Sunday, 29 July 2018

LOW-SCORE DRAWS ON THE FIELD BUT DRAMA APLENTY ON THE LEAGUE TABLE:




LOW-SCORE DRAWS ON THE FIELD BUT DRAMA APLENTY ON THE LEAGUE TABLE:

Well it wasn't quite an action packed day of goals as yesterday but if anything, today just added more suspense to what is the closest finals race in recent memory. It's still all to play for. Meanwhile today saw a turn in the 19's with Belswans leap-frogging Toronto into the top four.

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UNDER 19's: Cessnock City (Lachlan Lewis) 1 def by. BELMONT-SWANSEA (Harry Rapp x2 & Liam Lucas) 3

Belswans' season was kept alive by the under-age player drama at Toronto last weekend and they headed to Cessnock knowing that a win would lift them back into the top four but it was the Hornets surprisingly starting the game better.

After some underwhelming performances as of late (we're not counting the 3-0 "win" over the Stags), Cessnock started well and had the first look in attack as Connor Garrington got in behind and forced a corner.

Saying it was a sloppy start from the visitors would be an understatement. They looked like they hadn't woken up and realised that a football game was on with some of the stuff they were serving up. A couple of players were voicing their frustrations and soon enough they'd find their feet better.

There were one or two worrying moments for Cessnock's defence and then it all came apart as it has done each week. In the 23rd minute, a Matthew Shaw ball over the top bounced right over Cessnock keeper Jackson Bartlett but somehow Harry Rapp put his chance wide of the open net.

Moments later and it was all going wrong again. A miscommunication between defender Bowen Schmidt and his keeper Bartlett saw Harry Rapp bounce and this time there was no mistake as he made it 1-0.

Another chance for Belswans in the 26th minute saw their skipper Arch Johnson pop up on the end of a free-kick with a close header and then moments after that a free kick really tested the shaky Cessnock resolve.

It was mostly one-way traffic but Cessnock had a rare attacking moment in the 31st minute. The ball was put into the box and met by a quality acrobatic shot from Zac Kronholm. Easy enough for Danilo Apollonio to save but nice skill on show to get the shot away.

Two minutes later and things were back to square one for the home side. A handball call against what looked to be Bowen Schmidt saw Belswans awarded a penalty and gave a chance for the Golden Boot-chasing Harry Rapp to add to his season tally of ten.

The penalty attempt was saved well by Jackson Bartlett but Rapp was able to get to the rebound before any defenders and blasted it into the roof of the net for his 11th goal of the campaign, just one behind Kurtis McRitchie.

After the break, Cessnock made a goalkeeping change as Bartlett was brought off for Brandon Zechel. One or two eyebrows raised in the crowd and a visible frustration from the reliable keeper.
The game looked done and dusted at the break but Cessnock were able to keep it at 2-0 until the 58th minute when their stupidity cost them dear. An unneeded push after the ball was gone saw a Belswans player crash into the fence.

The resulting free kick saw some fairly average defending as Solomon Amos found Liam Lucas who did it fairly easily in the end as he looked towards goal and fired in a third and seemingly put Belswans out of reach. Definitely a player to keep an eye on heading towards a potential finals appearance.

Cessnock improved as time ticked by and managed one or two decent attacks but it still wasn't doing anything for them on the scoreboard. Angus Bland doing well at times but was subbed off and it was a substitute who got the headlines for the home side on the day.

The 74th minute saw Lachlan Lewis fire in a decent left-footed strike and score what according to the stats on SportsTG his first goal for the Cessnock City Hornets in New-FM football after three years and 30 matches! That was the only highlight for the Hornets today but a good one nonetheless.

3-1 is how it would end with Cessnock again just costing themselves with errors. A miscommunication, a handball penalty and pushing a guy into the fence. That's how they conceded their three goals. All very much avoidable.

