Friday, 14 July 2017

PREVIEW: New-FM Northern League One Round 19


1st Grade:
West Wallsend SFC (5th) v Belmont-Swansea UFC (3rd)
Kickoff: 2:30pm
Last Time They Met: Belmont-Swansea 4-3 West Wallsend

West Wallsend's run to a potential Semi Finals appearance was all but squandered last weekend as the Singleton Strikers held them off for a 1-0 win at Howe Park. Now the Bluebells sit six points outside the top four and with an extra game played. Considering a poor goal difference, it's highly unlikely they'll be able to sneak in now.

Gary Rowe has said all along that 10 wins is his goal for this season and two wins in the last three would seal the coach's target for 2017 and allow Westy to end the year on the back of some good football. Last time they faced Belswans they showed some fight late on to make it a very worrying ending for the now 3rd-placed side.

Six wins on the trot for Belmont-Swansea has Josh Rufo's side eyeing off a potential minor premiership. All of their rivals dropped points to each other last week and suddenly Belswans could be the ones who finish on top of the pile if they can win their remaining fixtures.

Joel Shearer and Josh Hall have both proved vital since returning to the side for Belswans whilst the competition's leading goalscorer Tega Marcus remains a constant threat. Belswans have been going about their business well as of late and will no doubt seek a seventh straight win to continue their charge towards the finals.

Prediction: It probably won't end in a seven-goal thriller this time round but West Wallsend won't lay down easy despite their finals hopes being all but over. Belmont-Swansea have the quality and the form to see this one out though if they play to their best.

My Tip: West Wallsend 1-3 Belmont-Swansea

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Under 23's:
West Wallsend SFC (4th) v Belmont-Swansea (7th)
Kickoff: 12:45pm
Last Time They Met: Belmont-Swansea 2-2 West Wallsend

A big return to winning form last weekend for Westy's 23's put them firmly on the brink of Semi Final football and a win over Belswans this Saturday will surely see them take a massive leap and perhaps an unassailable one at that towards the playoffs. A 4-1 win at Howe Park was as good as any win they've picked up this season.

Belmont-Swansea's heavy reliance on the Under 17's has caught up with them. They've simply not been able to get the results needed. A 4-0 loss to New Lambton was poor and last week they were unable to get over the top of a resurgent Toronto-Awaba side. They'll be mathematically out of contention if they get beaten on Saturday.

Prediction: Westy are putting together some good results as of late in the 23's and if everybody is avaliable then they should rightly be the heavy favourites. Considering the 23's is a very inconsistent competition for the majority, it's difficult to see them dropping out of the top four. A win here would simply cement a spot whether it actually be mathematical or not.

My Tip: West Wallsend 2-1 Belmont-Swansea

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Under 19's Match of the Round:
West Wallsend SFC (3rd) v Belmont-Swansea (2nd)
Kickoff: 11:00am
Last Time They Met: Belmont-Swansea 2-2 West Wallsend

It's a Grand Final rematch and one that is absolutely key for the minor premiership. Westy picked up a much-needed victory at Singleton last week as Josh Knight fired in all four goals to see off the Strikers. Their form lately has been patchy though so no doubt they'll want to give themselves the ultimate confidence boost.

Belswans now sit 28 games unbeaten since May last year, including the infamous Grand Final win against Westy. Teams have come close but so far no-one has been able to knock them off. With a game in hand, they sit firmly in minor premiership contention and a result here will see them become the heavy favourites to go back-to-back, if they weren't already.

Prediction: Westy's minor premiership hopes were more than likely dashed in that late loss to Cooks Hill. They could really cost Belswans dearly by beating the defending champions tomorrow. Ending the unbeaten streak would be a huge feather in Westy's cap but Belswans have the form heading into this, just a casual eight victories in a row...

My Tip: West Wallsend 1-3 Belmont-Swansea

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Under 17's Match of the Round:
West Wallsend SFC (1st) v Belmont-Swansea (5th)
Kickoff: 9:15am
Last Time They Met: Belmont-Swansea 2-2 West Wallsend

It's a big game in the Under 17's at Johnston Park as two very capable sides meet in a key game for finals and indeed the minor premiership. The Bluebells have four straight wins and sit on top of the table, four points clear of 2nd-place Toronto-Awaba. With three games remaining, a win tomorrow will all but assure they'll finish with the minor premiership.

