Thursday, 27 July 2017

PREVIEW: New-FM Northern League One Round 21


1st Grade:
Singleton Strikers (9th) v Cooks Hill United (1st)
Kickoff: 2:30pm
Last Time They Met: Cooks Hill United 2-2 Singleton Strikers

The Singleton Strikers have lost every game against top five sides by at least two goals this season except for one...a most-dramatic 2-2 away draw with Cooks Hill United back in Round 11. It's been a fairly disappointing year all round for the Singo side but that day at the AthField was arguably their best result of the year.

If recent results are anything to go by, it'll be a struggle for the 9th-placed Strikers. They went down 4-1 to Kahibah after falling away late two weeks ago before losing 3-0 at home to another potential premiership-chasing side in Thornton last weekend. It doesn't get any easier as well as they're off to Southy next week where if the Gunners could be fighting for their finals hopes.

Cooks Hill returned to the top of the table last weekend after Kahibah lost to Belmont-Swansea but the Cookers have been far from the side they were in the first few weeks of the season. Ever since their infamous 5-4 win over New Lambton, things have just been lacking by their standards. Their last clean sheet came all the way back on May 6th.

By Graham Law's lofty standards he sets, the Cookers have probably put in two  arguably three acceptable team performances in that time. An easy win over Cessnock and last week's solid 3-1 result at South Cardiff. Their 3-2 win over Kahibah was important as well. They want to up the ante as they head for their first New-FM finals appearance. They did so last week and they won't want to drop points here. The minor premiership is theirs to lose.

Prediction: Singleton stunned Cooks Hill last time out but it's highly unlikely a team will ever have as many chances as the Cookers did that day and not come away with a win. It was a freak result if there ever was on. It's Round 21 and Cooks Hill know exactly what's coming in two weeks time. They want a polished team effort here.

My Tip: Singleton Strikers 0-3 Cooks Hill United

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Under 23's:
Singleton Strikers (7th) v Cooks Hill United (1st)
Kickoff: 12:45pm
Last Time They Met: Cooks Hill United 4-0 Singleton Strikers

After their finals hopes came to a crashing end with a 4-0 loss to Kahibah, Singleton 23's fell to a 5-0 hammering on home turf to 3rd-placed Thornton. They've conceded nine goals in their past two home fixtures and it certainly doesn't get any easier this week as the ladder-leaders come to town.

Cooks Hill fought out a 1-0 win over South Cardiff last weekend that saw them retain their lead atop the table but once news came through that Westy had beaten Wallsend, the mood no doubt rose just that little bit more in the Cookers' camp. A win here would win them the minor premiership, barring Wallsend scoring 20 goals or so in their game this week!

Prediction: Singleton's form has gone out the window in the 23's and they've got nothing more than pride to play for. Cooks Hill on the other hand are trying to wrap up the minor premiership. Whether they do it 1-0 or 6-0, they should be getting the points here.

My Tip: Singleton Strikers 0-4 Cooks Hill United

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Under 19's:
Singleton Strikers (9th) v Cooks Hill United (1st)
Kickoff: 11:00am
Last Time They Met: Cooks Hill United 5-2 Singleton Strikers

The Singleton 19's have been for the majority fairly disappointing in 2017 but last week they all but ended Thornton's charge towards finals football with a determined 1-1 draw. The Strikers have shown at times they can match it with the best. Their first half display against Cooks Hill in Round 11 was superb. An 80 minute performance here could test the Cookers.

Cooks Hill picked up a tight 1-0 win over South Cardiff last weekend to move back to the top of the table after Belswans' unbeaten run came to an end. Now the minor premiership is firmly in the Cookers' favour. Win their last two and the trophy is theirs. It's not that simple though. An away trip to Singleton looms as an unpredictable test.

Prediction: Singleton's home record in the 19's has been underwhelming to say the least but last week's draw with Thornton will give them home that they can stir an upset. Still, Cooks Hill know the minor premiership is almost theirs. They won't want to take the foot off the pedal now.

My Tip: Singleton Strikers 1-3 Cooks Hill United

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Under 17's:
Singleton Strikers (11th) v Cooks Hill United (4th)
Kickoff: 9:15am
Last Time They Met: Cooks Hill United 2-0 Singleton Strikers

Singleton's goal to avoid the wooden spoon took a major hit last week as their season hit a new low in a 2-0 loss to fellow strugglers Thornton Redbacks. The Strikers will be hoping that South Cardiff go down in their match which will set up an all-or-nothing wooden spoon clash next weekend. A game here against Cooks Hill is going to be very difficult, although they battled well against them last time.

Cooks Hill are in the finals and sit comfortably out of reach in fourth spot. However they could still win the minor premiership (something the club will be striving for across all grades). Beyond that, finishing 2nd or 3rd will avoid a clash with whichever side finishes on the top of the tree. Putting together some good form in the weeks leading to finals is always an important key to success.

Prediction: Singleton's form has been very poor. Their only win in the last ten was against Cessnock and they've lost every game against the top five teams in the comp this season. It should be a win for Cooks Hill if they show up with their best quality.

My Tip: Singleton Strikers 0-4 Cooks Hill United

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1st Grade:
Cessnock City (11th) v Kahibah F.C (3rd)
Kickoff: 2:30pm
Last Time They Met: Kahibah 5-1 Cessnock City

It's becoming a real tough test to preview Cessnock City games week in week out. Their golden chance to end their horror winless run was spurned last week as they fell 2-1 at home to Toronto-Awaba in one of the worst New-FM games you're ever likely to see. Mistakes proved costly and the Hornets once again ended up losing.

The most interesting thing happening at Cessnock is the abundance of rumours for just who will be taking on the coaching role next year. Some decent names (including a former State League winner) have been linked with the role. Some die-hard Lino Gatti followers want the Italian to stay but it's highly unlikely unless there's a committee change.

For Cessnock this week, it's simply all about keeping the scoreline respectable. With the minor premiership still on the line and coming off a loss to rivals Belswans, Kahibah are unlikely to be in anything but a serious goalscoring mood at Turner Park. The Green and Blacks were far from their best last time against Cessnock but still won 5-1 with Murray Leyland's double stealing headlines.