As for Belswans, it's into 4th place they go with the bye next weekend. It wasn't spectacular today but it was a comfortable win in the end. They can ill-afford the slow start in their final game against Westy in two weeks. More of a complete performance from start to finish is needed.

Player-wise, it was their top goalscorer Harry Rapp doing the job for them again. Who would have foresaw him being a leading Golden Boot contender. Centre-back pairing Will Dunn and Sam Houston also very reliable, the latter being from the 17's and looking right at home with the higher age group.

NEWYSPORTS MOTM VOTE:
3 (MOTM)-Harry Rapp (BEL)
2-Will Dunn (BEL)
1-Sam Houston (BEL)


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UNDER 23's: Cessnock City (Kyle Gillis & Brodie Williams) 2 drew. Belmont-Swansea (Will McMaster & Luke Lethbridge) 2

Cessnock 23's were looking to consolidate 2nd position but were up against a Belswans side that had some of their normal players back on board. No 17's starting the game this week for the visitors as the likes of Angus Joseph and Josh Anstess returned to the fold.

It was a lively start from the home side and indeed they'd have the first real chance of the game and the first goal. It was the 18th minute when Josh Bailey's swiftly hit ball into the box was directed goalbound by Kyle Gillis. Belswans calling for offside but nothing doing. 1-0 Hornets.

The dust had barely settled before suddenly scores were level. A free-kick in a dangerous area saw Will McMaster step up to take it. As he channeled his inner-Ronaldo by spreading his legs slightly in a pre-kick stance, the bench and supporters were calling for someone else to take it.

Quiet stunningly he'd shush the lot of them with a kick that beat the wall and Mat Zechel, finding the back of the net and tying things up after just two minutes. He'd celebrate in style and it was again game on.

Half-time approached with neither team in control of a very even match up, There was a chance for Cessnock in the 36th minute as a quick corner saw Ben Priest put the ball in towards Kyle Gillis. Gillis' header was decent but didn't trouble the score-sheet.

After the break, it was Belswans who took control. Will McMaster came close to a second with a decent hit on the run that breezed past the far top corner. That would have been something but in the 44th minute, just moments later, they were 2-1 up.

Matt Ellis would produce a good through ball to send Luke Lethbridge in behind and he'd make no mistake as he slotted it in for Belswans' 2nd of the game and their first lead on the day. The Hornets had dropped off and paid the price.

In the 55th minute, Belswans would lose a man to injury as Matt Ellis injured his wrist. He'd come off looking worse for wear and then after the game had his shirt wrapped around his arm, signifying that his season might be over one game early. Matt Carroll's yellow card may also end his campaign as apparently it was his fifth of the season.

That injury stoppage saw the tides turn a little and Cessnock would soon find themselves level. In the 58th minute, the ball broke well for Brodie Williams who eyed off goal and put it away comfortably to make it 2-2.

Angus Joseph looked to have fired Belswans back ahead just moments later with a wonderful strike from range that was met by a superb Mat Zechel save. Diving well and getting solid contact to force it out for a corner.

Cessnock needed a win on the day and came close with some late chances. Kyle GIllis went on a good run and produced a shot in the 65th minute and followed that up by forcing a good Will Reeves save not long after.

Gillis was on hand again for a chance that came close to winning the game. His header in the 74th minute somehow was denied only by the post. It hit the woodwork and came back out before being cleared.

Both teams had some moments in the last twenty or so but ultimately it would end in a 2-2 stalemate. A good result on reflection for Belswans and but like Cessnock they probably felt like it was a winnable match.

Just one more game remains for the Belswans 23's and they'll look back on a lot of positives this year despite their ladder position. Some good talent in the 18-22 age bracket doing well at the club.

Cessnock's no doubt looking at today as a missed opportunity as the door remains open for Cooks Hill to pip them to 2nd spot. Still, they managed to fight back from 2-1 down and at that point it looked as though 3-1 would soon happen. They turned momentum and left with a point.

