Match of the Round
Wallsend F.C (11th) vs South Cardiff Gunners (4th)
Sunday 26 May, 5:15 pm, The Gardens
The second leg of the Gallagher Shield will highlight Round 12 as rivals Wallsend and South Cardiff will do battle in the Match of the Round at the Gardens.
The ‘Battle of the Reds’ has traditionally been a great match-up while the two sides met earlier in the year with the Gunners running out 4-2 victors with Sam Ford grabbing two goals on that occasion and giving South Cardiff the all-important lead in their contested silverware.
Wallsend recorded their first clean sheet of the season last round against Toronto Awaba and will need to start improving their defensive record of 26 goals – the highest amount in the league – if they’re to climb the ladder, while the Gunners served the bye last round but have been in red-hot form, unbeaten in five matches.
The Red Devils will also be without star man Ty Goldsmith due to suspension, who has scored six of Wallsend’s thirteen goals, while South Cardiff will also be missing captain, Denis Fajkovic for the clash.
The Gunners have two games in hand on the teams above them and will see this game as an ideal chance to consolidate their strong ladder position and push closer to Belswans and West Wallsend while the Red Devils remain in last spot although a victory could see them boost themselves up to ninth.
Another strong defensive display is certainly on Wallsend’s wish list and coach Jesse Pryce said they’ve been working hard on turning their season around.
“We’ve averaged four goals a game going in, so we’ve been really working on that since the bye round and in the next four to five weeks we’ll look to keep building on the defence,” Pryce said.
“It was a learning curve (our first game against South Cardiff) but we have a game-plan and let’s see if it works out.
“It’s a little bit of an extra incentive to play for (the Gallagher Shield) and the boys are really looking forward to it, it wasn’t our strongest line-up last week and we got a result so we’ll be wanting more of the same.”
South Cardiff haven’t been knocked over since their round 4 loss to Belswans and first-grade coach, Chris Moylan, is hoping for another consistent performance.
“We needed the week off after three big games in a week so it was really good to give the players a rest,” Moylan said.
“We’re constantly looking to improve and we do have a lot of senior players to drive that even without Denis and the boy will rise to the occasion.
“We know we’re a top four side, the two draws we had against Cooks Hill and West Wallsend the side came off disappointed which is a great attitude to have, we want to keep improving on the little things.”
Singleton Strikers (9th) vs Toronto Awaba Stags (10th)
Saturday 25 May, 2:30 pm, Howe Park
Two sides looking to rise up the ladder will lock horns this Saturday as both Toronto and Singleton will be eager to attain victory over a close rival on the table.
Both outfits sit on seven points from their nine fixtures with the Strikers recording two wins so far in 2019, with one of them coming against the Stags in Round 1 in a 4-2 victory away from home as Joe Civello scored a hat-trick on that day.
The Strikers are set to embark on a run of home games to try and revive their season with their next four games being played at Howe Park with Toronto having to travel the furthest of any team in the competition to play Singleton.
The Stags have shown glimpses of real quality in 2019 including their breakthrough victory over defending premiers, Belswans in round 6, but need to start turning draws into wins, having registered four stalemates – the highest in the league so far.
Goals have been hard to come by as the Stags have only scored nine but have quality players in Nathan McAllister and Nick Roberts to turn that record around while the Strikers have always prided themselves on their defence and will need to produce a terrific defensive display to keep Toronto at bay.
New Lambton Eagles (6th) vs Cessnock City Hornets (7th)
Saturday 25 May, 4:30 pm, Alder Park
New Lambton will host Cessnock City at Alder Park in another huge fixture with both sides chasing for a top four position.
The Eagles have often struggled to find consistency in 2019 but are only a point away from the top four and picked up an impressive 2-1 win over Singleton last weekend before going down in their FFA Cup fixture midweek against NPL NNSW side, Edgeworth Eagles, 2-0.
Cessnock is in a purple patch of form having turned around their season with a couple of wins on the bounce including a confidence-boosting 1-0 victory over Thornton last round before gallantly going down 5-4 to Kahibah in their FFA cup fixture midweek in another classic match.
The home side will be looking to perform the double on the Hornets having won their earlier encounter 1-0 between the two sides in Round 1, however, Cessnock have settled on their strongest line-up and will be a dangerous proposition.
New Lambton’s Riley Taylor has had another stunning start to the season, bagging seven goals for the campaign and again will look to lead the line but will be up against a robust defensive unit in Greg Anderson and Tom Stewart, with the winner of this battle likely to put their team in a strong position to win.
The Eagles will be without a couple of key players due to their heavy schedule of three games in a week, but coach Jim Foley said his team would be raring to go.