Kahibah drew in 2015 at Turner Park but last year blasted seven past Cessnock. A loss here for Kahibah would be a killer blow to their premiership hopes and perhaps be the greatest upset in the competition's recent history. The last thing Kahibah want to do is let complacency kick in like Thornton did not that long ago against the lowly Hornets. You might just get stung!

Prediction: Anything but a Kahibah win would be the shock of the season. Perhaps a draw if the visitors don't rise to the occasion but unless pigs start flying, the 'three-wheeled car' isn't going anywhere this weekend. Cessnock's effort at times is admirable but their quality simply isn't on the same level.

My Tip: Cessnock City 1-6 Kahibah FC

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Under 23's:
Cessnock City (10th) v Kahibah F.C (5th)
Kickoff: 12:45pm
Last Time They Met: Kahibah 2-1 Cessnock City

After conceding 17 goals in three games and finding themselves 1-0 down to Toronto in a wooden-spoon deciding game, the Cessnock 23's were able to produce the goods to see off a disappointing Stags side last weekend to hand the spoon to Toronto. Two goals each to Casey Cox and James Collins had the Hornets very happy with their display on the day.

Kahibah on the other hand found themselves in a tussle with Belmont-Swansea. It was hardly an inspiring fixture being a dead-rubber but the Green and Blacks showed tremendous spirit to fight on with ten man and leave Blacksmiths Oval with a point. A decent team effort although they'll need a bit more in attack if they're to get the maximum points on Saturday.

Prediction: Without sounding offensive, it's likely going to be another forgettable 'dead rubber'. The 23's game last Sunday showed why these last few rounds can be a drag. With that said, who knows, it could be a thriller. Kahibah have the quality but Cessnock are not a side to take too lightly.

My Tip: Cessnock City 1-3 Kahibah FC

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Under 19's:
Cessnock City (11th) v Kahibah F.C (6th)
Kickoff: 11:00am
Last Time They Met: Kahibah 3-2 Cessnock City

With only one win in their last 12 games, Cessnock 19's look destined for the wooden spoon. With a horror goal difference, they need a win and a draw at least from their final two games and need results elsewhere to go their way. A Cessnock member last week put it simply, if the 23's and 1st had numbers avaliable and 19's had their full compliment then their season could have been a lot different.

Kahibah have had a disappointing season compared to what they had planned but last week they picked up their biggest win of the season as they ended Belmont-Swansea's 29 game unbeaten streak. It was a superb team performance and it was done without their top scorer Bailey Cooper. Consistency has let them down so it'll be interesting to see if they can back that up.

Prediction: Kahibah were as good as they've been all season last weekend and they should be able to get past Cessnock. They've struggled at times to get over the lower sides on the table but if last week's anything to go by, they could very well win their last two games.

My Tip: Cessnock City 0-2 Kahibah FC

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Under 17's:
Cessnock City (9th) v Kahibah F.C (5th)
Kickoff: 9:15am
Last Time They Met: Kahibah 7-0 Cessnock City

Cessnock 17's succumbed to their fourth 7-0 hammering of the season last week against Toronto-Awaba. They haven't won a game since April 1st and it doesn't look like changing with Kahibah and ladder-leaders West Wallsend to come in the final two weeks. Last week's performance saw them unable to create anything too threatening against Toronto. It's fairly poor.

Kahibah on the other hand saw their finals hopes ended in a very competitive 1-1 draw with Belmont-Swansea. They've smashed goals in for fun against lower sides at home this year but haven't been able to muster more than four goals away from Kahibah Oval. This looms as a chance to do just so as they look to end their season on a high.

Prediction: Cessnock have conceded 62 goals in 18 games this season. It's a shocking number to sum up what has been a poor season. Kahibah have flattened Thornton and Singleton in recent times and will be looking for a goal fest here, as they did last time they met Cessnock.

My Tip: Cessnock City 0-7 Kahibah

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1st Grade:
New Lambton FC (8th) v Toronto-Awaba (10th)
Kickoff: 2:30pm
Last Time They Met: Toronto-Awaba 0-3 New Lambton

It's a 'dead rubber' but try telling that to either of these sides. New Lambton are coming off a solid display that saw them in the ascendancy for large parts of the game against finals-bound Thornton Redbacks on Wednesday night but a lack of finishing ability cost Andrew Packer's men dearly as they went down 1-0 to a late goal.

New Lambton's Old Boys' Day is more than enough reasoning for them to treat this as a 'must-win' encounter. The club celebrated 100 years last weekend and to cap off a potentially big day for the club in the lower grades (15's, 17's & 19's) with a win would be very good for the club. If not they'll have many a ZL2 player telling them how they could do a better job!

Toronto-Awaba fought off Cessnock last week in a very ugly match. It was obvious that Head Coach Adam Routledge was far from happy with that performance and no doubt the goal will be to end the season on a high with their sixth victory of the season.

The Stags were never a side tipped for great success this year but a few players from across the grades are happy with the direction under Routledge. 17 points is an improvement on last year's 16 and 2015's tally of 15 points. Winning here would see them notch six wins for the first time since 2013. A reasonable ending to a bit of a 're-structuring' year.

Prediction: Toronto are a firm opponent on their day but New Lambton at home on the club's Old Boys' Day should be the victors. The Stags did the job for their older supporters the other week and the Eagles will know anything but a win will be a failure. That said, don't expect Toronto to nicely sit by and watch it happen. It could be a very tight game.

My Tip: New Lambton 3-1 Toronto-Awaba

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Under 23's:
New Lambton FC (8th) v Toronto-Awaba (11th)
Kickoff: 12:45pm
Last Time They Met: Toronto-Awaba 3-5 New Lambton

The Eagles 23's haven't been able to do much in 2017 but their recent form is actually quiet impressive. Wins against Southy and Belswans and a hard-fought 1-0 loss to top two side Wallsend. Following that was a dominating 6-1 display over lowly Cessnock and on Wednesday night an unlucky 1-1 draw with finals-bound Thornton. They could move as far as 5th here with a win and it's on Old Boy's Day. More than enough inspiration for a good performance.

