Match of the Round
Valentine FC v Lambton Jaffas
CB Complex, Sunday 2pm
Valentine player-coach Adam Hughes says it has been tough for his side to adjust to the sporadic playing schedule as they look to topple reigning premiers Lambton Jaffas on Sunday.
Both sides will be hoping to get back on the field at CB Complex with the recent postponements leaving Lambton and Valentine with each playing just three matches so far this season.
Valentine had started their campaign with back-to-back victories but faltered against Weston last weekend despite a spirited performance, going down 2-0.
Valentine have seen big improvement this season with the inclusion of former Socceroo Dean Heffernan and the Thornton brothers Liam and Carl to the side, who join quality players such as Nick Cowburn in a bid to make their wooden spoon season last year a one-off.
Lambton Jaffas began their title defence in style when they downed Broadmeadow Magic in their opening clash of the season but were humbled by Charlestown Azzurri 3-1 before returning to the fore against Weston to secure their second win of the season.
The Jaffas had played only three NPL Men’s NNSW fixtures so far this season and will not have played a match for well over two weeks when they meet Valentine this weekend. But coach Shane Pryce was sure to field a strong side for their Australia Cup fourth preliminary round victory last week, where they easily accounted for Northern League One club South Cardiff FC 6-0.
Jaffas will be wary of Valentine who gave them plenty of headaches last year with the Jaffas winning their first meeting 1-0 before playing out a 1-1 draw.
Hughes says his side found it difficult returning to the pitch last week against Weston but will be better for the run as they prepare to welcome Lambton.
“It was a long time between games for us,” Hughes said.
“We were a little bit lethargic out of the box and I would say the loading that we have done [in training] for the last week or so might have taken a little bit of sting out of the legs. We just didn’t have the sharpness we had the week before that.
“It’s up to us to get some fluency in the game, they’re going to come thick and fast for us now with a heavy fixture schedule. It’s hard to navigate but others are in the same boat.
“Jaffas are a good team, they have quality all over the park. It’s going to be a difficult match but hopefully the weather can stay away and we can actually get the match on. At this point in the season, it’s whoever turns up on the day and performs will probably get the result”
Pryce said while it had been hard to find continuity in games and at training with the weather, his side had the quality to re-join the winners circle despite some absentees.
“It’s been frustrating but we can’t control that,” Pryce said.
“After playing Weston we were kind of rusty there and we have a few injuries now. Nathan Verity is working his way back from a knee injury and Bren Hammel is out of the country for the next six weeks.
“You have always got to be wary against a team that has suffered a loss after starting well like Valentine. You go through their squad and they have some very experienced players, names that have been around the game for a while that will bring a lot of experience.”
Broadmeadow Magic v Weston Workers FC
Magic Park, Friday 8pm
Weston assistant coach Anthony Richards says there are not too many harder games in the competition than a trip to Magic Park to take on Broadmeadow Magic.
Broadmeadow will be looking to keep pace with table leaders Charlestown Azzurri as they look to make it five wins in a row against the Bears on Friday night.
Magic are fresh from a dominant performance over heavyweights Maitland last weekend, handing the Magpies their first defeat of the season in another result that showcased the closeness of this year’s competition.
Magic have not been without their admirers in the early part of the season but have certainly turned a corner after losing their opening two matches but have now knocked over Edgeworth and Maitland to further bolster their premiership credentials.
Weston welcomed former New Zealand representative Michael McGlinchey in a winning way last weekend, as they handed Valentine their first defeat of the season to lift themselves to fourth on the table.
Weston has built their squad nicely during the off-season with the likes of Dutch import Moustafa Mohammad and McGlinchey joining the squad but the Leo Bertos-coached side is now just beginning to bear the fruits of their labour and will be looking to make a statement against a red-hot Magic side.
Richards said he looked forward to a Friday night fixture and that the win against Valentine last weekend would hopefully set Weston up nicely for the rest of the season.
“[Against Valentine] that was our first win at home, so that was huge,” Richards said.
“We have only one injury concern. Joey O’Connor had a slight twinge of his hamstring but other than that everyone is firing and ready to go for the Magic game.
“I think the Friday night fixtures are great. It allows the Newcastle football public to come in and watch a good game, rather than all the games at once during the weekend. Try to get a good crowd there and it also frees up the weekend for our players, so they can go and enjoy themselves.
“Broadmeadow set up similarly to Valentine but they just execute a bit better. The players they have upfront like Jarred Baker, Jacob Dowse and Jayden Stewardson, they have some real attacking prowess.”
Charlestown Azzurri v Maitland FC
Lisle Carr Oval, Saturday 2pm
Saturday’s games start with a clash of the titans as first-placed Charlestown Azzurri look to make it five wins in a row against heavyweights Maitland.
Charlestown have been arguably the best performing team in the opening rounds. Apart from their opening round draw against Lake Macquarie, the Graham Law-coached side have collected wins in their following four outings and will now be looking to topple Maitland to hold onto their spot on top of the table.