“I have the utmost respect for Cessnock and expect another tough game on Saturday, our win at Singleton last Sunday was hard earned and came at a cost with injuries to a number of players,” Foley said.
“Our midweek FFA Cup match has added to the demands of the players but I’m highly optimistic that we will be up for the challenge against Cessnock.”
Belmont Swansea United (2nd) vs West Wallsend (3rd)
Sunday 26 May, 2:30 pm, Blacksmiths Oval
Round 12 will see another chapter added to the highly-anticipated clash between Belswans and West Wallsend with both outfits so close on the ladder.
The game will be another rematch of the 2018 grand final where Belswans claimed the honours on that day and also picked up a hard-fought 1-0 win in the latest fixture between the two sides way back in Round 1.
Sunday’s affair will have potential implications on the title race with the two sides sitting in second and third respectively, with a crucial three points on offer to move clear of one another and keep in touch with ladder leaders, Cooks Hill.
Belswans are coming off the back off a 3-0 loss to the Cookers and will again be without a couple of key players in Mitch Cook and Joel Nicholson while the Bluebells recorded a gutsy 1-0 win over Kahibah last round to leapfrog the defending premiers on the table.
The home side’s achilles heel has been the goal-scoring department in 2019, having only notched the sixteen goals but have one of the best defensive units in the league and will need to keep Bluebells striker, Tye Jones, quiet with the attacker leading the golden-boot race with thirteen goals.
The match looms as one of the biggest games of the season for both clubs and Belswans coach, Mick Stafford, is expecting a very tough encounter.
“I watched them play last week and I believe they’re the best team in the competition so it’s going to be a tough game and a different game as round 1 didn’t give a true reading of either team,” Stafford said.
“We’re in a good position, there are eight teams below us who would like to be in our position and a win would be massive as we’ve got the bye coming up so we need the points.”
West Wallsend is on a mission to attain the highest possible finish they can get with five wins from their last seven games, although, coach Brendan Slade knows the importance of this fixture towards their season.
“It’s going to be a huge game, we talked about it in training, we want to hopefully score an early goal as Belswans are usually good starters so we’ll need to take our chances,” Slade said.
“We’re still looking for a bit of consistency in our line-up, injuries don’t help and it looks like Brendan Frost has injured himself again so we’ve had to rotate the defence, but the midfield has been mostly the same.
“The boys are pumped, we’re chasing down Cooks Hill and there is plenty of games left so we want to let them know we’re aiming for first spot.”
Thornton Redbacks (5th) vs Cooks Hill United (1st)
Sunday 26 May, 2:30 pm, Thornton Park
As the NEWFM Northern League One competition moves past the halfway mark, round 12 has served up some big games in the context of the season including a colossal match-up between Thornton and Cooks Hill at Thornton Park.
The Cookers deservedly sit in top spot having not lost a game so far in 2019 with their run starting against Thornton back in round one with a 4-0 win, while the Redbacks will be out to avenge that defeat and put an end to Cooks Hill’s unbeaten run.
The ladder leaders knocked over title rivals, Belswans, 3-0 last start but are set to embark on their toughest run of fixtures so far with six away games in a row that will test out the potential champions while the Redbacks suffered a setback last round going down 1-0 to Cessnock but still have games in hand on the teams above and remain in fifth spot.
The black and white have an abundance of quality in their side with Nick Russell being the shining light in recent weeks with two goals and an assist against Belswans while Alex Gillespie and Jack Wilkinson have been solid at the back but will need to be wary of Thornton’s Jacob Golding and Jake Millstead who continuously ask questions of the defence.
The Redbacks would have been disappointed with their last-start loss and coach Gary Wand said he knows his side is in for another fierce battle.
“I’m hoping for a lot better performance from the guys considering where we are at, we need to rise to the occasion and we’ll just focus on performance,” Wand said.
“We may change structurally but no real changes to personnel, we also really need to be better tactically as they’ve got obvious quality and experienced players.
“The council is helping us out (in terms of the ground), we’ve got a WPL team, a few other teams and us who all play on the same ground and there are about 120 games that get played on it, so it makes it difficult but the ground is okay.”
Cooks Hill has built up a substantial lead at the top of the table but know they need to keep performing while coach Graham Law said he’s cautious of a strong Redbacks line-up.
“The best footballing side we’ve played so far is Thornton, I do think long and hard about games and if they win their two games in hand, they’re in second, so that’s the mentality we will have of a top of the table game,” Law said.
“We’ve got six away games on the bounce and we know grounds are deteriorating so we might have to change tactics a bit.
“We work through our difficult spells as we know we’ll get our chances, but the boys are really looking forward to a good game.”