The last two games for the Hornets look to be "winnable" as they face Singleton and Kahibah. They need to build some belief ahead of what will be a big finals series for the team as they become the first Cessnock side since 2015 to play late into August.

*Special thanks to the Cessnock 23's who together donated $100 towards the cost of the Newysports Awards Night. Absolutely stunned at the offer and gracious to have the full support of Skip and the team.

NEWYSPORTS MOTM VOTE:
3 (MOTM)-Will McMaster (BEL)
2-Kyle Gillis (CES)
1-Jeremy Noone (CES)



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1ST GRADE: Cessnock City 0 drew. Belmont-Swansea 0
Everyone's favourite football score eventuated today and it was a fairly forgettable affair on reflection but it definitely wasn't without some drama throughout and in particular late in the game.

Belswans' best player as of late has been Josh Sutton but after an unfortunate snowboarding incident, he wasn't able to pass a late fitness test today to slot into the team. He was missed as their attack just lacked that extra bite.

It was an even opening to the game in very windy conditions on a very hard and dry Turner Park surface (hearing water/irrigation issues have caused headaches for the club). Belswans would gain some advantage as time ticked by.

That said, the best chance of the first 25 minutes or so fell to Cessnock as Brad York hit a free-kick just over the bar. Another free kick for the Hornets from near abouts halfway would have Ben Parmenter back-peddling and relieved as it hit the crossbar and fell into his grasps.

Belswans were looking to unlock the Cessnock defence and thought they did so in the 37th minute. A clear shove from Jake Peters on Joel Shearer saw the Belswans' skipper go down but the referee had nothing of it. Josh Rufo very animated as expected on the sideline.

A few minutes later the away side were on the break and poured numbers forward into the box. Eventually the ball came to Corey Wilson but he'd skew his shot wide of the target. Again frustrations showed and 0-0 is how it would remain at the end of a fairly uneventful half.

Belswans looked to warm into the 2nd half but nearly threw it all away as they were caught napping just moments in. Kane Rodgers pounced on an opportunity that went fairly close. Close enough to bring Josh Rufo up out of his seat to demand focus from his team. "Too easy" was Rufo's call as Belswans allowed Cessnock the first chance of the half.

It was to and fro at some stages and there were some real quick-fire moments that some may have missed. The 57th minute saw the ball scrambled towards goal by Belswans and the goal was only denied by Cessnock keeper Jed Horder as he slapped the ball out of the air.

The Hornets keeper had one or two nervy moments but was cool under pressure on a couple of close-call backpasses. His futsal background definitely on show as he used some fancy footwork to get out of some tough one-on-one situations. Cessnock comfortable to play their keeper the ball.

Midway through the half, Corey Wilson came close for Belswans as his header on the end of a corner was saved by the aforementioned Horder. Time started to tick away and suddenly 0-0 was looming a likely result.

Some were predicting late drama and there certainly was some moments. Chris Gazzard came close in the 81st minute as his shot was saved and then Cameron Lodge also threatened for Belswans with a good shot from range in the 83rd minute.

Belswans looked the likelier to maybe come away with all three points but alas Cessnock would have the key moment of the dying stages fall their way, with one of the more dramatic late chances of the season.

It was almost stoppage time when a free kick dropped into the box. Belswans' defence was caught napping, Tom Stewart found space, eyed off goal and blasted it wide. Belswans like statutes and the goal was absolutely gaping.
Stewart almost collapsed at the immediate shock of missing such a huge chance and cue more words from the Belswans bench as the side were barrated for almost throwing it all away in the end. It should have been 1-0 right there and then. One of the misses of the season.

The full-time whistle brought frustrations from both side but easily more from Cessnock. They were that close to a famous victory for their club considering where they've come from over the last few years. They went toe-to-toe with a top two side and almost won it.

