Thursday, 10 August 2017

PREVIEW: New-FM Northern League One Semi Final 1st Leg


Under 17's:
New Lambton FC (4th) v West Wallsend SFC (1st)
Kickoff: 9:15am
2017 Meetings: NLE 1-1 WWB & WWB 1-1 NLE

The finals kicks off with a match that has been drawn twice this year. Competition newcomers New Lambton have been surprise packets in the Under 17's and are deserved finalists in the first season. Although of the top four, they are currently the team with the least impressive form.

The Eagles haven't scored in the last two games (against Toronto and Cooks Hill) and were very poor last weekend by their standards. They'll need to raise the bar by a fair margin this weekend if they're to stand a chance in the finals. On their side, they've drawn Westy twice this year, including a thrilling last second draw last time thanks to a Liam Walker goal.

Westy were always expected to wrap up the minor premiership against Cessnock City last weekend but they did it in some style with a 8-1 thumping of the lowly Hornets. Top scorer Khye Drayton got a hat-trick and the other five goals all came from different sources. It was the perfect display ahead of the playoffs.

The Bluebells have beaten Toronto and Cooks Hill on every occasion but they need to overcome the only foe they've yet to conquer in the top four. Thornton Park is probably the worst pitch hosting finals this season and goals are often hard to find. Westy's games against big opposition have all been low scoring so expect a tight battle.

Prediction: It's hard to write New Lambton off considering their two draws against West Wallsend but recent form is worrying for the Eagles. Their performance last week was incredibly lacklustre and their attack has been blunt in games against Toronto and Cooks Hill. They need to up the ante in defence. Westy to win.

My Tip: New Lambton 1-2 West Wallsend

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Under 19s:
New Lambton FC (4th) v Cooks Hill United (1st)
Kickoff: 11:00am
2017 Meetings: NLE 0-2 CHU & CHU 2-0 NLE

This game is looming as a very interesting one in the Under 19's considering they clashed just last weekend and New Lambton were easily brushed aside by the minor premiers Cooks Hill. The Eagles went 2-0 down early and never looked likely to get back into the game. Coach Tony Gascoine was a very frustrated onlooker on the sidelines.

The Eagles boast one of the best attacking pairings in the Under 19's. Lachlan Jones and Luke Homer have 33 of New Lambton's 55 goals between them. Where things are a worry for New Lambton is at the other end. Their defence has leaked nearly twice as many goals as Cooks Hill in 2017. It's their Achilles heel so to speak.

Cooks Hill needed to overcome New Lambton last week to win the minor premiership and as mentioned they did it fairly easily. Their form is just stunning. Six straight wins and five of those wins without conceding. Add to that three clean sheets in a row and it's easy to see why they loom as a serious title contender.

Cooks Hill's lineup is a strong one across the park. Dylan McGarrigle & Nicholas Fakes probably their key attackers but then other options in the forward roles including Jackson Graham, Campbell Guest, Jayden Wiggins and Tyler Hoffmann. Centre back Brady Conlan also has seven goals and is incredibly tough to stop when he wants to win a header in the box.

Prediction: Complacency might hinder Cooks Hill but it's very unlikely. They're a serious side and to put it simply, they know they're better than New Lambton. It was proven last week and in all honesty it will likely be proven again here. New Lambton's defence is just not up to the task. Whether it's over in the 1st Leg or not is the question.

My Tip: New Lambton 0-3 Cooks Hill United

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Under 23's
West Wallsend SFC (4th) v Cooks Hill United (1st)
Kickoff: 12:45pm
2017 Meetings: CHU 5-3 WWB & WWB 2-3 CHU

Westy 23's have produced a superb second half of the season to finish a long way ahead of any challengers for the fourth finals spot behind the three best performing sides all season. The Bluebells have lost most games against the top three this year making them arguably the 'weak-link' in the playoffs but a recent win over Wallsend gives them confidence.

West Wallsend have five straight wins as well which at this time of the year is absolutely vital for self-belief. Their form away from Johnston Park is also good, seven goals in the last two fixtures on the road. What they have up their sleeve is the pure fact that not many if any are believing they'll send the Cookers packing.

The minor premiers Cooks Hill United had two tight 1-0 wins over fairly average Singleton and South Cardiff sides but last weekend they hit good goalscoring form with a comfortable 3-0 win over New Lambton. Three straight clean sheets and a whopping 51 points racked up makes the Cookers the easy favourites in this Semi Final tie.