Toronto-Awaba's resurgence was respectable but their hopes of avoiding another wooden spoon went up in smoke at Turner Park last weekend as they were beaten 4-1 by Cessnock. They don't have anything to play for anymore and feelings last week were very, very low after their fate was sealed. It's a tough ask to 'get up' for their last game of the season.

Prediction: New Lambton shouldn't have any issues winning this. They flogged Cessnock, Cessnock beat Toronto 4-1. Football isn't always that simple but a side that's looking to end the year at the head of a mid-table group against a side that are finishing bottom is always a predictable one to call.

My Tip: New Lambton 4-1 Toronto-Awaba

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Under 19's:
New Lambton FC (4th) v Toronto-Awaba (8th)
Kickoff: 11:00am
Last Time They Met: Toronto-Awaba 1-3 New Lambton

Thornton's shock draw with Singleton was a big result for New Lambton on their bye weekend. No doubt seeing the result from Howe Park boosted the feeling among the Eagles' squad and a win this week would seal their place in the Semi Finals which has been something they've looked destined towards for the majority of the season.

Toronto-Awaba picked up their fifth win of the season last weekend against Cessnock City to rule themselves out of the wooden spoon battle but this weekend is no doubt a step-up. Captain Darcy Newton did fairly well in a forward role and got two assists on the day. It'll be interesting to see where he fits into the squad this week. And no doubt free-scoring 17's striker Thomas Appleby should be an inclusion.

Prediction: A big chance for Toronto to show what they can do when they put their best performance on the park. A few players are familiar with each other through the FC11 program so it's sure to be an interesting battle on Sunday. That said, New Lambton have the quality to win it.

My Tip: New Lambton 4-1 Toronto-Awaba

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Under 17's Match of the Round:
New Lambton FC (3rd) v Toronto-Awaba (2nd)
Kickoff: 9:15am
Last Time They Met: New Lambton 1-1 Toronto-Awaba

New Lambton had the bye last weekend and similar to the 19's, they were happy to see a draw elsewhere secure their spot in the finals series. The Eagles are perhaps the dark-horse in the top four and with Toronto, Cooks Hill and the the Semis to come, they'll need to simply rise to the occasion. The expected return of injured goalkeeper Jasper Burley will boost their hopes.

Toronto-Awaba kept their good form ticking over with an easy 7-0 flogging over struggling Cessnock. The Stags are no longer in contention for the minor premiership but finishing the regular season with a confidence boosting win over a fellow top four side would do them a world of good. Their goal-scoring expert Thomas Appleby scored five last week across two games to move to 26 for the season.

Prediction: This will be a taste of things to come in what is sure to be a very tightly-contested Semi Final Series. Home field advantage will see the Eagles battling hard on the club's Old Boy's Day and this is a chance for them to send a message that they're in contention for the title.

My Tip: New Lambton 2-1 Toronto-Awaba

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1st Grade Match of the Round:
Belmont-Swansea UFC (4th) v South Cardiff (5th)
Kickoff: 2:30pm
Last Time They Met: South Cardiff 1-0 Belmont-Swansea

It's a mammoth encounter at Blacksmiths Oval once again as Belswans look to secure their spot in another finals series and keep their minor premiership hopes mathematically alive. The home side picked up a huge 2-1 win over rivals Kahibah last week to move firmly into playoff contention. A win here would seal their spot.

Belswans have been on quiet the run over the back half of the season that has seen them once again propel themselves into contention for silverware. Their last loss came back on May 21st and happened to be a tight 1-0 loss to South Cardiff of all sides. This will be their third meeting after an FFA Cup clash that saw Belswans win on penalties.

South Cardiff face a simple but very serious proposition. Win or their season is over. Their result last week against Cooks Hill wasn't good enough to stay in calculation for the minor premiership but the return of player/coach Denis Fajkovic from overseas will boost their lineup.

With Fajkovic and Nicholas at the back, the Gunners are a tough side to get past. They went seven weeks with just one goal conceded that included the 1-0 win over Belswans. They've drawn with Kahibah and Thornton but here something has to give. Their attack needs to match the defence and then some. This is all-or-nothing football for the boys from Southy.

Prediction: It's essentially knockout football for South Cardiff. It's hard to see them not throwing everything they have into this game. That said, it's going to be quiet an effort to get past Belmont-Swansea. The home side possess the league's most potent striker in Tega Marcus and some very experienced heads in midfield. This could be some match at Blacksmiths. Tight either way...

My Tip: Belmont-Swansea 2-1 South Cardiff

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Under 23's:
Belmont-Swansea UFC (6th) v South Cardiff (9th)
Kickoff: 12:45pm
Last Time They Met: South Cardiff 1-1 Belmont-Swansea

A very lacklustre 23's game stalled the day between Belswans and Kahibah last week and it's not exactly a 'big time' game worthy of being the curtain-raiser to a huge 1st Grade fixture. For Belswans it's all about testing youngsters they want to see more of next year. The 17's have been backing up for 23's and doing a decent job of it.

South Cardiff are out of contention but are part of the mid-table pack that includes Belswans. Only one point separates fifth position from ninth so no doubt both of these sides will want to win their final two fixtures and end the year on a high note. Southy's results have been inconsistent but there's normally always only one goal in it either way.

Prediction: Expect a tight game but without a lot riding on the result it's tough to predict just what might happen. Hopefully for entertainment's sake an open game where both sides go for glory and it finishes 5-3 or something like that. More likely is a low-scoring draw.

My Tip: Belmont-Swansea 1-1 South Cardiff

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Under 19's:
Belmont-Swansea UFC (2nd) v South Cardiff (7th)
Kickoff: 11:00am
Last Time They Met: South Cardiff 1-3 Belmont-Swansea

The superb 29-game unbeaten was abruptly ended by Kahibah last weekend which left Belmont-Swansea very annoyed. It was a poor effort from the defending champions and the club will be hoping that first-up loss is the kick up the backside they needed to go to the next level in the fortnight leading up to the finals. They need to up the ante. It was a lacklustre attacking display last week.

