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:


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