PHOTO: VALENTINE SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY
Match of the Round
West Wallsend SFC v New Lambton FC
Saturday 27th May, 2:30pm at Johnston Park
Fresh from the bye, West Wallsend are up against New Lambton in this weekend’s Match of the Round as the two sides battle to rise clear of a congested mid-table and put pressure on the top four.
New Lambton wiped the floor with an underdone West Wallsend last time these two sides met in round one; Nick Pepper scoring two bombs to hand his side a debut win in the second tier of Northern New South Wales football – but the Bluebells have come a long way since the early rounds of the season and will be keen to impress.
A bye last weekend meant West Wallsend weren’t able to capitalise on round 10’s stunning comeback win over Cessnock. That victory was the Bluebells third from four matches, a run which pulled them way up the table and only three points from fourth spot on the ladder.
West Wallsend have overcome a tough, goal-heavy start to the season amid criticism from the top they weren’t able to string together good patches of play for the full 90 minutes. Coach Gary Rowe will be pleased his side are beginning to play out the full 90, and is now in the unfamiliar position of gunning for a top four finish for the first time since 2013.
In their first season in the second tier, New Lambton have held their own so far – 14 points from 10 games has them sitting comfortably in seventh place, only four points from the top four. They bounced back from losses to Cooks Hill and Broadmeadow Magic with a 3-0 win over Toronto last weekend, and will be eyeing off another scalp this weekend.
The goals were shared nicely in that one – Alex Ihlow picked up his sixth of the campaign. Despite their six goal glut against West Wallsend way back in round one, coach Andrew Packer has admitted he’ll be wary of a resurgent Bluebells outfit as the two battle to move closer to the top four.
Cooks Hill United FC v Toronto Awaba FC
Saturday 27th May, 2:30pm at Newcastle Athletics Field
A stunned Cooks Hill outfit will be out to replicate their Round 1 heroics when they welcome Toronto on Saturday afternoon.
The two sides took three points each from one another last season, but a vastly improved Cooks Hill smashed Toronto in the opening round of the season 5-0 – and given their recent form, a similar result may be on the cards.
The Cookers put down a marker in Round 1 of the competition when put four second-half goals through Toronto – even though coach Graham Law was insistent for weeks that his side were ‘underdone’ due to a lack of pre-season preparation. His side are much more prepared this time around and will be hurting after last weekend’s result.
For a side who have scored nearly four goals a game in their ten appearances this season, Cooks Hill struggled to put away their chances last weekend and paid for their wastefulness in front of goal. They boast three of the league’s top five scorers, and they’ll be hoping to get back to their scoring ways against the league’s worst defence.
Toronto have conceded 33 goals from their ten matches this season, including seven in their last three matches. It’s sure to be a worry for coach Adam Routledge, given they’re up against a side who they let in five times the last time they faced off. It’s another big one for the Stags, who need to kick on if they’re to improve on last season’s tenth place finish.
Goals have not been easy to come by for Toronto this season – Nick Roberts and Nick McKay have three and two respectively, which accounts for five of the Stags’ 12 so far this campaign. Given they’re up against one of the better defences in the league, Toronto will need some big performances if they’re to hand Cooks Hill their second shock in a fortnight.
Singleton Strikers v Belmont Swansea FC
Saturday 27th May, 2:30pm at Howe Park
A shock upset point for Singleton at the home of the league leaders last weekend will have given the young Strikers a massive confidence boost ahead of their clash with Belmont Swansea on Saturday.
Belmont Swansea comprehensively dealt with Singleton in round one this year, when the two sides last met. Traditionally, Belswans have had the better of Singleton and haven’t lost to the Strikers since round 22 in 2007 – almost ten years, and will be hoping to keep that run going this weekend.
It was a huge upset for an understrength Singleton last week when they stole a stoppage time point from Cooks Hill. Brad Millar earned his second and third goals with well-taken strikes in either half and is shaping as one of the key players in an extremely young Strikers line-up.