Belmont-Swansea on the other hand would have been disappointed to see New Lambton pick up a convincing 4-0 mid-week win at Thornton as it leaves Belswans seven points outside the top four, albeit with a game in hand. Their goal difference is poor compared to the top four sides so it's a very tough ask from here. Make no mistake, every game is a must-win from this point.

Prediction: The top four is all but settled. Only New Lambton look potentially a side that could drop out if they lose to Toronto and Cooks Hill in a tough final two games. Belswans' hopes nonetheless will be likely dashed tomorrow as Westy put one firm hand on the minor premiership.

My Tip: West Wallsend 2-1 Belmont-Swansea

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1st Grade Match of the Round:
Thornton Redbacks (5th) v South Cardiff (4th)
Kickoff: 2:45pm
Last Time They Met: South Cardiff 0-6 Thornton Redbacks

It's arguably the biggest weekend at Thornton Park in years. A must-win 1st Grade fixture coincides with not only the club's Old Boy's Day but a 40th Anniversary Dinner to take place later that night after the club's O35's and AA sides play. It's a massive day on and off the field.

A midweek postponement due to bad lighting means Thornton have a huge backlog of must-win games to follow this. A loss here though would be a killer blow as it'd heap pressure on for every game in the coming month. It's make or break time for the Redbacks as they look to seal a finals spot and it all starts tomorrow.

On the flip side, this game proves a chance for South Cardiff to go to the next level and really become a contender for a minor premiership that is still anyone's to win. A 6-0 hammering on Old Boy's Day to Thornton would have stung deep for the Gunners and revenge will be a dish served cold if they can beat the Redbacks tomorrow.

It's a basic battle on paper of attack v defence. Southy haven't been able to strike the back of the net as much as the other top five sides but their defence is arguably the best in the league. Take out that 6-0 loss to Thornton and they've conceded just 12 in the other 15 games this year. Last week against Kahibah they were defensively very, very tough to get past.

It's all about being battle-hardened at this time of the season as finals are fast approaching. Southy's run of games is as tough as any you'll find but this game is perhaps the most important. Most believe either Southy or Thornton will miss out on the top four thus this is perhaps the game of the season so far. It's unmissable football at Thornton Park, that's for sure.

Prediction: Southy are a low-scoring team. 1-0 wins over Belswans and Kahibah in the first half of the year and of course last week's scoreless draw with Kahibah. No less than six of their games has ended with just one goal or less being scored. Can their defence cancel out Thornton though?

My Tip: Thornton Redbacks 1-1 South Cardiff

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Under 23's Match of the Round:
Thornton Redbacks (3rd) v South Cardiff (6th)
Kickoff: 12:45pm
Last Time They Met: South Cardiff 2-3 Thornton Redbacks

Similar to Westy, Thornton are firmly in contention for finals and should really be making it. The difference for the Redbacks is that a win on Saturday will mathematically assure them a spot in the playoffs. Some average results, some unlucky saw them lose a bit of ground but last week they knocked off Cooks Hill 2-0. They're bound for Semi Final football and this game can confirm it.

South Cardiff's season has dropped off severely in the 23's but last week they managed to pick up a solid win over Kahibah. It'd take a small miracle and a big collapse from West Wallsend to see the Gunners make the playoffs for the second-consecutive year but for while there's still some hope, they'll be going for the three points.

Prediction: It was a five-goal thriller last time these sides met and it wouldn't surprise to see some goals again at Thornton Park. The Redbacks are firm favourites and can confirm their spot in the finals on the club's Old Boy's Day. More than enough reasoning for them to get the three points.

My Tip: Thornton Redbacks 4-1 South Cardiff

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Under 19's:
Thornton Redbacks (5th) v South Cardiff (6th)
Kickoff: 11:00am
Last Time They Met: South Cardiff 0-0 Thornton Redbacks

Back-to-back home losses to Cooks Hill and New Lambton has Thornton 19's clinging to their finals hopes. Their form against the top sides has been poor in the second half of the season and it's ultimately what could cost them a spot in the playoffs. Last night's 2-1 loss to New Lambton was a very, very costly three points dropped.