 South Cardiff could have done Belswans a favour by beating Cooks Hill last week and certainly battled well in a 1-0 loss. The Gunners have shown major improvement in the second half of the season so a win over the defending champions would no doubt be their best of the season. They did it against New Lambton so anything is possible.

Prediction: There's been some club frustration about the Belswans 19's lack of commitment to standing by for 23's. Winning the minor premiership would alleviate some of that and bring the club another trophy but they need to win this game to keep that dream alive. Expected a re-focused effort.

My Tip: Belmont-Swansea 3-1 South Cardiff

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Under 17's:
Belmont-Swansea UFC (6th) v South Cardiff (10th)
Kickoff: 9:15am
Last Time They Met: South Cardiff 1-3 Belmont-Swansea

Belmont-Swansea's finals hopes were ended last week in a 1-1 draw with rivals Kahibah but the goal for Will McMaster's side will be to finish the season on a high with a win here and next week against Thornton. They're certainly capable of winning both against the lower-placed sides if they play to their best. Regardless of final positioning, the club has been impressed with a number of these 17's players.

South Cardiff put up a good fight against Cooks Hill last weekend but unless they win this, they will find themselves in a battle to avoid the wooden spoon with Singleton next weekend. The Gunners went down 3-1 to Belswans last time but will try to get a result this time round.

Prediction: Belswans' attacking threats are good ones on their day and if they show up it should be a win. Relying on slightly lucky goal in the 1st minute last week wasn't an ideal situation. It's likely to be a tight battle and a physical battle but at home Belswans should be able to get over the line.

My Tip: Belmont-Swansea 2-0 South Cardiff

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1st Grade:
Wallsend F.C (7th) v Thornton Redbacks (2nd)
Kickoff: 2:30pm
Last Time They Met: Thornton Redbacks 1-2 Wallsend

The final New-FM game at The Gardens this season sees Wallsend up against Thornton. It's no doubt a disappointment for the back-to-back champions to bow out before the playoffs but 2017 has been largely a re-building year at Wallsend where some young talent has managed to break into the 1st Grade set-up some weeks.

The Red Devils have a disappointing away record but their form at The Gardens is impressive. Only South Cardiff and Cooks Hill have won their and every other side have gone down, including the likes of Kahibah and most recently West Wallsend in a big Derby Day win for the Red Devils. A win here would take them above Westy into sixth position.

Thornton come to The Gardens with their eyes firmly set on their first finals appearance since 2014. They are on track for their best points tally in 11 years and could still finish inside the top two where they haven't been since 2002. A win at The Gardens would seal their fate in the playoffs and keep them alive in what could still be a four-way race for the minor premiership.

The Redbacks won 1-0 on Wednesday night against New Lambton with a late goal and now sit one point behind Cooks Hill at the top. However they'll know they're up for a test. Their last match against Wallsend which ended 2-1 to the Red Devils thanks to a double from Trent Milton.

Prediction: Thornton come into this as the favourites purely on what they still have to play for. Wallsend's home record has been very solid but the Redbacks are gunning for potential glory. With Belswans next week, the visitors know they'll need to be in top-notch form for that. A win here for Thornton coach McAllister against what could end up being his future club.

My Tip: Wallsend FC 1-3 Thornton Redbacks

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Under 23's Match of the Round:
Wallsend F.C (2nd) v Thornton Redbacks (3rd)
Kickoff: 12:45pm
Last Time They Met: Thornton Redbacks 1-3 Wallsend

A glance at the 23's league table shows this fixture as essentially a dress rehearsal for Semi Finals. Wallsend and Thornton as it stands are very likely to meet in the 2nd v 3rd playoff. The Red Devils saw their hopes of stealing the minor premiership from under Cooks Hill's nose go up in flames last week as they lost 3-2 to West Wallsend. A decent fight-back in the 2nd half but not enough on the day to come from 2-0 down.

Thornton on the other hand are coming off a disappointing result of their own after having to rescue a point against New Lambton on Wednesday night. That result cost the Redbacks a chance to sit within two points of Wallsend in the race for 2nd spot. Although a win today would give them a confidence-boost ahead of finals and keep the hope of finishing 2nd alive. It's sure to be a highly-competitive fixture as both sides prepare for bigger games to come.

Prediction: The result here will go a long way towards deciding which of these two sides look most likely to stop Cooks Hill from running away with a minor and major premiership double. Wallsend were winners last time they met but are coming off a shock loss to Westy last week. Still, Thornton looked a bit off during the week.

My Tip: Wallsend FC 2-1 Thornton Redbacks

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Under 19's:
Wallsend F.C (10th) v Thornton Redbacks (5th)
Kickoff: 11:00am
Last Time They Met: Thornton Redbacks 2-1 Wallsend

Wallsend were outclassed by Westy last weekend but there was no signs of the 5-0 hammering they copped in the first match between the two rivals. The side have shown improvement as the year has gone on. A couple of players have emerged in the 23's and even off the bench for 1st Grade so it's been a good year for development. A win here would rule them out of wooden spoon contention.

Thornton Redbacks had a must-win game last week where they were held to a 1-1 draw by Singleton. Now their finals hopes are hanging by a thread. They're four points outside the top four with a much weaker goal difference. They'll be desperate against Wallsend as anything less than a win will end their campaign. They got a tight 2-1 win last time these sides met.

Prediction: Thornton's finals hopes are on life support and only an optimistic Redbacks die hard would say they're still alive. They need a miracle from here. Mathematically they'll be alive if they win this but their season ended last week at Howe Park.

My Tip: Wallsend FC 2-2 Thornton Redbacks

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Under 17's:
Wallsend F.C (7th) v Thornton Redbacks (8th)
Kickoff: 9:15am
Last Time They Met: Thornton Redbacks 0-1 Wallsend

A season of disappointment hit a new low for Wallsend 17's last weekend as they fell to a 5-1 defeat to arch rivals West Wallsend on Derby Day. The Red Devils had before last week only conceded more than two goals once this year. Their defence wasn't up to stop the ladder-leaders though last Sunday. That said, they'll be relishing the chance to win their final home game of 2017.

