PHOTO: Valentine Sports Photography
Match of the Round
Wallsend FC v Lake Macquarie City FC
Sunday, August 14, 2.30pm
Head-to-Head 2017: Round 2: Lake Macquarie 2-1 at Macquarie Field. Round 18: Lake Macquarie 1-0 at The Gardens.
Regular season record: Lake Macquarie: 1st (52 points; 17 wins, 1 draw, 2 losses, 80 goals for, 24 goals against).
Wallsend: 4th (37 points; 12 wins, 1 draw, 7 losses, 38 goals for, 30 goals against).
Lake Macquarie coach Anthony Richards believes his minor premiers will face “the best side in the comp” when they take on Wallsend in the first leg of the NEWFM First Division semi-finals at The Gardens on Sunday.
The Roosters were the dominant team of the regular season, winning 17 of 20 games, scoring 80 goals and conceding only 24.
They defeated fourth-placed Wallsend by a goal each time in their two encounters but Richards believes of all the potential finals match-ups “this is the one I’d be most nervous about”.
“I reckon they are the best side in the comp,” Richards said.
“With the experienced players they’ve got, Dave Hodgson, Chris Gazzard, Paul Wheeler. Those guys love this time of year and they will step up a gear.
“They are two tough games we’ve got coming up and both times through the year we only just got home by a goal.
“I think our guys are in awe a little bit of some of their guys, so I’ll have to tell them to leave their autograph books in the shed.
“A few of those boys would easily play NPL and they have been there and done it.
“They are used to playing this time of the year, whereas our guys are still only young and fairly raw, so it’s tough for us I think.
“Hopefully, their nerves can settle and the young guns can handle the big stage.”
Wallsend lost six points for mistakenly playing a suspended player twice and one of the wins taken away was over Belswans, meaning the Red Devils would have finished higher on the ladder if not for the penalty.
Wallsend also came back in last year’s semi-finals from a 3-1 first-leg deficit to defeat Lake Macquarie 6-1 in the second and progress to the grand final, which they won over Valentine.
Richards said last season’s semi-finals loss would have an impact on some of his players heading into Sunday’s game.
“Probably half the boys were there and the other half weren’t, so half probably carry the mental scars but the other half are probably, ‘what are you on about?’,” he said.
Richards said he should have a full complement of players to call on as his side look to extend a nine-game winning steak, which includes a 5-1 victory over South Cardiff last week.
“We got through last week’s boggy game so hopefully we get nice dry weather this week for another crack at the dog track,” he said.
“They are ready to go and we haven’t had to rest players because of yellow cards.”
While Lake Macquarie have enjoyed an almost trouble-free run to the playoffs, Wallsend have had battles on several fronts.
As well as the loss of points, Wallsend have had to regroup from the loss of coach Josh Rufo and defenders Daniel Rufo and Cameron Hughes mid-season.
Striker Dave Hodgson has taken on coaching duties and helped steady the ship.
Wallsend were beaten last week 2-1 by Belswans but were without several players who were rested because of yellow card problems or injuries.
Before that, the Red Devils defeated Kahibah, South Cardiff and Singleton following the 1-0 loss to the Roosters.
Hodgson’s only injury concern was over defender Mitchell Cook (groin) and he was confident that with his full squad available, they could upset the Roosters.
“I reckon we will be hard to beat,” Hodgson said.
“Obviously, once we had some points taken off us, the minor premiership was gone and we just turned our focus to ensuring we made the semi-finals.
“We weren’t really worried who we played. We think we can beat any of the sides that are in the top four. Not that they aren’t good sides, but we’ve got a bit of NPL experience in our side and even guys who haven’t played a lot there, like the Kepreotes brothers, Kyle Macorig, Trent Milton and Timmy Davies, we’ve got a good side – even if you don’t rely on those four or five NPL experienced guys.
“We played four or five under 17 or under 19 guys last week and we rested a heap the week before, so it was all about getting ready for the finals.
“We’ve done that and we’ve got pretty much everyone right to go for probably the first time this year.”
Hodgson said the losses this year to Lake Macquarie meant little to his team.
“They played us in the second game of the year and won 2-1 but that was early March in 38 degrees and we’ve got a few older guys who didn’t do much of a pre-season, so we never really took that loss as anything to be concerned about,” he said.
“Then they beat us 1-0 a few weeks ago and we had six or seven out that day. There’s nothing to be concerned with from a results point of view for us.”