Making life even more difficult for Thornton is the fact that they're playing one of the form sides of the competition in South Cardiff. The Gunners' resurgence has coincided with the arrival of a new coach in Chris Moylan and they're playing a very confident brand of football at the moment. They're out of contention but they are no doubt happy to play spoilers for the top sides.

Prediction: It was scoreless last time these sides met but surely they'll be some goals in this. Thornton simply need to produce the goods or be out of contention and Southy will want to make it four wins in a row. Based on form, it's hard to go past the visitors in this one.

My Tip: Thornton Redbacks 1-2 South Cardiff

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Under 17's:
Thornton Redbacks (11th) v South Cardiff (9th)
Kickoff: 9:15am
Last Time They Met: South Cardiff 2-0 Thornton Redbacks

It's a big day at Thornton Park later in the day but the 17's will want their second win of the year to kick-start one of the most important days in the club's history as they celebrate 40 years. After 21 goals conceded in the last four and without a goal in five games, Thornton will be relishing a chance to play a side that isn't in contention for finals.

South Cardiff have a similar goalscoring problem to Thornton albeit a lot less concerning. The Gunners can put together some decent play but haven't been able to strike at goal. That said, they've got a more potent threat than the Redbacks so they'll go into this as the favourites.

Prediction: Southy got the points last time these sides met and it's still one of just two wins all season for the Gunners. It's tempting to predict a scoreless draw based on the fact these sides together average just 0.5 goals per game. Southy will edge it though.

My Tip: Thornton Redbacks 0-2 South Cardiff

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1st Grade:
New Lambton FC (9th) v Cessnock City (11th)
Kickoff: 2:30pm
Last Time They Met: Cessnock City 1-1 New Lambton

It's not a huge fixture by any means at Alder Park with both sides way out of contention but some respect is on the line for New Lambton. They've lost a lot of their games recently at Alder Park and that will disappoint the club more than anything. Their home field was supposed to be a fortress this season but it hasn't come to be.

Last week's 5-3 loss to Wallsend wasn't the worst display in the world but shown a lot of defensive problems that have proved costly for the Eagles as of late. It's very rare a side will ever get a result whilst conceding five goals. Andrew Packer's re-signing midweek no doubt adds stability for the next season but there's still a win or two they want to pick up this year to end on a high note.

Cessnock don't have the luxuries that New Lambton have in seeing their youth grades pushing for finals. The Hornets across the board have been a disappointment and it's due to an over-reliance on youth that has stripped bare the 19's squad and seen a revolving door of players for Lino Gatti's senior squads.

The Hornets had some plans in place but the troops simply haven't been avaliable. At last count they were down to 17 players for 23's & 1st, Lino Gatti's announced he won't be coaching next year. Last week's bye came at a good time to just sit and wonder "what now" but there's still some games to play before the important stuff happens in preparation for next year and beyond.

Prediction: Cessnock aren't mathematically destined for the wooden spoon but it is a near-certainty based on form. Still winless in 2017, the Hornets have nothing but pride to play for. The same can be said for New Lambton who are just playing for pride. Anything could happen on Sunday.

My Tip: New Lambton 3-1 Cessnock City

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Under 23's:
New Lambton FC (9th) v Cessnock City (10th)
Kickoff: 12:45pm
Last Time They Met: Cessnock City 0-5 New Lambton

Wallsend were able to end New Lambton's small form patch in the Under 23's last Sunday with a tight 1-0 victory. The Eagles sit ninth but could jump Kahibah with a win on Sunday. The club has no doubt put all the focus on the youth grades as they all aim for Semi Finals but there's still a chance for this side to pick up one or two more victories.

Cessnock City have a bit extra to play for as they look to avoid the wooden spoon. They've no doubt been surprised to see Toronto leap all the way up to a point behind the Hornets and considering they meet next weekend, picking up three points here could do wonders. Worryingly, they've lost four straight and conceded eleven goals in the last two outings, although in games against the top two sides.