Thornton come to The Gardens on the back of their best run this season. Back-to-back victories have boosted them away from the bottom of the table and now they're eyeing off the chance to climb to 16 points, just three behind Wallsend. The Redbacks new found confidence makes them a very unpredictable threat in this one.

Prediction: Thornton have won two in a row. Something that didn't seem likely through some heavy defeats this year. It's good to see them climb the table but Wallsend's defence is sturdier than that of Southy and Singleton. The Red Devils were beaten heavily by a top-notch Westy last week. This one is one they shouldn't lose.

My Tip: Wallsend FC 2-1 Thornton Redbacks

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Under 15's Fixtures:

Friday, 21 July 2017

PREVIEW: New-FM Northern League One Round 20


1st Grade:
Cessnock City (11th) v Toronto-Awaba (10th)
Kickoff: 2:30pm
Last Time They Met: Toronto-Awaba 2-2 Cessnock City

It's the only game on tomorrow which means by default it gets featured match status but it's hardly going to be a 'must-watch' encounter so to speak. It's loomed for parts of the season as a potential wooden spoon decider but Cessnock's horrendous form has seen them drop firmly to said wooden spoon with three games to spare.

The Hornets have nothing but pride to play for but to finish the season winless would be an embarrassing end to a shocking year. No side since Thornton in 2012 have gone winless in New-FM football. As it stands it will be Cessnock's worst season in 12 years. That year saw them finish with 1 point and relegated from the then State League.

Toronto haven't been a successful side in 2017 but four wins and two draws has them comfortably higher than Cessnock but the story that sums up the Stags season has been the lack of form. Wins over Belswans and Southy prove their capability and a 4-1 win over Westy was as solid a victory as any you'll see.

Wednesday night saw Toronto host Thornton and once again they fell on their own sword as they conceded three goals that coach Adam Routledge would have deemed avoidable. Defensive errors proved very costly on the night and left goalkeeper Blake Redman very frustrated with his defence.

Prediction: Cessnock's defence will arguably have experience on their side against a young Stags backline but Toronto have shown their potential to beat lower-placed sides. Losing to the cellar-dwellers would be an embarrassment at this point. But the Hornets have nothing to lose. With Kahibah and Westy to come, this could be the final chance for that breakthrough win. Still, it's not going to be that simple. 

My Tip: Cessnock City 1-3 Toronto-Awaba

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Under 23's:
Cessnock City (10th) v Toronto-Awaba (11th)
Kickoff: 12:45pm
Last Time They Met: Toronto-Awaba 0-3 Cessnock City

Unlike 1st Grade, the 23's match is a lot closer on the league table. Both sides are still sitting in the bottom two but the wooden spoon will more than likely be decided based on the result here. Cessnock's coming off the back of back-to-back 6-1 losses and have struggled to find enough players to field a competitive side for a few weeks now. A lot of 19's are having to back up.

Toronto on the other hand sat in a distant last just a month or so ago but have earned some respect with a solid run of three draws as well as a breakthrough win. They went down to a high-quality Wallsend side last week but a win here would surely assure Steve Blunt's side will not finish at the bottom of the table...something that seemed impossible not long ago.

Prediction: Cessnock have been low on numbers all season and their form lately has been the worst they've shown all year. The fact that it coincides with Toronto's resurgence makes this a fairly easy one to call. Stags to win and send the Hornets crashing down to the foot of the table.

My Tip: Cessnock City 0-2 Toronto-Awaba

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Under 19's:
Cessnock City (11th) v Toronto-Awaba (9th)
Kickoff: 11:00am
Last Time They Met: Toronto-Awaba 6-3 Cessnock City

Despite the ladder positions, this could prove to be an interesting encounter at Turner Park. Last time they met there was no less than nine goals scored as well as some wild scenes that saw Cessnock keeper Brandon Zechel sent off. To put it simply, these two sides just do not like each other.

Neither side have form behind them but Toronto are coming off a draw last week whilst Cessnock lost 7-0 to New Lambton. The Hornets have shown some fight against sides that aren't in finals contention and will likely bring everything they've got to this. Anything but a win will probably assure them of the wooden spoon.

Prediction: There'll be some feeling in this one after the last fixture. Short memories aren't a thing in the 19's age group. Both teams will want to win it so despite ladder positions, it'll be a fairly hard-fought game. As for the winner, if Toronto have the likes of Connor Morgan in the squad, they'll get the points. 

My Tip: Cessnock City 1-3 Toronto-Awaba

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Under 17's:
Cessnock City (9th) v Toronto-Awaba (3rd)
Kickoff: 9:15am
Last Time They Met: Toronto-Awaba 7-0 Cessnock City

The Hornets looked to end a long winless run last weekend but were routinely brushed aside by New Lambton. Six losses now to top four sides and it doesn't get any easier for them on Saturday. There's not much more to point out but the 17's are actually Cessnock's highest-placed squad at the moment.

Toronto were held to a draw by Wallsend last weekend and missed a valuable chance to close the gap on Westy in the race for the minor premiership. This game proves a chance for them to seal their spot in the finals series and they'd like their chances after putting seven unanswered past Cessnock last time.  

Prediction: This one is arguably the easiest to call on Saturday. There's no way Toronto can call themselves a premiership contender and not beat Cessnock. They eased past them last time and if they can find their scoring boots again, then it'll more than likely just about go the same way.

My Tip: Cessnock City 0-6 Toronto-Awaba

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1st Grade Match of the Round:
Belmont-Swansea UFC (3rd) v Kahibah FC (1st)
Kickoff: 2:30pm
Last Time They Met: Kahibah 2-0 Belmont-Swansea

It's perhaps New-FM football's most entertaining fixture. Belswans v Kahibah has for the last two years served up some very memorable encounter. The Green and Blacks visited Blacksmiths three times last season and their last trip was the infamous Semi Final loss that saw then Belswans striker Jamie Hadlow fire them to the Grand Final. Things have changed since then for both sides.

Belswans coach Josh Rufo has really stuck firm to the notion of 'one game at a time' and it's going to remain that way for the final three weeks. They have a very tough ending to the year with Kahibah, Southy and finally Thornton. Belswans thrive on big games so no doubt this run-in to the finals will help them greatly if they are to make it.

