’s wooden spooners West Wallsend in a goalless draw.
Lake Macquarie coach Anthony Richards said his players were “disappointed because they thought they did enough to win” against West Wallsend in a tough encounter.
Richards said centre-back Michael Wright and striker Sam Walker sustained leg injuries in the match but they finished that game and would likely back-up against Thornton.
Lake Macquarie welcome back two of their best recruits for 2015, Blake Green and Corey Fletcher, for the match. Green is a former Jets Youth and Hamilton defender/midfielder, while former Weston and Maitland utility Fletcher will debut after missing last week’s game because of a wedding.
Thornton coach Darrel McAllister was critical of his side’s concentration early in the second half against Belmont Swansea when they gave up two goals to go behind 3-2.
He welcomes back midfielder Jason Thomas and wide player Tim Gleeson for the game against Lake Macquarie. The Redbacks are last after two one-goal losses to start the year, while Lake Macquarie are fourth with four points from three games.
Cooks Hill United FC v Cessnock City FC
At Newcastle Athletics Field
Saturday, March 26 – 2.30pm
Cooks Hill will get back defender Mal Hinchcliffe and start Jack O’Toole for the first time when they take on a depleted Cessnock City at Newcastle Athletics Field on Saturday.
Under new coach Blake Glennie, Cooks Hills are improving each week as they rebuild their team which contains only three players from last year’s line-up.
Cooks Hill led Wallsend last week before losing 2-1. Before that, they beat Toronto-Awaba 7-2 after losing to Kahibah by the same score.
Despite the roller-coaster results, Glennie has seen improvements each week in his side and he expects more as they become more gelled.
Cessnock City coach Stephen Thomson has been hit hard by injuries and unavailable players through the opening three rounds and his troubles continue.
Liam Stephenson is again out with a knee injury, while Ben Gowdy and Anthony Bower are unavailable.
The Hornets were missing four key players in a 4-2 loss to Toronto-Awaba, which followed a 7-2 defeat to Kahibah and 1-1 draw with Singleton.
Thomson was not expecting to have a full-strength side for the next two to three weeks, which will make it difficult for the Hornets to produce their best. Despite the setbacks, Cessnock led twice against Toronto-Awaba last week. Thomson, though, was disappointed with the amount of ball his side turned over, especially in the second half.
Toronto-Awaba FC – Bye