Prediction: It'd just about sum up New Lambton's disappointing season if they lost to a side they beat 5-0 back in Round 8. Considering Cessnock will be looking for a point or three in the race to avoid the spoon, this is not going to be an assumed win. Still, New Lambton on paper should get the points.

My Tip: New Lambton 3-1 Cessnock City

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Under 19's:
New Lambton FC (4th) v Cessnock City (11th)
Kickoff: 11:00am
Last Time They Met: Cessnock City 0-5 New Lambton

Despite top scorer Lachlan Jones being suspended, the Eagles picked up perhaps their most important win of the season so far last night at Thornton Park. Luke Homer's return to the squad helped as he scored a goal along with captain Jack Fisher. A third-straight win would firmly put the Eagles on the brink of Semi Finals football.

Cessnock City's last win came on April 20th although for the most part they've managed to make life difficult for sides above them on the table (or bring sides down to level if you want to look at it that way). Sitting at the foot of the table, it's going to be a tough ask from this point for Cessnock to avoid the spoon. They definitely need at least one win in their last three.

Prediction: Good sides can struggle against the lower teams but when they back themselves they'll likely win every time, as seen when New Lambton put five unanswered past Cessnock last time these sides met. If Lachlan Jones returns and combines with Homer and Bechelli then it should be academic.

My Tip: New Lambton 4-1 Cessnock City

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Under 17's:
New Lambton FC (4th) v Cessnock City (8th)
Kickoff: 9:15am
Last Time They Met: Cessnock City 0-7 New Lambton

It's all coming together for the New Lambton 17's. Three wins in a row has them firmly on the verge of playing in the Semi Finals and if they get through this weekend with a win then they'll need just a point from either of their last two games to realistically get a top four spot. Those last two games are Toronto and Cooks Hill so things are going to get tough just in time for finals.

Cessnock City have lost all five games against top four opposition with a goals conceded tally of 22. They've also failed to score a single goal in those five games. It's a horrific record and shows just the quality that occupies the finals spots at the moment. Their last win was on April 1st...enough said.

Prediction: New Lambton ran rings around Cessnock in a 7-0 hammering last time. Liam Walker and Jacob Lidden both got hat-tricks that day. They'll win on Sunday. It's a matter of how many will they win by. Cessnock took the fight to Cooks Hill last time out so it might not be a walkover. It's a confident New Lambton side though.

My Tip: New Lambton 5-0 Cessnock City

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1st Grade:
Kahibah F.C (2nd) v Singleton Strikers (8th)
Kickoff: 2:30pm
Last Time They Met: Singleton Strikers 0-3 Kahibah

It's a big weekend for Kahibah as they look to pounce on top spot with Cooks Hill having the bye. The Green and Blacks are on track for the minor premiership if they can win their remaining fixtures, which includes a daunting trip to Blacksmiths Oval next weekend.

Kahibah's momentum was halted last Saturday as they were unable to overcome a stoic South Cardiff defence in one of the tightest fixtures in any grade this season. Chances were few and far between but Kahibah did miss a vital one right towards the end. Draws all round meant no damage was done to the hopes of a minor premiership. Missing David Hodgson will be a slight hindrance this week.

Singleton have nothing but pride to play for and the chance to really frustrate some sides above them. They did exactly that last week as they pulled off a gutsy 1-0 win to rule West Wallsend out of finals contention. The same Westy side that beat Kahibah and Cooks Hill in previous outings.

The Strikers are always a very unpredictable force. Some days they can really take it to the big guns (Cooks Hill 2-2 draw) but others, like their 3-0 loss to Kahibah at home, they just lack the quality needed. David Willoughby's been forced to make a lot of changes and rely a bit on some younger talents. 

Prediction: Kahibah are pretty focused on pushing for the minor premiership and this for them should be a routine three points, as it was at Howe Park in April. David Hodgson is suspended but Jamie Hadow, Jarrod Penfold & Brendan Trummel are certainly all very capable of winning this one for Kahibah. This time last year it was a Gumpsy wonder goal that won it. Surely not again...