Kahibah have their eyes set on the minor premiership after reaching the top of the table for the first time in 2017 last weekend. With Cessnock and Wallsend to come, this is their toughest test and only game remaining against a finals-hunting opposition.

A win would all but assure the Green and Blacks of a finals appearance but it won't come easy. David Hodgson is on holidays which takes away some experience but Jamie Hadlow returns from suspension to boost their attacking threat. It was a 2-0 win for Kahibah last time but Blacksmiths Oval is as tough an away venue as you can possibly find.

Prediction: Both of these sides will crave a win on Sunday. It's a big-time fixture and a taste of perhaps what's to come during the Semi Final series. These sides have split the points fairly often since Kahibah joined the league and with draws galore as of late, it's hard to pick a winner.

My Tip: Belmont-Swansea 1-1 Kahibah

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Under 23's:
Belmont-Swansea UFC (7th) v Kahibah FC (8th)
Kickoff: 12:45pm
Last Time They Met: Kahibah 3-1 Belmont-Swansea

A curtain-raiser to perhaps the match of the season, the 23's result isn't really one that matters for either side but Belswans will have revenge on their minds after being brushed aside 3-0 by Kahibah last time they met. With one win in their last nine matches, Belswans need something extra but have been reliant on 17's players backing up. Experience learnt will be key for the future.

Kahibah 23's returned to the winners' circle in dominating fashion last week as they eased to a 4-0 win over a disappointing Singleton side. That result assured the top four sides won't be bothered in the finals race but the Green and Blacks have a chance to jump as high as 5th here which is more than enough reasoning to produce another good performance.

Prediction: Based on form it's hard to think the home side will be able to pick up a victory. Kahibah have been inconsistent to say the very least so it's anyone's guess what might happen here. A draw wouldn't be a surprise in what is essentially a 'dead-rubber'.

My Tip: Belmont-Swansea 2-2 Kahibah

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Under 19's:
Belmont-Swansea UFC (1st) v Kahibah FC (6th)
Kickoff: 11:00am
Last Time They Met: Kahibah 0-0 Belmont-Swansea

The minor premiership race in the Under 19's is a very hotly contested one and Belmont-Swansea are in the box seat to claim it. Last week they won their 9th straight game and stretched their superb unbeaten streak to 29. 10 wins in a row and 30 games unbeaten is what they could earn on Sunday and more importantly, they'd take another step towards the minor premiership.

Kahibah's season is over but they picked up a confidence-boosting win over Singleton last week and they are keen to be the side that finally hand Belswans their first loss. They kept the ladder-leaders scoreless last time they met but Belswans will have their best squad avaliable and have improved since that Round 9 meeting.

Prediction: Kahibah ending the 29 game unbeaten streak would be quiet some upset but Belmont-Swansea have been going about their business well in recent times. They've beaten every side that's been put in front of them and will be heavy favourites once again here.

My Tip: Belmont-Swansea 3-1 Kahibah

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Under 17's Match of the Round:
Belmont-Swansea UFC (6th) v Kahibah FC (5th)
Kickoff: 9:15am
Last Time They Met: Kahibah 0-2 Belmont-Swansea

This is basically a knockout fixture in the Under 17's. Both sides simply need three points to keep their season alive. Belswans took the fight to Westy last week, literally, as they finished with nine players in a scoreless draw. Some words in the build-up and lenient refereeing didn't help the situation and more of the same wouldn't surprise on Sunday between two sides that don't get on that well.

Kahibah cruised to a 7-1 win over Singleton last week, two weeks after putting eight past Thornton on the same ground. Against better sides they have struggled at times and they'll need to be at their clinical best if they're any chance of victory. Belswans aren't a defensive that you can simply walk through like those lower on the table.

Prediction: Both teams will put everything they have into this game. There'll be niggle in it and it wouldn't surprise to see some cards shown. Here's hoping a solid official gets appointed as the 17's grade has seen some less than par performances in that regard this year. As for the result, neither side will win it.

My Tip: Belmont-Swansea 2-2 Kahibah

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1st Grade:
Singleton Strikers (9th) v Thornton Redbacks (5th)
Kickoff: 2:30pm
Last Time They Met: Thornton Redbacks 2-0 Singleton Strikers

Singleton's season never really got started but they can still play a big part on the final standings. They face Thornton, Cooks Hill and South Cardiff in the final three weeks. The Strikers have already shown they can be a very stern test this season after they stole a point from the AthField that began a downward spiral for then league-leaders Cooks Hill.

Last weekend Singleton were unable to take their chances as they fell 4-1 to Kahibah. A solid 1st Half was decent but the second half saw them unable to match the quality. That result didn't faze David Willoughby too much as it was a learning curve that some of his young side could take in.

Thornton last week had Southy firmly on the rack, 2-0 up against a side that had just lost a player to a worrying injury. Cue a Gunners comeback and yet another 2-2 draw at Thornton Park. Just like their game a few weeks back against Cessnock. Valuable points dropped.

The Redbacks were back in action on Wednesday and managed to get past Toronto-Awaba but it was far from their best performance of the year and it was a worrying site for the 5th-placed side as their skipper and leading scorer Nathan McAllister limped off with an ankle injury. This isn't a must-win considering the game in hand but it'd certainly be their aim.

Prediction: Thornton could still finish top but making finals would be the main aim for them. A win here and a loss for Southy would have them jumping for joy ahead of a midweek home game against New Lambton. They fought out a result against Singo last time and might have to do the same again

My Tip: Singleton Strikers 1-2 Thornton Redbacks

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Under 23's:
Singleton Strikers (5th) v Thornton Redbacks (3rd)
Kickoff: 12:45pm
Last Time They Met: Thornton Redbacks 5-0 Singleton Strikers

Singleton last week were fighting to stay alive in the finals race but falling two goals behind early on would make it tough in a game where they disappointing fell to a 4-0 loss at Kahibah Oval. That finished their campaign for finals football but they can prove their quality on Sunday with a win over 3rd-placed Thornton.