Both games between these two have been tantalising to say the least for the 23's. The first was an eight-goal thriller where Cooks Hill rallied from behind to win 5-3 and the second they held on for a 3-2 win away from home. Both matches were played at night so conditions will be different at Thornton Park on Saturday.

Prediction: The first-leg sees Cooks Hill as the away side and thus a chance to take a big advantage into week two where they will be at their own ground. Westy cannot afford to lose this or it's curtains for their season. Cookers to win it and be well on their way to the Grand Final.

My Tip: West Wallsend 1-3 Cooks Hill United

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1st Grade:
Thornton Redbacks (4th) v Cooks Hill United (1st)
Kickoff: 2:30pm
2017 Meetings: CHU 4-2 THO & THO 2-2 CHU

It's only fitting that Thornton have had one of their best years in recent memory considering the club has recently celebrated a 40 year anniversary. The Redbacks have been that dark-horse side sitting on the verge for the past couple of seasons but this time they've made the finals and they have nothing to lose and everything to gain. They're a dangerous proposition.

Newysports named Darrel McAllister as the 2017 Coach of the Year and his impending departure was one of the shocks of the season considering where the club is placed. The club have kept on with the job with 3-0 wins over Singleton and Wallsend but last week they went down 1-0 to Belmont-Swansea and skewed the chance to finish in the top two.

Cooks Hill's premiership win last weekend was the greatest day in the club's 20 year history although now the question needs to be asked, can they rally up for the post-season and get their minds firmly on the job. Graham Law's Scottish heritage means he is a football traditionalist who believes the premiership exceeds the championship. That doesn't mean they don't want the double.

The Cookers had a mid-season slump but have come into good form lately. A 2-2 draw with you guessed it...Thornton has been their only blemish in an otherwise quality last six weeks or so. Their issue has been all season not being able to keep clean sheets. Only twice have they done it and despite a superb showing from goalkeeper Jake Hamilton last week, they still conceded three.

Prediction: If Cooks Hill get the away win then it is surely curtains for the Thornton Redbacks. Home advantage is crucial and producing the goods on Saturday is absolutely paramount for the Redbacks. This is a significant step up for both sides. Semi Final football is like no other game. Cookers to win and be halfway to a Grand Final.

My Tip: Thornton Redbacks 1-2 Cooks Hill United

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Under 17's:
Toronto-Awaba (3rd) v Cooks Hill United (2nd)
Kickoff: 9:15am
2017 Meetings: TAW 2-1 CHU & CHU 1-4 TAW

Toronto-Awaba's bye week in the final round saw them forced to watch their hold on second spot go down the drain as Cooks Hill defeated New Lambton, something the Stags couldn't do two weeks ago. For a side that weren't tipped to do anything this season, they've really achieved a lot and look to do more over the next three weeks.

The Stags have had mixed form going into finals. A loss to Belswans, a draw with Wallsend, a huge win over a poor Cessnock side and a scoreless draw with fellow finalists New Lambton. It's not impressive form so to speak but they hold not one but two victories over Cooks Hill this season and that will play in everyone's minds as they look to win Toronto's first Grand Final this side of the millennium.

Cooks Hill have form on their side with five wins in their past five games. Add to this they've only conceded once in those games and they have an abundance of different goalscorers and its easy to see why they have momentum on their side. It's been a long time since these sides clashed so the Cookers will be happy to forget their form against Toronto.

The advantage of playing for away goals means that Toronto's defence will be under the microscope here. They have the competition's top scorer Thomas Appleby but they have a tough test in front of them defensively this week. Cooks Hill's two redheads Bobby Carter and Rory Kalnins have 20 goals between them.

Prediction: Cooks Hill really need to win this one to get some confidence over Toronto. A draw or even worse a loss and trying to prevent away goals next week will be very difficult. If both teams produce their best then it will be a very tight game to call. Perhaps even a draw.

My Tip: Toronto-Awaba 2-2 Cooks Hill United

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Under 19s:
West Wallsend SFC (3rd) v Belmont-Swansea UFC (2nd)
Kickoff: 11:00am
2017 Meetings: BEL 2-2 WWB & WWB 0-2 BEL

Here we go again! The Grand Final rematch in the Under 19's and Belswans holding the firm advantage. You have to look all the way back to 2015 to find the last time a Westy side beat Belswans in the Under 19's although a 2-2 draw at Blacksmiths earlier this season felt like a win for Bluebells who had to spur their way from behind.

Westy's form is decent. Three wins in the last four but that one result that went against them was a loss to Belswans. Until last week's 4-1 win over Cessnock, the Bluebells were on a seven game run where only one side scored. Either they keep a clean sheet or they're kept to nil.

Belswans have a dream scenario here. They're playing the away leg on their home turf due to 1st Grade's placing. You couldn't ask for anything better and it's sure to play a big part in this Semi Final tie. The defending champions are back in winning form after the shock loss to Kahibah and they no doubt want to defend their crown.

Belswans' attack is one that's often spoken about. Joel Nicholson & Will Dundas have goals galore between them and Matt Ellis & Lachlan McMaster can be often found on the scoresheet. It's at the back where Belswans are most potent. They have the equal-best defensive record in the 19's and keeping Westy quiet in this one is paramount to their chances.

Prediction: As mentioned it's a home game but an away leg for Belswans and that is a big help for them. They've lost one game in the last 32 and to put it simply, Westy must beat them in at least one of the two Semi Final legs. It's looked a Cooks Hill v Belswans GF for a while now and that's what Newysports is sticking with.

My Tip: West Wallsend 1-3 Belmont-Swansea

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Under 23's
Thornton Redbacks (3rd) v Wallsend F.C (2nd)
Kickoff: 12:45pm
2017 Meetings: THO 1-3 WAL & WAL 1-2 THO

This is the more even-looking match-up of the two 23's Semi Finals. Thornton's form heading into finals is superb. Seven wins in eight and the only draw in that time was caused by a fairly soft penalty call that went against them late at Kahibah Oval. To put it simply, they've got the best form of the lot.

With wins over West Wallsend, Cooks Hill and indeed Wallsend in the second half of the season, the Redbacks are a threat to be taken very seriously. They've been battling hard all season. Top scorer Josh Colman is one to watch out for but their defence has also been very sturdy.

Wallsend's hopes of the minor premiership were dashed by their loss to West Wallsend and then a second straight loss, to Thornton, would have them looking for a return to form in time for finals. They did so with a 2-1 victory at Kahibah Oval last weekend but it was far from their best and they'll need improvement here.

Conditions could play a part across the day at Blacksmiths with any sort of wind no doubt a chance to cause havoc for goalkeepers. The Newysports 23's keeper of the year Dylan Meyrick has kept eight clean sheets which is the most for the 23's grade. Defensively they've been very solid and that's the key for them this week. 

Prediction: Wallsend will bring a fairly big and vocal support with them which will likely outnumber the Redbacks support. That will come in handy as they look for some vital away goals but still, based on form, it's very tough to do anything but tip the 'home side' in this one. Their form is just too solid.

My Tip: Thornton Redbacks 2-1 Wallsend

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1st Grade:
Belmont-Swansea UFC (3rd) v Kahibah F.C (2nd)
Kickoff: 2:30pm
2017 Meetings: KAH 2-0 BEL & BEL 2-1 KAH

It just had to happen again. New-FM's greatest rivalry will be on show again and although both matches this year weren't edge of your seat thrillers (the second mostly due to a lengthy injury delay), Semi Finals have arrived and if last year is anything to by, this will be cut-throat football at its finest.

Belmont-Swansea are the form side of the competition. They've won nine of their last ten and haven't tasted defeat in the second half of the season. Josh Rufo and co. kept saying it'd take time and the lesson is simple, never ever doubt Belmont-Swansea. Their experience this season could take them all the way. Is it a better side in 2017? It's a more potent side that's for sure.

Kahibah unlike the three other top four sides have arguably not hit their best all season. Last week they cruised to a 6-0 win over Wallsend and it quickly put behind them a scrappy 1-0 win over Cessnock the week before. Last week they scored five goals from set-pieces. That is not going to happen against Belswans but the home side better be careful around the edge of the box and on corners.

The Green and Blacks were beaten last time by Belswans but after Tom Parkinson's shocking broken leg, it was always going to be tough for them to get their heads back in the game. Kahibah have a few big game players and really it doesn't get bigger than this. For them, having the home second leg is the key. It's absolutely valuable after two years of losing away in the Semis.

Prediction: Kahibah's defence has been by far the best in the competition and Their away form though has been patchy to say the least. They won't come to Blacksmiths on Sunday with intentions of scoring goals, they'll come with intentions of keeping goals out. Belswans have a strong squad all round but they have a weapon up front called Tega Marcus and he could be the difference in the 1st Leg. Whatever the result, this two-legged tie is decided next week.

My Tip: Belmont-Swansea 2-1 Kahibah FC

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