The goal-scoring form of midfielder Dom Bizzarri coupled with the constant threat of forwards Riley Smith and Regan Lundy gives Azzurri attacking strike all over the park. But the inclusion of former A-League defender Nigel Boogaard has also bolstered their defensive line considerably.
But if there was a side that would not be overawed by the challenge Azzurri posed, it would be Maitland. The Magpies were previously unbeaten before falling to Broadmeaodw last weekend and that loss will leave them determined to show that it was just a blip.
As expected, Maitland striker Braedyn Crowley has been in red-hot form in front of goal so far this season, with the two-time NPL Men’s NNSW leading goal scorer already having seven to his name including a five-goal performance against Adamstown.
Similarly to Azzurri, Maitland also have an impressive defensive unit that features Zac Thomas, Will McFarlane and keeper Paul Bitz who have all played their role in the side conceding just four goals in their opening five matches.
Law said he and his players were completely aware of the strike the Magpies have across the park which they would be working hard to quell.
“They’re a class side and we know the power they have got,” Law said.
“Especially that front third, they have plenty of strike. It will be a great game but it’s one that will be special to us, as it’s the first game at Lisle [Carr Oval] in quite some time. It’s going to be quite an occasion.”
Newcastle Olympic v Cooks Hill United
Darling Street Oval, Saturday 4.30pm
Cooks Hill United will head to Darling Street Oval in hopes of finding their first win of the season against Newcastle Olympic on Saturday.
Newcastle Olympic and Cooks Hill have only played the three games each so far this season with Olympic’s most recent fixture a heated 1-0 loss to Lake Macquarie, handing them consecutive defeats after knocking over Broadmeadow in their opening match of the season.
Olympic had made use of their time off the pitch in recent weeks, welcoming Musa Kamara, Malk Thom and Joey Langlois to the squad who will be available for selection this weekend.
Cooks Hill are still searching for their first victory in the top flight after initially showing strong signs by holding Maitland to a 0-0 draw in their opening match. But they were then handed defeats by Weston and Broadmeadow leaving them 10th on the table.
Both sides had their fixtures postponed last weekend and will be desperate to get on the pitch with neither side playing since before the Easter break.
Speaking earlier this month on his new signings at the club Olympic coach Joel Griffiths said his side will have a host of new faces available..
“It will almost be like a new team, with our new signings,” Griffiths said.
“It will be quite refreshing to have these players. Rhys Cooper is one of those people, even though he has been at the club a while he hasn’t had any minutes at all due to injury.
“We are looking stronger in the front third now, which is what I’m looking for. I’m very excited [for our upcoming fixtures]. We are a very young team so it’s just about seeing how we adapt to playing in the league, against men and experienced campaigners”.
Lake Macquarie City v Edgeworth FC
Macquarie Field, Sunday 2pm
Lake Macquarie head coach Keelan Hamilton says the early part of this season has been the most challenging of his coaching career as Lake Macquarie hope for good weather in to give them a chance of stepping on the field against Edgeworth.
Lake Macquarie have had mixed results to start their campaign, tasting victory, defeat and a draw from their opening matches to leave Hamilton’s side eager to get on the pitch.
Edgeworth have had a tough start to this year’s campaign, yielding just the sole victory from their four matches this season. The quality the side has ensures they should not be towards the bottom of the table for long as they look to stop the rot after three successive defeats.
An injury to captain Pat Wheeler had kept him out of the side for most of the opening matches but the Eagles have had plenty of time to lick their wounds from their last fixture which saw them be handed a 6-2 defeat by Charlestown Azzurri in round six.
Edgeworth will be determined to hit back in style but Lake Macquarie will be sure not to make it easy for them, with the sides each taking home a victory in their two meetings last year.
Hamilton said the recent spate of postponements in the competition had made it hard for his side to play and even train but he was hopeful that would change sooner rather than later.
“It’s the most challenging period I have been through as a coach,” Hamilton said.
“As well as the games, every week we have a training disrupted it feels like but we have been as creative as possible and done the best we can with the resources that we have got.
“It’s obviously a bit of a transition period for Edgeworth at the moment but with the time they have had off recently I know they will be pretty motivated to come and get a result [against us]. We know the quality players that they have in the squad so we anticipate another really difficult match.”
Edgeworth head coach Peter McGuinness echoed Hamilton’s eagerness to return to the pitch and said he expected a tough match from the young side.
“The boys are happy to be back playing after the Easter break and the bye weekend,” McGuiness said.
“The [last] two weeks have been a little frustrating with the interruptions [due to the weather] however we have been able to get sessions where we have worked on how we want to play.
“We have some new faces inside the team which always adds a spring in the step to the squad with Jordan Lennon [Jets Youth] and Jarryd Sutherland [Maitland] being available this weekend.
“Lakes are a good young side and will be well prepared by Keelan.”