He said the key to victory for his side was shutting down the attacking threat of Blake Green, Tom Walker and golden boot Sam Walker, who has scored 30 goals this season.
“There’s plenty of goals and experience in those Walker boys, so it’s about closing them down and limiting their chances,” he said.
“Then there’s Blake Green in behind them. I played a year with him at Olympic and he was at the Jets youth, and he’s quite a good player as well.
“It will be about making sure those three don’t get the ball in good attacking positions.”
Under 23s (12.45pm): Belmont Swansea United FC v Lake Macquarie City FC
Under 19s (11am): West Wallsend SFC v Lake Macquarie City FC
Under 17s (9.15am): Kahibah FC v Lake Macquarie City FC
Kahibah FC v Belmont Swansea United FC
Saturday, August 13, 2.30pm
Head-to-head 2017: Round 5: 2-2 at Blacksmiths Oval. Round 16: Kahibah 1-0 at Blacksmiths Oval.
Regular season record: Belmont Swansea: 2nd (44 points; 14 wins, 2 draws, 4 losses, 48 goal for, 23 goals against).
Kahibah: 3rd (43 points; 14 wins, 1 draw, 5 losses, 61 goals for, 29 goals against).
Belmont Swansea coach Brad Paul believes his side can turn the tables on Kahibah in the semi-finals with a high-pressing strategy at Kahibah Oval on Saturday.
Belswans finished a point above Kahibah on the table but lost 1-0 and drew 2-2 with their semi-final rivals during the regular season.
And with Kahibah’s ground out of commission for the opening encounter, both matches were played on Belswans’ turf at Blacksmiths Oval.
Despite Kahibah’s edge in the season proper, Paul said his team were confident heading into the first leg of the semi-finals.
“Both times there wasn’t much in it,” Paul said.
“First game they led 2-0 at half-time but we finished all over them.
“It was a bit disappointed to walk away with the draw in the end.
“Both of their goals were really good strikes from Daniel Bartlett, who was playing for them then.
“The second game was 1-0 at half-time and a pretty dour game. There wasn’t much in it but they scored when they knocked it over the top and we failed to clear it. It was a bit of a defensive error and one of their young blokes slipped in to score.
“When you look at it, we’ve only got one point out of six against them but we’re still as a group pretty confident we have the firepower to deal with them.”
Belswans finished with the best defensive record in the league of just 23 goals conceded, but Paul wanted a more intense effort without the ball on Saturday.
“I just think in the second game, especially second half, we gave them a bit too much respect with the ball,” he said.
“The key for us will be putting a high press on them at all times this week and to just see if we can get a goal of two away from home, which would be handy.”
The only injury concern for Belswans was right-side defender or midfielder Huey Price, who missed last week’s 2-1 win over Wallsend with a knee problem. Paul said Price was “doubtful but everyone else should be right to go this weekend”.
Fletcher Price, who is back from overseas and has played the past two weeks, and captain Joel Shearer, who has returned in recent weeks from a hamstring tear, are important additions for Belswans. Both were expected to miss the rest of the season.
Paul said the club had no major injuries across the grades and training had been sharp as the battle for starting places intensified.
With some sides resting players with injuries and yellow card troubles in recent weeks, Paul it was a “whole new ball game” this weekend.
“With players coming back in I think possibly it could be the team who settle best who might come away with it, just with the nature of the last few weeks with players being out,” he said.
Kahibah defeated Toronto Awaba 4-1 last week but had losses to Wallsend and Singleton the two weeks prior as they turned their focus to the finals.
Assisant coach Matt Moncrieff said Ash Illfield, Sean Clerke, Colvin Williams and player-coach Andre Gumprecht would all return this weekend to give Kahibah “a few selection headaches”.
Moncrieff believed his squad were in good shape to continue their advantage over Belswans.
“We match up all right with them,” Moncrieff said.
“They are pretty unpredictable and have some really good individuals who can hurt you. We have to make sure we look after those individuals.
“But we have everyone back on deck. We’re ready to rock and roll and fire on all cylinders.”
Moncrieff said Belswans were dangerous because of their speed but Kahibah were confident of again handling the threat.
“The second game was close but I think we were fairly comfortable,” he said.
“Lakes are good, but of all the teams, we match up better with Belswans and we’ll be trying to make the most of the home ground advantage on Saturday.”
Under 23s (12.45pm): South Cardiff FC v Cooks Hill United FC
Under 19s (11am): Kahibah FC v Belmont Swansea United FC
Under 17s (9.15am): Wallsend FC v West Wallsend SFC