Again the day ends with familiar disappointment but this season has been a positive one for Cessnock 1st Grade and they are already working towards next season with one or two ideas being chucked around. Whether that comes with Brendan Slade in charge or not is the question as different sources are giving different opinions.

Turning the attention to Belswans and today just was a little bit underwhelming considering where they sit on the table and the form they've been in. Yes the unbeaten streak remains but it was one miskick away from being gone in the dying seconds.

They just don't have that clear goalscoring striker and it showed today. Klaudon Ahmataj great physically today and at holding the ball up but not potent in the final third, nor Joel Shearer, nor Cameron Lodge. Post-game thoughts from Newysports were of "what-if?", namely what if Josh Sutton had of been fit and started.

What Belswans do have is the best defence in the competition and that could be very handy in a few weeks time when they look to make yet another Grand Final. No the top four isn't mathematically assured yet but it'd take a disaster to miss it from here.

NEWYSPORTS MOTM VOTE:
3 (MOTM)-Brad York (CES)
2-Cameron Tapp (BEL)
1-Corey Wilson (BEL)


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SOUTH CARDIFF v SINGLETON STRIKERS:

UNDER 19's: South Cardiff 0 def by. SINGLETON STRIKERS (TBC) 1

Heard from a Southy source that this game was one of missed chances for both sides. Singleton's goal apparently came from a free-kick but ultimately the match was full of poorly-taken shots. "My grandmother could've scored" were the sarcastic words from this particular Gunners source about "three open goal" misses.

Singleton winning another game and again it echoes the sentiment from the Belswans review. What if they didn't have 12 losses, 1 draw and only 6 wins this year. This team were capable of so much more this season. Oh well, a positive for them today.

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UNDER 23's: SOUTH CARDIFF (TBC) 5 def. Singleton Strikers (TBC) 2

The Gunners kept alive their 23's Finals hopes with a fairly convincing 5-2 win over lowly Singleton. Unsure on goalscorers just yet (will edit them in once known) but it's a positive result and keeps the wheels turning for their season.

The race for 4th in the 23's is really heating up. New Lambton are holding Southy and Wallsend at bay but face the runaway leaders Thornton next weekend. If they lose that, and Southy and Wallsend win their games, it'd set up a big final round, including New Lambton v Wallsend.

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1ST GRADE: South Cardiff (Nathan McAllister) 1 drew. Singleton Strikers (TBC) 1

This game was the story of the season for the Singleton Strikers but also a story of what has been a frustrating last month or so for the Gunners as they look to prevail in the race for finals football.

Firstly, this was Singleton's 9th draw of the season. That is an amazing stat considering they've only played 19 matches. That is what has cost them in the long run and it'll hurt knowing that just two or three different results could have changed everything.

Anyway, Southy are the side in contention and Golden Boot leader Nathan McAllister added another goal to his collection but also missed a couple of chances and missed opportunities apparently summed the day up for Southy according to a neutral source at the ground.

With Westy short-priced favourites to down the out-of-form Toronto, and Thornton desperate to win at home against New Lambton, Southy's trip to Kahibah Oval next weekend will define their season. If they can't beat the 10th place team, they have no business in the finals. Harsh but true.

Even if Southy beat Kahibah, things might not be assured. What is for sure is it would set up a mouth-watering final round clash with Thornton. The pressure is firmly on for the Gunners and they need to rise in the next two weeks and find a way to pick up three points next week.

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***NL1 YOUTH RESULTS***

WEST WALLSEND v COOKS HILL UNITED:

UNDER 14's: West Wallsend 0 def by. COOKS HILL UNITED (TBC) 1

Unsure on the Wallsend result as of now (9:29pm) but a very big confidence-boosting win for Cooks Hill today at Johnston Park against the in-form Westy side. Tight top four in the 14's and it's sure to be a very keenly-fought finals series.

UNDER 15's: WEST WALLSEND (Ryan Chandler x2) 2 def. Cooks Hill United 0

Not sure on the mathematics but believe Westy have wrapped up another finals spot in the 15's after a 2-0 win over Cooks Hill. Ryan Chandler's wonderful comeback from long-term injury continues with two more goals and the Bluebells are doing well as they approach the business end of the season.

UNDER 17's: WEST WALLSEND (Caden Hall x2 & Jasper Shipley) 3 def. Cooks Hill United (TBC) 2

Wasn't going to write a wrap for each youth game but did so just so we could talk about this result. The last unbeaten team standing in Northern League One football was Cooks Hill 17's and today they met their match in the form of West Wallsend. Caden Hall and Jasper Shipley becoming familiar names on the scoresheet and a big, big win for the Bluebells today.

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WALLSEND F.C v NEW LAMBTON:

UNDER 14's: WALLSEND F.C (TBC) 6 def. New Lambton (TBC) 3


*Added late. Already written the other comments and not changing them around now but here is the latest news, Wallsend 14's beat New Lambton 6-3. That big win takes Wallsend a step closer to the Premiership whilst it ends the finals hopes for the injury-plagued Eagles. The top four is now confirmed (if my maths is right)



UNDER 15's: Wallsend F.C (Ryan Healey) 1 def by. NEW LAMBTON (TBC) 5

Again it's too late at night to try and add numbers on the league table but think this win seals finals football for New Lambton. Wallsend are a good side on their day so to win it 5-1 shows a lot of class and the Eagles will head into the finals with confidence.

UNDER 17's:


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THORNTON REDBACKS v SOUTH CARDIFF:

UNDER 14's: Thornton Redbacks (Ryan Formosa) 1 def by. SOUTH CARDIFF (Jacob Prebendarcik, Own Goal & Finn Abbott) 3


Have a feeling that the top four is assured now in the 14's depending on the Wallsend v New Lambton result but with injuries apparently hindering them, the Eagles will have to do it the hard way if at all. As for these teams, they're now both out of contention but a good win for Southy and had to look twice at Ryan Formosa's name as a Thornton goalscorer on the message I received. The goalkeeper somehow found the back of the net.

UNDER 15's: Thornton Redbacks (Harrison Bridges) 1 def by. SOUTH CARDIFF (Harrison Black & Tom Sainsbury) 2

This talented Thornton side will miss out on finals football due to their inconsistency this season. That's now 7 wins and 8 losses with 0 draws so a platform to build on for next season. As for Southy, they are heading to the finals and can build their form in whatever games they have remaining before the playoffs begin.

UNDER 17's: Thornton Redbacks (Brayden Smallwood) 1 def by. SOUTH CARDIFF (Mitchell Preston x2 & Kai West) 3

For the third time in four seasons, the U17's Wooden Spoon will unfortunately be heading to Thornton after the Redbacks succumbed to Southy in a bottom of the table match-up. Some bragging rights here with ex-Redback Mitchell Preston scoring two against the club he left during pre-season.

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TORONTO-AWABA v SINGLETON STRIKERS

UNDER 14's: Toronto-Awaba (TBC) 1 drew. Singleton Strikers (TBC) 1

A huge points gap separates Toronto in 8th and Singleton in 9th but today the Strikers came away with a positive result on the road as they held the Stags to a 1-1 draw. Very tough game for Singo but something out of it at least. Toronto will be frustrated at not winning no doubt.

UNDER 17's: Toronto-Awaba (TBC) 1 drew. Singleton Strikers (TBC) 1

Singleton to their credit have put together a decent second half of the year to climb the 17's ladder a little bit but still, Toronto dropping points is a slight surprise considering the finals race that they find themselves in. That leaves them in a tight spot. Haven't updated the ladders yet but assuming it'll be tough from here to make it.