There were only two players over the age of 20 in the Singleton lineup last weekend, and the youngsters proved how enthusiasm can match experience. The youth will need to begin to step up quickly though – only seven points from ten matches this season is a dismal return, but a win this weekend may be a much-needed kick start to do better in the second half of the season.
Belmont Swansea currently sits in eighth place on the ladder and certainly haven’t lived up to expectations set upon them by the competition prior to the season. Despite their place on the ladder, Josh Rufo’s team are only five points from the top four and a win at Howe Park could potentially widen the gulf to nine points between eighth and ninth.
Tega Marcus and Josh Hall have 15 of Belmont Swansea’s 18 goals so far this season, but worryingly have only one in their past three outings and haven’t scored from open play in nearly five hours. Belswans away form is poor so far this season – only one win from five matches on the road, so a victory on Saturday may be vital if Belswans plan on a finals appearance.
South Cardiff FC v Wallsend FC
Sunday 28th May, 2:30pm at Ulinga Oval
Sunday’s match at Ulinga Oval between South Cardiff and Wallsend is shaping as a real ‘six-pointer’ for the two sides battling for a coveted top four finish.
South Cardiff triumphed when these sides last clashed in Round 1, claiming a 3-2 win over the reigning champions. Wallsend took three points and shared the other in their clashes with the Gunners last year and will be hoping for a repeat of their Round 20 heroics this time around.
Last weekend’s match against Belswans was a scrap, to say the least, but South Cardiff were able to deal with the long ball game into which it descended and take an invaluable three points. The Gunners seem to be able to find a goal when it counts – something which Wallsend learnt the hard way last time they faced off.
It’s been a mixed bag of results for Southy so far this year – big wins over Cessnock and New Lambton blighted by a heavy 6-0 loss at home on Old Boys Day against Thornton and shock loss to Toronto. Despite the mixed bag, the Gunners are doing well enough to be sitting three points clear in 4th place.
Hot on their tail are Wallsend, who have worked hard to tighten up their defence which is the third best in the league. They’re conceded only three goals in their past three matches to contribute to a total of 15 this season – it’s a sure sign their focus on defensive structure is paying dividends.
The best example of their new found tightness at the back was last weekend when they survived a second-half onslaught from one of the best attacks in the league – Thornton. Coach Chris Gallagher was ‘filthy’ following his side’s failure to keep a clean sheet and will be looking for his side’s third clean sheet of the season this weekend.
Thornton Redbacks FC v Cessnock City FC
Sunday 28th May, 2:45pm at Thornton Park
Thornton will know they need to bounce back when they welcome a leaky Cessnock to Thornton Park on Sunday afternoon.
It was a five-star Thornton side when these two sides last met in round 1 of 2017 at Turner Park – Nathan McAllister netted two to kick start his good scoring run so far this season.
The Redbacks were off their game last weekend – fatigued and weakened after a heavy run of matches on the bounce, they waited until after the 90 minutes to finally find the back of the net. Top scorer Nathan McAllister missed a penalty in this one, and Thornton will be eyeing this one as a good opportunity to get back to their winning ways.
Despite all the hubbub about Darrel McAllister’s side and their free-flowing attack, it’s the Redbacks defence which has paid dividends for the side sitting 3rd on the ladder – they’ve conceded only 13 goals this year which ranks their defence as the second best in the league, behind only Kahibah.
Cessnock were within minutes of their first win a fortnight ago and capitulated badly to crash to a 5-1 loss at the hands of Kahibah last weekend. Their solitary goal in that one was an own goal – and was only the Hornets’ 11th of the campaign, in stark contrast to Thornton’s 33 so far.
Lino Gatti’s side will be well aware that a win here wouldn’t be enough to lift them from the bottom of the table – but with 10th placed Toronto facing Cooks Hill, it’s shaping as a pivotal game for Cessnock to shake off the malaise and kick off the second round of matches positively.