The Redbacks were 2-1 winners over South Cardiff last weekend and confirmed their spot in the playoffs before a ball was even kicked on Sunday. They'll be hoping to finish 3rd instead of 4th and face the 2nd-placed side in the Semi Finals. Although it won't make much of a difference. Finals football will be tough and this game is one of a couple left where they can prep themselves for things to come.

Prediction: Thornton will want to keep their form ticking over in the build-up to finals and after Singleton's poor showing last week, it certainly wouldn't be a surprise to see Thornton's quality attacking threat shine through on the day.

My Tip: Singleton Strikers 1-3 Thornton Redbacks

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Under 19's:
Singleton Strikers (8th) v Thornton Redbacks (5th)
Kickoff: 11:00am
Last Time They Met: Thornton Redbacks 5-0 Singleton Strikers

Singleton were decent last week against Kahibah but went down in unfortunate circumstances with a late goal. Goalkeeper Brad Fairclough was back from injury and looked like he was battling against it in the latter stages of that loss. A vital error or two proved costly at the back for the Strikers last week.

Thornton's finals hopes are on the line here. Westy will surely get at least three points from the last two games meaning the Redbacks almost need to win all their remaining fixtures, including a game against unbeaten league-leaders Belswans. Add to this the fact that their top scorer and captain Josh Davies is injured and the warning light is certainly flashing for the Redbacks.

Prediction: Singleton can certainly be a testing side on their day and Will Holz was good for them last week with two goals. With Josh Davies out for Thornton, Edan Ruddy and Caden Taylor will be two to watch out for. The Redbacks should have the quality to keep their season alive.

My Tip: Singleton Strikers 1-2 Thornton Redbacks

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Under 17's:
Singleton Strikers (11th) v Thornton Redbacks (8th)
Kickoff: 9:15am
Last Time They Met: Thornton Redbacks 0-3 Singleton Strikers

On a weekend where a few lower placed sides meet each other, this 17's match proves perhaps the best chance for Singleton to avoid the wooden spoon. The Strikers were good value for a lead against Kahibah last week but someone pressed the self-destruct button and 20 minutes later they were 6-1 down. They beat Thornton 3-0 last time they met them though.

Thornton technically have been worse performers than Singleton. The forfeit win over Kahibah is the main reason they aren't still level with the Strikers and they only have 10 goals scored compared to Singleton's 15. The Redbacks fought very hard for their 1-0 win last weekend so they'll be fired up for another win here.

Prediction: It's a tough game to call at Howe Park. Thornton have likely done enough to avoid the wooden spoon but they'll believe they can knock off Singleton here. The Strikers have the better attack but both defences can be very leaky at times. Singo might just edge it.

My Tip: Singleton Strikers 1-0 Thornton Redbacks

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1st Grade:
Wallsend FC (7th) v West Wallsend SFC (6th)
Kickoff: 2:30pm
Last Time They Met: West Wallsend 2-1 Wallsend

It's not a game that will have any implications on the finals race but the Wallsend Derby is always a fiercely contested match-up. Last time they met it was West Wallsend who ran out with a solid 2-1 win against a poor Wallsend side. That result was a very disappointing one for the Red Devils and revenge will be firmly on their minds.

Derby Day at The Gardens is also Old Boy's Day so a decent contingent of home fans will be on hand to cheer Wallsend on. A win would take the Red Devils to within a point of their 6th-placed rivals. As disappointing as the season has been, Wallsend's home form is impressive. They've won their last four on their home turf.

West Wallsend were eyeing off a drought-breaking finals appearance but have fallen off in recent games. It's been an improved year for the Bluebells which included the aforementioned Derby Day win back in Round 9. They are certainly capable of spoiling Old Boy's Day at The Gardens.

Westy coach Gary Rowe has spoken about ten wins being the target all season and to reach that they need to win their last two fixtures. If last season's Derby at The Gardens is anything to go by, expect a very entertaining, hard-fought and at times maybe even controversial game. It's always a drama-filled match when these sides clash.  

Prediction: Wallsend's home form has been decent. It's their away form that has cost them dearly in 2017. The disappointment was evident when they went down to their arch rivals back in Round 9 and revenge is no doubt going to be the key here. On Old Boy's Day, Wallsend to win it.

My Tip: Wallsend 2-1 West Wallsend

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Under 23's Match of the Round:
Wallsend FC (2nd) v West Wallsend SFC (4th)
Kickoff: 12:45pm
Last Time They Met: West Wallsend 1-2 Wallsend

The Under 23's will be the headline match of the day at The Gardens. Both sides are officially in the finals so this could prove to be a warm-up for things to follow. Wallsend's run in the 23's has been absolutely perfect, 11 straight victories and still just the one loss all season. The Red Devils have matched it blow for blow with Cooks Hill in a very intriguing minor premiership battle between two very good football sides.

West Wallsend have put together enough good form to secure a finals spot with two games to spare. Both Wallsend Derby rivals have showed major improvement in the 23's grade this season but Westy will no doubt be looking to pick up their biggest scalp of the season as they seek to end Wallsend's winning streak. Expect a very hotly fought match.

Prediction: This game ended Wallsend 7-0 last season so it's great to see just how far Westy have come in the past year. The Bluebells are the outsiders this week as they face the most in-form side in the entire league but you never quiet know what will happen on Derby day.

My Tip: Wallsend 2-1 West Wallsend

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Under 19's:
Wallsend FC (10th) v West Wallsend SFC (4th)
Kickoff: 11:00am
Last Time They Met: West Wallsend 5-0 Wallsend

Wallsend 19's were left highly disappointed in Round 9 as they went down 5-0 to their arch rivals at Johnston Park. That result kicked them into gear and they went on a decent little run after that. Sitting in 10th spot, a win here would go a long way of avoiding a potential wooden spoon. The Red Devils have proven they can take the fight to top sides this season, albeit not consistently enough to sit higher on the table.

West Wallsend went down to Belmont-Swansea last weekend and have dropped from the minor premiership race down to fourth were Thornton sit on their tails trying to chase a potential Semi Final spot. They've got some mixed form lately with two wins and two losses in the last four so a win is firmly on their minds as it would do them a world of good with finals fast approaching.