Friday, 27 July 2018

PREVIEW: New-FM Round 20 2018





Under 19's Match of the Round:
West Wallsend (3rd) v Cooks Hill United (2nd)
Kickoff: 10:45am
Last Time They Met: CHU 1-1 WWB

This is a preview of things to come in a few weeks' time. It's highly likely Westy will face Cooks Hill in the Semi Final but who finishes 2nd and who finishes 3rd is yet to be decided. For the Bluebells, their chance to perhaps jump Cooks Hill at some stage rests firmly on this game but their real job is complete and that is to make it to finals. This isn't a "must-win" game but definitely a good tune-up.

The same can be said for Cooks Hill. This is a big game but it cannot be put on the same level as a potential finals clash. After last week's bye and seeing Kahibah overcome Thornton, the Cookers have surely switched all focus from the Premiership into building towards finals. The memories of a controversial Semi Final exit will be living on and this game is a chance to really build some belief.

Prediction: The result will hinge largely on the lineups. West Wallsend have one or two dramas around yellow card counts and therefore may play it a bit safe. It's not a given that Josh Knight will feature and he seems to be the key to goal, either by scoring or assisting. Could give you a sure thing tip once the team sheets are written but for now, it's a draw.

My Tip: West Wallsend 1-1 Cooks Hill United

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Under 23's:
West Wallsend (8th) v Cooks Hill United (3rd)
Kickoff: 12:30pm
Last Time They Met: CHU 0-0 WWB

Now this game has some intrigue about it compared to some 23's fixtures this time of year. West Wallsend are unbeaten in their last three matches and have only lost once in the last five. Whilst their finals hopes have faded largely due to a league-high six draws, it's those draws that prove this team can really trouble those higher on the table. On a huge day for the Bluebells at home, it's safe to expect the 23's to be right up for a big effort.

Cooks Hill look vulnerable to say the very least. Back-to-back losses has seen them lose 2nd spot to Cessnock City and really it's come as a result of their own doing. It just hasn't been good enough as of late and considering they were bundled out last year in the finals with much better form heading into August, it doesn't bode well at all. It'd take a disaster to not finish in the top four but they need confidence and they need form ASAP.

Prediction: A lot has been said about West Wallsend's lack of form compared to last season. They have struggled for consistency at times this season but lately they've shown some tenacity to gain results. It's very much possible they'll get the win here but think a draw may be the eventual result. Cooks Hill are due to get themselves back into form but who knows when that might happen...

My Tip: West Wallsend 1-1 Cooks Hill United

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1st Grade Match of the Round:
West Wallsend (4th) v Cooks Hill United (1st)
Kickoff: 2:30pm
Last Time They Met: CHU 3-0 WWB

Last week's Wallsend Derby was touted as the biggest game in five seasons for the Bluebells and six days later they're topping it. The highly convincing win over Wallsend proved that Westy might be on track to break their finals drought but a win against Cooks Hill would suddenly have them believing that maybe there is a chance to make history in 2018. This game can turn them into a serious Championship contender.

Since they lost 1-0 to South Cardiff at the start of the month, Westy have been on fire scoring twelve goals in three big wins over New Lambton, Cessnock and Wallsend. The only thing they've yet to do this year is get a result against one of the top three sides. Cooks Hill, Belswans and Thornton have all beaten them. Confidence is fairly high but there's no doubt that this game will not be as easy as the Derby.

Cooks Hill return from the bye and return to action as Premiers. Wrapping up the title with four weeks to spare speaks volume about their quality and maybe about the lack of consistency amongst the other sides. Belswans started slowly and have gone 12 unbeaten but apart from that, no side has really strung together anything that looks like a Premiership-challenging form run.

The words of Graham Law and co. at the start of the year was they wanted to do it all again but they were expecting a tougher challenge. In some ways they simply haven't got it. The Premiership race was ultimately easier in 2018. But now it moves onto finals and they have to work their way into top form ahead of what will be a difficult Semi Final. They may very well be back at Johnston Park in four weeks time.