My Tip: Kahibah FC 3-1 Singleton Strikers

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Under 23's:
Kahibah F.C (8th) v Singleton Strikers (5th)
Kickoff: 12:45pm
Last Time They Met: Singleton Strikers 2-1 Kahibah

Kahibah's season is well and truly over in the 23's. A loss to South Cardiff last week was a killer blow and with frustration between players and indeed the coaching staff before the game, by the end, it'd seemed the realisation that finals was out of reach had kicked in. It's all about pride from this point onwards and perhaps even proving themselves to the club for next year.

Singleton Strikers are the side most likely to take 4th spot from West Wallsend but even that is a big ask. Sitting seven points outside the top four with a game in hand is tough but overcoming a -11 goal difference is even tougher. Basically it's win or go home for them.

Prediction: The top four will be settled by full time at Westy on Saturday. The Bluebells will win and Singo will need four wins and about 15 goals to make finals a chance. Kahibah will want to pick up a win to restore some pride in their squad and at home they'll feel they are a chance.

My Tip: Kahibah FC 2-1 Singleton Strikers

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Under 19's:
Kahibah F.C (7th) v Singleton Strikers (8th)
Kickoff: 11:00am
Last Time They Met: Singleton Strikers 0-4 Kahibah

Two sides with a similar story in the 2017 season. Kahibah's horrid run continued last weekend as they lost 1-0 to South Cardiff and lost top scorer Bailey Cooper to a needless second yellow card for dissent. Scrappy wins over Cessnock and Toronto glossed over a lack of belief. This side haven't played a good game since a 4-0 win over Singleton back on April 29th.

Singleton have also slid way out of contention after starting the season with some good results. There's not much else to say about them. They can jump Kahibah into 7th spot if they pick up a win on Sunday and they'll want some confidence ahead of their last three outings, Thornton, Cooks Hill and Southy.

Prediction: Kahibah have given up on their season in the 19's and really what they provide to this game is anyone's guess. It's all about trying to impress and get a spot in next year's squad at this point. It's tough to tip a winner in a game like this but without Bailey Cooper, Kahibah will struggle to score.

My Tip: Kahibah FC 0-1 Singleton Strikers

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Under 17's:
Kahibah F.C (6th) v Singleton Strikers (10th)
Kickoff: 9:15am
Last Time They Met: Singleton Strikers 2-4 Kahibah

Realistically the top four is all but settled in the 17's. Kahibah on reflection don't deserve to be there based on a lack of consistency. 35 goals in 16 games isn't a bad return but when that number could and perhaps should have been 50+ then it shows a lack of clinical finishing. Centre back Joseph Hadden remains their top scorer, proving that theory about attackers not burying chances.

Singleton have jumped off the bottom of the table without lifting a finger as Thornton's downward spiral continued last night. Goal difference means the Strikers now sit 10th. Considering they face Thornton next week, they'd no doubt like to get something out of this game and build some belief ahead of next weekend.

Prediction: Kahibah will likely get the win with belief still firmly on sneaking into the top four. It's likely going to be an ugly 1-0 win if results as of late are anything to go by. Defensively they've been quiet solid at times. That couldn't be said about Singleton last time these sides met as Joseph Hadden scored a hat-trick against a lacklustre backline on the day.

My Tip: Kahibah FC 1-0 Singleton Strikers

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1st Grade:
Toronto-Awaba (10th) v Wallsend F.C (7th)
Kickoff: 2:30pm
Last Time They Met: Wallsend 2-0 Toronto-Awaba

It's an important game for Toronto-Awaba as the club hosts its annual Old Boy's Day. Last season's version was a complete travesty as they went down 6-0 to Singleton in front of a healthy gathering of club greats. The Stags are a club that show great respect to their former heroes of yesteryear so no doubt the squad have had this day circled on the calendar as must-win.

The Stags were beaten by Belmont-Swansea last week and brushed aside by Kahibah before that. It's a slightly easy test this week against a Wallsend side out of contention but the Red Devils did hand Toronto a 2-0 loss last time these sides met. Anyone who's watched Toronto will know their captain Nick Roberts is the player to watch along. He's got some decent support with Nick McKay being handy this year. He got their goal last week in a 3-1 loss.

Wallsend's recent form has been quiet decent compared to some of the results they've seen this year. A 1-1 draw with Cooks Hill was followed by a nervy win over Cessnock and a more solid 5-3 win over New Lambton last weekend in a very open game full of chances for both sides.

Chris Gallagher prides himself on defence though and he'll know that conceding three last week wasn't ideal. Whether it's a free-scoring game on Sunday is anyone's guess but what can be assured is that this game is one both sides will be gunning to win. Expect some decent physicality too.

Prediction: Toronto have been forced to make some changes to their squad lately and it's hindered their results. Old Boy's Day is always a special day at Lyall Peacock Field and no doubt Adam Routledge will have his side fired up to perform. Expect a very determined Stags performance.

My Tip: Toronto-Awaba 2-1 Wallsend FC

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Under 23's:
Toronto-Awaba (11th) v Wallsend F.C (2nd)
Kickoff: 12:45pm
Last Time They Met: Wallsend 7-1 Toronto-Awaba

The resurgence of Toronto 23's has been a welcome sight. A month ago they were winless and sitting a distant last but three draws and a win in the last four has Steve Blunt's side playing with a lot more confidence and frustrating teams above them. Next week is a key fixture against Cessnock but they'll do all in their power to end Wallsend's 10 game winning streak on Sunday.

Wallsend are on track to finish level on points with Cooks Hill but unless they start winning games by 10 goals, they'll surely be unable to eclipse the Cookers' vastly superior goal differential. They can thank Toronto for 20 of those Cooks Hill goals! The Red Devils simply have to win each game and hope the ladder-leaders fault some time over the last couple of games.

Prediction: It wasn't that long ago that Toronto were getting lapped in some games but as of late they've restored a lot of respect and have had a lot more positives on and off the field. That said, Wallsend are on a ten-game winning streak and they'll want to keep that ticking over.

My Tip: Toronto-Awaba 0-3 Wallsend FC

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Under 19's:
Toronto-Awaba (9th) v Wallsend F.C (10th)
Kickoff: 11:00am
Last Time They Met: Wallsend 1-2 Toronto-Awaba

It's another low table match-up but this one does have some potential wooden spoon implications riding on the result. With just one win in their last six games, Toronto have dropped to 9th and a loss here could set them up for a all or nothing wooden spoon 'decider' next weekend at Cessnock. Their record against fellow lower-table teams has been quiet decent this year.

Wallsend couldn't get a result against New Lambton last weekend but it wasn't without trying. They managed to do everything but score an equaliser against a ten-man Eagles side and really that final ten minutes summed up their entire season. Chances wasted, crucial mistakes made and left wondering "what if" time after time.

Prediction: Wallsend were unable to get anything out of the game when Toronto beat them 2-1 last time these sides met. It's a battle of two sides with very inconsistent lineups. Both sides have players that may be a little low on confidence. It'll be an interesting tussle. Wallsend to win it though.

My Tip: Toronto-Awaba 1-2 Wallsend FC

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Under 17's:
Toronto-Awaba (2nd) v Wallsend F.C (7th)
Kickoff: 9:15am
Last Time They Met: Wallsend 1-2 Toronto-Awaba

Toronto can't mathematically assure themselves a finals spot this weekend but they can put it beyond realistic doubt if they overcome Wallsend, considering a trip to lowly Cessnock beckons next weekend. The Stags have been brilliant for the majority of the year and have a team that know how to score goals. A bye in Round 22 will be an interesting way to move into the finals series if they do in fact make it.

Wallsend pushed New Lambton last weekend but were unable to get anything out of that match. For the most part, it's been a familiar story to all their matches against the top side. Close but not close enough. Close enough doesn't count in this league and it's why they sit 17 points or so outside the top four.

Prediction: It's been a long time since a Toronto side finished in the top two but that is a real possibility with the 17's. They've got the quality up front to see off Wallsend but based on Wallsend's record it won't be a heavy defeat. Toronto by two goals.

My Tip: Toronto-Awaba 3-1 Wallsend FC

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Under 15's Fixtures:

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