Prediction: There's no way Wallsend will be brushed aside with complete ease like the last meeting. The Red Devils have shown improvement and will be happy to try and hinder their rivals hopes of making the top four. Westy will need to do it the hard way but they have the quality to do it.

My Tip: Wallsend 1-3 West Wallsend

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Under 17's:
Wallsend FC (7th) v West Wallsend SFC (1st)
Kickoff: 9:15am
Last Time They Met: West Wallsend 2-0 Wallsend

Wallsend picked up one their best results this season as they held Toronto to a 2-2 draw last weekend. The young Red Devils were unable to create enough chances last time these sides met Westy but they'll know they've quiet simply got nothing to lose. Wallsend's defence will no doubt be looking to put in another decent performance against a top side.

West Wallsend are gunning for the minor premiership so anything less than a win would allow New Lambton a sniff. The Bluebells were frustrated last week in a physical scoreless draw with Belmont-Swansea so they'll come to The Gardens with all intentions of scoring some goals and winning the game to stay on track for the minor premiership.

Prediction: Wallsend can bring a firm test to West Wallsend but the Bluebells have the better side on paper and that's why they sit top of the table. The attackers they have weren't able to get past Belswans last week but they know New Lambton are chasing them in the premiership race. Expect a fired-up Westy.

My Tip: Wallsend 0-3 West Wallsend

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1st Grade:
South Cardiff (4th) v Cooks Hill United (2nd)
Kickoff: 2:30pm
Last Time They Met: Cooks Hill 3-0 South Cardiff

South Cardiff have the toughest run to finals of any of the top five sides and after battling Kahibah and Thornton in recent weeks, they've now got Cooks Hill and then Belswans next week. Their credentials have and will continue to be tested and so far they've managed to keep a decent record, a 0-0 draw with Kahibah and a 2-2 come from behind draw with Thornton.

Defensively they'll be put under the microscope. Player/coach Denis Fajkovic misses the game on vacation and no doubt captain Corey Nicholas will be under some doubt after last week's worrying head knock although news midweek is that he is okay. A return to the field so quickly would be some turn-around. Their depth isn't quiet as strong as some so it will be interesting.

Cooks Hill come back from the bye frustrated after losing their grip on top spot for the first time since they gained it earlier in the season. Graham Law's goal was to finish top of the table and no doubt they need to get back on track very rapidly to do so. It's not even in their hands anymore. They need Kahibah to drop at least a point in the final three weeks.

The Cookers' recent form by their standards is pretty poor. A 3-2 win over Kahibah was probably the one high-quality result they've produced. They managed to put seven past Cessnock but who hasn't done that this year? Draws against Wallsend, Singleton, Toronto and Thornton and losses to Belswans and Westy. 10 points from the last eight games. It's not good enough.

Prediction: The Gunners have been the dark horse of the season and a win here would be their biggest scalp of the season. Yes they beat Kahibah earlier but Cooks Hill are desperate to turn things back their way. The Cookers have the quality to overcome a Southy side that struggled defensively without Denis Fajkovic helping steer the ship.

My Tip: South Cardiff 1-3 Cooks Hill United

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Under 23's:
South Cardiff (6th) v Cooks Hill United (1st)
Kickoff: 12:45pm
Last Time They Met: Cooks Hill 4-0 South Cardiff

South Cardiff made the 23's Grand Final last season but haven't been able to match it with the top four sides this year and are out of the race for playoffs. They proved a decent test for Thornton last weekend though and will be looking to earn some respect back after their previous outing against Cooks Hill ended 4-0 to the ladder-leaders.

Cooks Hill are coming off last week's bye having seen Wallsend match them on points and coach Ben Nichols knows all too well that despite having a vastly superior goal difference, one slip-up could decide the minor premiership. Wallsend have the tougher ending to the season but the Cookers will be focused on the job this Sunday.

Prediction: It was a fairly routine 4-0 win last time these sides met but the Cookers are coming off the bye and before that a 2-0 loss to Thornton, just the second time they've been kept scoreless this season. The minor premiership is theirs to lose and they'll want to take a step in the right direction here.

My Tip: South Cardiff 1-4 Cooks Hill United

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Under 19's:
South Cardiff (7th) v Cooks Hill United (2nd)
Kickoff: 11:00am
Last Time They Met: Cooks Hill 2-0 South Cardiff

South Cardiff's three-game winning streak came to an end at Thornton Park last weekend but the Gunners certainly were well in that match and have shown a lot of improvement over the last few weeks. They can't make finals but they can still play a part on how the top four takes shape.

Cooks Hill are back from a week off and have once again seen Belswans take top spot from them. Sitting just one point behind, the Cookers will know the minor premiership is still firmly within their reach. They'll be looking for a 5th straight victory this Sunday and a very important one at that. It'll mathematically assure them a spot in the playoffs.

Prediction: Southy are a very tricky opponent at the moment and will try to knock off another quality side in the form of Cooks Hill. The Cookers know the minor premiership might be out of their reach if they go down in this one so expect a determined performance from the away side.

My Tip: South Cardiff 1-2 Cooks Hill United

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Under 17's:
South Cardiff (10th) v Cooks Hill United (4th)
Kickoff: 9:15am
Last Time They Met: Cooks Hill 5-0 South Cardiff

South Cardiff slipped to a disappointing loss to fellow strugglers Thornton last weekend. The loss leaves the Gunners in a dangerous position, sitting just two points above bottom-placed Singleton. If the Strikers knock off Thornton then it'll be Southy occupying the wooden spoon position with just two weeks to go.

It's hard to see Southy getting the points here when their opponents are a high-quality Cooks Hill side. The Cookers can essentially put one firm foot into the Semi Finals if they win here. Last time they met Southy it finished 5-0 and the Cookers put the same amount of goals past Thornton before last week's bye.

Prediction: Cooks Hill beat Thornton 5-0...Southy lost to Thornton...makes sense to predict a Cooks Hill win here. Football isn't always that simple but the away side can go a long way towards sealing a top four spot if they win this fixture and they should based on form.

My Tip: South Cardiff 0-4 Cooks Hill United

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Under 15's Fixtures: