South Cardiff Gunners (4th) vs Cooks Hill United (1st)
Saturday 24 August, 2:30 pm, Ulinga Oval
Rd 9 – Cooks Hill 1 drew with South Cardiff 1, Rd 20 – South Cardiff 0 drew with Cooks Hill 0
The 2019 NEWFM Northern League One semi-finals series has arrived and four teams remain to challenge for the title of champions.
Expectation and excitement will be at an all-time high with the four clubs believing 2019 can be their year to achieve glory.
The first match-up will feature the resilient South Cardiff Gunners and the powerhouse premiers in Cooks Hill United at Ulinga Oval.
Saturday’s match will pit two of the most electrifying attacking line-ups against each other with the two legs to decide who will march onto Grand Final day.
Cooks Hill has embarked on a season that has seen them claim 14 wins from 20 to earn their third-straight premiership while only dropping 15 points along the way.
However, the Gunners have earned two draws against the black and white in 2019 and have proven to be a formidable opponent, boasting the best defensive record in the competition, conceding only 23 goals throughout the campaign.
South Cardiff have also come into some good form heading into this weekend’s colossal match, staying unbeaten in their last five games.
The reigning premiers have featured in the last two semi-final series’, going all the way in 2017 but were knocked out at this stage last season, and there’s no doubt the side will be motivated to again play for the coveted championship.
The Gunners will be featuring in their first semi-finals series since moving into the second-tier competition and will have their own motivation to prove they have what it takes.
Both sides are equipped with some lethal attackers although are also benefited with durable defenders including Jack Wilkinson from Cooks Hill and Corey Nicholas for South Cardiff having outstanding seasons while Tom Jenkin has kept the most clean sheets in the league for the Gunners.
The two previous matches in 2019 were extremely tight affairs, and Saturday’s game is expected to be the same with neither side wanting to give each other an inch.
South Cardiff discovered some consistency in their performances throughout the latter stages of the regular season and coach Chris Moylan says the squad is quietly confident coming into the game.
“The whole club is pumped, it’s been about eight years or so since we’ve played in the finals, so the buzz is good, we’re excited and the players are up for it,” Moylan said.
“They’re (Cooks Hill) more worried about us, than we are about them, they haven’t beaten us in two years, but they are a very good footballing side although I think we understand how they play.
“It’s just another game for us and we will prepare the same as we have done all year, we have some experienced players who have played in semi-finals and grand finals at an NPL level so we’ll be ready, and we’re also expecting a big crowd.”
The Cookers will be highly determined to add some more silverware to another superb season while assistant coach Jarrod Gorsuch said the club is raring to go.
“We’ve prepared for this all year, the table shows we are at the top at the regular season, but South Cardiff will be a tough fixture,” Gorsuch said.
“Two-legged ties can be very dangerous, hopefully we can sneak an away goal and see what we can do in the home leg.
“South Cardiff are a very difficult opponent with quality players across the park, it’ll be a difficult matchup.”
West Wallsend (3rd) vs Belmont-Swansea United (2nd)
Sunday 25 August, 2:30 pm, Johnston Park
Rd 1 – West Wallsend 0 def. by Belmont-Swansea 1, Rd 12 Belmont-Swansea 0 drew with West Wallsend 0
At least one of last year’s grand finalists will feature in the big dance again this season, with West Wallsend and Belmont-Swansea set to lock horns in a mouth-watering semi-final at Johnston Park.
These two clubs are used to playing each other on the biggest stage and Sunday’s game will be no different with plenty at stake.
The Bluebells know the feeling of Grand Final heartbreak and will have the opportunity to enact revenge on the team that defeated them in the 2018 decider.
As for Belswans, the defending champions have featured in the last three Grand Finals and are acquainted with a wealth of experience for the big games and believe they can make history and go back-to-back this season.
Only one goal has been scored between the two fixtures this season, with the sole goal coming in Belswans’ 1-0 win at Johnston Park way back in Round 1 before a cagey 0-0 draw later in the year.
Although the 4-2 result in the Grand Final of 2018 favouring the yellow and green is still fresh in the minds of both players.
Grand Final hero Clayton Poole has again had a tremendous season and along with Reece Newton and Ty Goldsmith will lead the attack for the team from Blacksmiths.
However, the Belswans defence will need to be wary of Golden Boot winner Tye Jones who has knocked in a superb 18 goals this season and will also be partnered by livewires Tom Sparre and Brendan Frost in attack, who have both hit good form.
Belswans went down narrowly 2-1 to Cooks Hill in their final regular-season match but enjoyed a three-game winning streak in the games prior, while they also hold a solid defensive record, having only conceded 24 goals this season.
West Wallsend leapfrogged South Cardiff on the final day to finish in third with a convincing 3-0 win over Kahibah and are unbeaten in their last four matches.
These two clubs have built up quite the rivalry over recent seasons, and Sunday’s match will add another exciting chapter to the match-up.
The Bluebells will be fuelled by the pain of last year to achieve something special in 2019 and interim coach Steve Thomson said it’s vital to make a strong start.
“It would be good to get off to a good start, especially at home, hopefully put a couple away and try and put some pressure on them for game two,” Thomson said.
“Last year’s Grand Final is probably something they think about, but we have been talking to the boys about both games (this season) and how they were close, tough games that could’ve gone either way.
“Training has been good, haven’t changed what we do, (Belswans) are a well-coached side and we will have to be at our best, but who we put out will do the job.”
Belswans have proven to be successful at the semi-final stage, and coach Mick Stafford said the squad has plenty of belief to make a fourth-straight Grand Final.
“This is our fourth consecutive year of finals football, we will just go about our business as we have done in past years, it’s exciting and we need to enjoy the challenge as a group,” Stafford said.
“The squad is very relaxed, obviously we want to get off to a good start, but if we don’t, that’s fine, we can draw on past years to find that belief, we are a tight-knit group with plenty of experience, which is vital in finals.
“Westy is a quality side and a great bunch of lads, Johnston Park is a tough place to go, we need to turn up Sunday with a focus on ourselves and what we do best, I know the effort and intensity will be there, but the execution needs to be perfect to get a result.”