PHOTO: VALENTINE SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY
Match of the Round
Cooks Hill United FC v Wallsend FC
Saturday 17th June, 2:30pm at Newcastle Athletics Field
Wallsend were thoroughly embarrassed by Belmont Swansea last weekend, and it doesn’t get any easier this weekend when they take on the league leaders at Newcastle Athletics Field.
Cooks Hill claimed their fifth win of the season the last time the two sides met in a rescheduled round 4 almost two months ago – Nick Russell grabbed two and Lee Ashton the other in a 3-1 win.
The league leaders were in serious trouble just a fortnight ago – a disappointing loss at Blacksmiths Oval meant they’d only taken two points from their last three matches, with a tough must-win assignment against West Wallsend in the offing. The rain did its thing though, and allowed Cooks Hill a week off to recharge their batteries – but will it have the desired effect?
As always, Cooks Hill’s scoring potential must enter the conversation. They’re averaging a little over three a match, despite only picking up four in their last three matches. Wallsend were on their way to being one of the best defensive sides in the league but went from having the third best defensive record to the fourth worst in the space of three weeks.
Saturday’s visitors will have spent the week licking their wounds after an embarrassing thumping at the hands of Belmont-Swansea last weekend. The nine goals they leaked blew any chances of Chris Gallagher’s defensive dreams being realised – as aforementioned, they’ve now conceded 17 goals in their last three outings.
Wallsend gambled in bringing back a couple of players from injury last weekend, and it backfired enormously. Luke Alexander and Kyle Macorig were the two returnees on the day, and they’re certain to be better for another week’s rest. Mal Hinchliffe was amongst the interested onlookers at Blacksmiths last weekend, and the potential inclusion of his experience this weekend may prove the difference for the Red Devils.
West Wallsend SFC v Kahibah FC
Saturday 17th June, 2:30pm at Johnston Park
Kahibah will know a win here can really put the pressure on those further up the ladder when they take on a West Wallsend side whose finals hopes hang by a thread.
The Bluebells were brushed aside convincingly the last time these two sides faced off in their rescheduled round 4 match, the 3-0 loss was their fourth of the season while on the flipside, Kahibah’s second win of the year.
West Wallsend have taken ten points from their last five encounters, which isn’t bad going considered they only managed six from their opening seven matches. They’re one of the form teams of the competition – but this weekend’s opponents have done two points better over their last five fixtures, and it’s going to be far from easy for West Wallsend.
What will count in West Wallsend’s favour, however, is a strong home record – their ten points from five home matches this season is respectable if not remarkable record. They were poor in their last outing, the 4-1 defeat to Toronto, and they will have been told in no uncertain terms that an improvement is vital on Saturday.
Kahibah endured a stop-start beginning to the season, and history looks to have repeated itself at the beginning of the second round of fixtures. By the time they take the field on Saturday, it will have been 24 days since Andre Gumpecht’s side last took the field in a whopping 5-1 win over Cessnock.
Such a prolonged break can have a mixed impact on players, but there’s no doubt Kahibah will be fully fit and fired up for this one. They boast a solid away record (four wins from five matches) and have the opportunity to go to the top of the table given they’re four points behind with two games in hand. Motivation, you’d think, will be easy to come by.
Cessnock City FC v Belmont Swansea United FC
Saturday 17th June, 2:30pm at Turner Park
There could be goals aplenty when free-scoring Belswans head up the valley to take on last-placed Cessnock on Saturday afternoon.
Cessnock put in arguably their best performance of the season to pinch a point from Belmont-Swansea last time these two sides met – a 1-all draw at Blacksmiths Oval in round 4 earlier this season.
For the home side, the year is fast becoming a matter of playing for pride. Coach Lino Gatti is insistent this season is purely a rebuilding one after last season’s debacle, and points to the fact his side has been in more games than they have out as a sign they’re on the up.
It is a results business though, and for Cessnock, the results haven’t been good enough. Their work with youth is encouraging, but a lack of experience may show itself this weekend. The likes of Max Wallington and Dave O’Hearn need to step up and lead this time around the park if Cessnock are to stem what could be a flow of goals.
For Belmont-Swansea, celebrations would no doubt have continued long into the night after their stunning 9-0 win over old foes Wallsend. Everything they touched turned to gold in that one, and it projected their goal difference from 0 to 9, which may come in handy when the race for the top four gets down to the nitty-gritty.
Tega Marcus was a constant menace last weekend, scoring poacher’s goals and quick counter’s alike. It’s the men behind that Cessnock will have to be wary of though – Sean Matthews and Chris Gazzard were at their creative bests last weekend. The inclusion of Joel Shearer was a welcome addition last weekend, and given Josh Hall looks unlikely to return from injury Shearer will once again fill the void he leaves.
New Lambton FC v South Cardiff FC
Sunday 18th June, 2:30pm at Alder Park
The home side will be out to put a dent in South Cardiff’s finals aspirations when the second-placed Gunners take on New Lambton at Alder Park on Sunday afternoon.
Four South Cardiff goals brought a sharp halt to New Lambton’s early season form when the two sides met back in round 4 – it was the Eagles’ first defeat of the season and announced South Cardiff as a then ‘dark horse’ of the competition.
Washouts have stemmed any chance the Eagles had of building some momentum, and by the time they take the pitch on Sunday it will have been over three weeks since they last played – the 2-all with West Wallsend where they collapsed in disappointing fashion late on was their last outing.
For New Lambton, the finals seem a long shot. This weekend’s opponents are second and haven’t lost in their last four fixtures, and the Eagles are currently seven points adrift of a finals position. They’ve won three of their five league matches at home so far this season, and if a vocal Alder Park can put on a show then it might just help the home side over the line.
Barring the 6-0 capitulation at the hands of Thornton in round 8, South Cardiff have made it tough for everyone they’ve encountered so far this season. Their ability to win big, as well as grind out results (like they did last time out against Cessnock), has held them in good stead this season – they’re currently second, just two points behind Cooks Hill.
The Gunners wore the mantle of ‘dark horse’ proudly in the early stages of this season, but have shaken it off in dominating fashion. They’ve won their last four matches, scoring ten goals and conceding only one in that time, and enjoyed the bye last weekend – the challenge for Denis Fajkovic this weekend is to try and keep the ball rolling.
Toronto Awaba FC v Thornton Redbacks FC
Sunday 18th June, 2:30pm at Lyall Peacock Oval
Thornton may have had this one circled as a win early in the season, but the hint of a Toronto mid-season revival means the Redbacks will be cautious when they hit the road this Sunday afternoon.
It was a high-scoring affair the last time these two sides met in the fresh evening air of Thornton Park in a rescheduled round four match – a 5-2 win, the Redbacks boasting five different scorers on the night.
Toronto had been moving their way into some unlikely midseason form before last weekend’s washout against Kahibah, and the task doesn’t get any easier this weekend against Thornton. They’ve taken four points from five matches against sides in the top four and will hope to replicate the success of their round five win over South Cardiff this weekend.
Coach Adam Routledge has spoken of his side’s togetherness in past weeks, and it was on full display when they routed West Wallsend 4-1 in their last outing two weeks ago. They’ll need another strong performance at Lyall Peacock Oval again on Sunday if they’re any hope of picking up their fourth home win of the season.
Thornton are in a similar boat to New Lambton and Kahibah – by the time they take to the pitch on Sunday, they’ll have been without a match for more than three weeks. Their last fixture was the disappointing draw with Cessnock, where they collapsed late despite controlling and leading for much of the match.
The three week’s rest will have allowed the Redbacks to nurture their squad back to full fitness, and they’ll be hoping it means the likes of Jamie Subat can return to their best. The opening weeks of the competition were Thornton’s best, they played with a creative freedom up front which, if found again, may be enough to catapult them back into the discussion for the top spot.