Match of the Round
West Wallsend SFC 0-3 Thornton Redbacks
A hint of déjà vu lingered around Johnston Park on Sunday as Thornton Redbacks secured a convincing win over West Wallsend, replicating the same result as last year.
Redbacks found the lead in only the second minute through 18-year-old Zane Estatheo. Estatheo struck the ball low and hard from outside the box into the bottom right-hand corner, catching the West Wallsend goalkeeper off guard.
Estatheo scored another goal before halftime, giving Redbacks a 2-0 lead going into the sheds. Unfortunately, the striker was substituted at the break due to a shoulder injury.
West Wallsend held the majority of the possession throughout the game but could not find a single clear-cut chance in open play, thanks to Thornton’s rock-solid defence.
The Bluebells had an excellent opportunity to commence a comeback through a penalty. However, Redback’s goalkeeper James Wand made a brilliant diving save, holding onto his clean sheet.
Despite best efforts from West Wallsend, Redbacks found yet another goal in injury time against the run of play, with Joel Page finishing a one-on-one situation with great composure.
“We made two defensive errors in the first half, which costs us,” West Wallsend head coach Darren Sills said.
Sills was not too impressed with the performance by West Wallsend, attributing their loss to a lethargic attitude and a solid tactical Thornton performance.
“We had plenty of chances that we didn’t capitalise on, and with the penalty [miss], it changed our attitude. [We were] lethargic today on an extremely heavy pitch,” Sills said.
“Full credit to [Thornton], they were the better side with the ball, and definitely the better side without it.
“[The Thornton coaches] are really good at setting up his defensive block. That was one of the things we spoke about at halftime; they get plenty of players behind the ball centrally.”
The pitch was not the best at Johnston Park due to the rain. The boggy pitch slowed the game down immensely and was arguably a contributing factor in the result.
Knowing the pitch conditions, Redbacks co-coach Scott Winslade made sure the tactics were on point to deal with the state of the field.
“It was tactical more than anything. We came up with a game plan early on when we found out we were playing. Playing earlier in the week, the boys were still a bit lethargic in the legs, so we needed to sit back a little bit,” Winslade said.
Sitting back allowed Thornton to capitalise on West Wallsend’s possessive errors and preserve energy for crucial counterattacks.
“On pitches like this, you’re never going to be able to play [good] football. So, we felt like the way to steal the ball from [West Wallsend] was to let them make the mistakes,” Winslade said.
Thornton did not come through unscathed, though, with Estatheo coming off after a shoulder injury. However, more alarmingly, Jake Millsteed was forced to exit the pitch midway through the first half, sustaining a hamstring tear.
The result puts Redbacks in second place after two games, with two games in hand against current leaders Belmont Swansea.
Kahibah FC 2-1 Singleton Strikers
A scrappy fixture saw Kahibah complete a second-half comeback against a dominant Singleton Strikers, who were a man down for the last 35 minutes.
Singleton opened the books with johnny-on-the-spot Joe Civello, picking out the goal.
“That’s [Civello’s] speciality. Being where he needs to be at the right time,” Singleton coach Mick Jarvis said.
“I thought we controlled the first half. I thought we were in charge. I thought we were the better side. Our quality showed over [Kahibah] in the first half.”
The second period saw the quality of football gradually decline, in line with the worsening pitch conditions as the match soldiered on despite rain persisting.
Jackson Skinner received a straight red card after dangerously taking out a Kahibah player from behind.
Kahibah found an unlikely equaliser against the run of play through their left wing-back Brendon Robertson. Robertson found himself at the back post, unmarked, leaving only a pinpoint cross to finish the move.
Substitute Riley Ferguson scored the game-winner for Kahibah, catching the Singleton defence out of position and capitalising on the lack of structure.
“Obviously [it was a] a very scrappy game. To be honest, they’re the type of games that we would’ve lost last year,” Kahibah coach Mat Moncrieff said as he described how Kahibah has changed both mentally and personnel-wise since last year.
“We were definitely up for it and glad to see we have that winning mentality in us.”
Despite the trying conditions, Singleton still tried to play their possession brand of football but couldn’t perfect it.
“[Singleton] are a very tough team to beat. They play a brand of football that’s hard to break down,” Moncrieff said.
“Obviously, the quality of the game was pretty poor but exciting enough for anyone watching.”
George Stephen played a brilliant game between the sticks and contributed significantly to Kahibah’s win.
The result means both clubs are now on three points from two games.
Belmont Swansea United 2-0 Toronto Awaba FC
Belswans coach Mick Stafford felt delighted after Belmont Swansea’s win over Toronto. The performance provided an example that the team has sufficiently rectified the issues from last weekend against New Lambton.
The first 20 minutes saw the Stags hog most of the possession and chances. However, Toronto quickly succumbed to their lack of match fitness as Belswans gradually took control by the second half.
A different game ensued exiting the sheds as Belswans gripped the game by the horns and dominated a tired Toronto.
Two goals from Kane Woolston and Reece Newton coming off the back of defensive errors was all that Belswans needed to satisfy the fans and Stafford alike.
“It was a competitive game between two hard-working teams. We definitely did enough to win the game,” Stafford said.
“We should’ve went on with it a bit more at 1-0, but credit to Toronto, a hard team to play. They’ll hurt a few teams this year.”
Coming off the back of an agonising 2-1 loss to New Lambton, Belswans were a little worse for wear, especially in the defensive department. This made room for three players to make their debut for Belswans. But it did not mean Stafford would lower his standards.
“We just touched base on the mistakes we made last week against New Lambton. The game plan was to keep a clean sheet, and anything on top of that would’ve been good, and we completed that,” Stafford said.
“It was good to promote kids from reserve grade and give them that opportunity, and they took it with both hands. It was a good defensive effort.”
Toronto coach Jarrad Hiles said that a lack of football and fitness compared to Belswans contributed heavily to the Stag’s demise on Saturday night.
“Match practice and a lack of football [was the main reason behind the loss]. Belswans ground is amazing, so they don’t miss a beat when it comes to training,” Hiles said.
“Fitness definitely played a part. We pressed so hard in the first half that I think we shot ourselves in the foot. Sort of just ran out of steam.”
“In the end, they took our two errors and scored two goals. Belswans were good enough to finish them and deserved the three points.”
Consistency has been Toronto’s main issue other the past few seasons. With both a convincing win and an underwhelming loss already under Toronto’s belt, the trend threatens to continue.
“Now it’s just trying to get some momentum and playing consistently week-in, week-out,” Hiles said.
Toronto Awaba centre back Bailey Snowden left the pitch in agony with an arm injury. The extent of the injury is yet to be known.
Cessnock City 3-0 Wallsend FC
Cessnock City continued their good start to the season. After backing up a 2-2 draw midweek against Thornton, the Hornets put three goals past Wallsend, in what could only be described as a fair result.
“I was very proud of the boys; they all dug in deep. We had a lot of people out this week with COVID, flu, injury, etcetera. They have done really good,” Cessnock coach Brad Miles said.
“We were solid throughout, and there was not a bad player on the park.”
“The key is consistency. But it’s only early days.”
Striker Zane Morphew-Watson had a field day, scoring two goals past the Wallsend keeper and was a standout in Miles’ eyes.
“Zane Morphew-Watson played striker today and scored two. He was really good up front,” Miles said.
Also, credit should be given to Cessnock goalkeeper Ethan Gunther, who kept a clean sheet despite multiple efforts from Wallsend.
“Just a special mention to our goalkeeper Ethan Gunther; he had an outstanding game today. He has been excellent all year.”
Despite the competition being in round five, Wallsend were playing only their first match due to persistent wet weather. Given Wallsend is team littered with ex-Cessnock personnel this loss was felt in the sheds.
“It’s always disappointing to lose your first game in, especially when the excitement and motivation was there,” Wallsend coach Michael Gatt said.
“Being it’s our first game [and it’s already round 5], the emotions were very high in many different facets. It wasn’t just playing our ex-club; everything culminated together.”
Even though the Red Devils lost, Gatt believes it was a fair result considering how the game played out.
“Look, it was a fair result on the day. They played better, and they deserved the win. I’m not the type of person to sugar coat it. They showed the hunger and fight that they wanted [the win], and they made us pay,” Gatt said.
“[We have] no excuses, Cessnock were the better side on the day, and they got the victory.”
Cessnock are now sitting pretty in third position, while Wallsend are bottom of the table with zero points, keeping in mind they are the only side to play just one match.
South Cardiff 1-1 New Lambton
South Cardiff, despite playing away at the re-scheduled Alder Park, came away with a deserving draw against the reigning premiers.
“[New Lambton] went 1-0 up from a lucky deflection off a free kick, but in saying that, you make your own luck, and they got their chance and took it,” South Cardiff coach Scott Taylor said.
Entering the second half with a deficit is usually the last scenario you want versing New Lambton.
“We had to improve on some things. We had to improve on our possession with the ball, and we did that. We gave it a lot more to them in the second half and played a lot more in their half. [I’m] really pleased,” Taylor said.
The hard work and dedication paid off for the Gunners. As centre back Tom Walker found the equaliser from a free kick, evening the score line to seal the game.
“[It was a] great performance across the park against a quality side in New Lambton, and that’s what you need when versing them. Everybody put a shift in,” Taylor said.
Taylor also mentioned that Izaac Terry made some “out of this world” saves.
New Lambton coach Tom Davies wasn’t pleased with how complacent the Eagles were in front of goals.
“[We’re] very disappointed and frustrated with the result considering how many chances we had to kill the game off. Our execution needs to be better, and we have to take our opportunities in front of goal,” Davies said.
Brad Andrews bagged New Lambton’s goal in the first half and was one of three notable performers. The other two being centre back Corey Nicholas and fullback Fletcher Davis.
New Lambton remain in the top four while South Cardiff claimed their first points, adding to an impressive but unfortunate 3-2 loss to Belswans earlier in the season.