Prediction: West Wallsend have come a long way in the last couple of seasons and are firmly on the brink of something memorable. The quality they have in the attacking and middle thirds is better than recent years and they are playing with a firm mindset and keen belief. The odds of an "upset" are strong but Cooks Hill have just kept finding ways to prevail this year. Maybe a draw?

My Tip: West Wallsend 2-2 Cooks Hill United

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Under 19's:
Thornton Redbacks (8th) v Wallsend FC (10th)
Kickoff: 10:45am
Last Time They Met: WAL 2-2 THO

There won't be as much riding on the line as the Westy game but it's still going to be interesting to see what happens at Thornton Park. The Redbacks have had some patchy form as of late and were kept at bay by Kahibah last weekend. They do look to be missing Brock Thomson who has been promoted to 23's as of late but more-so it's a case of individual players just lacking consistency. Improvement will come with experience.

Things haven't been going so well for Wallsend. Newysports can't speak on the Singleton game but they've lost their last four in a row and their last three performances in particular have been way below the standard required. Coach Craig Tselembis has been understandably frustrated and even one or two of the players simply said they don't know what is happening. They're capable of so much more than they've shown.

Prediction: Thornton will have an absolute field day if Wallsend award them the sort of start Westy got last week and that's what it was. The Reds crumbled early and they cannot afford the same this weekend. With a fairly "relaxed" remaining three games, Thornton's Jacob Bartlett should be polishing his boots off for the weekend with the intent to win the 19's Golden Boot. He is due for some more goals and the others around him Ruddy, Fuenzalida & Gardener are all capable of pouncing on an under-performing Wallsend side.

My Tip: Thornton Redbacks 4-1 Wallsend FC

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Under 23's Match of the Round:
Thornton Redbacks (1st) v Wallsend FC (5th)
Kickoff: 12:30pm
Last Time They Met: WAL 0-2 THO

The Premiership was secured for Thornton 23's last weekend at Kahibah Oval and in reality it has been looking a certain result for the last couple of months. The Redbacks are by far the most consistent team in the Under 23's competition but the test for them over the last three regular season games is to not get complacent and to build on their form. Their goal is to look like a well-oiled machine come Week One of the finals.

It has been an inconsistent season for Wallsend and that continued last weekend as despite being the better team on the day, they were unable to overcome arch rivals West Wallsend. That 1-1 draw left the Reds sitting outside the top four and now the pressure is on to try and get their way into a playoff position to most likely set up a date with Thornton by finishing 4th. Their remaining games are Thornton, Cooks Hill and New Lambton...good luck! 

Prediction: The fixture list for Wallsend spells impending doom unless they can find an extra level or two on what they showed last weekend. Even if they scrape into finals, it's more than likely a case of making up the numbers. They are clearly a level or two below Thornton and they need to prove themselves as contenders here or else it's likely the end of their Championship defence.

My Tip: Thornton Redbacks 3-0 Wallsend FC

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1st Grade:
Thornton Redbacks (3rd) v Wallsend FC (6th)
Kickoff: 2:30pm
Last Time They Met: WAL 1-6 THO

Here we go again! Another massive game with big implications at Thornton Park. You can expect thrills, spills and surely some more dramatic late drama as much as the likes of Gary Wand would not want to see it. Jokes aside, the pressure has intensified on the inexperienced Redbacks. With just five points from their last fifteen on offer and more worryingly three games without a win, the alarm bells are ringing.

The script keeps coming back to this "inexperience" and their seemingly evident inability to win big games. It goes back to the Southy draw, the Cooks Hill loss, the Belswans loss and even last week as they squandered a 2-0 lead against a ten-man Kahibah side. It doesn't bode well for their hopes in finals football against a Cooks Hill or a Belswans (assuming that's the top two) and on top of that, on current form, they may not make it at all.

If the doom and gloom tag is chucked onto Thornton, what do you chuck onto Wallsend? 95% of football pundits would draw a line right through them after what was a hugely embarrassing result against their oldest and fiercest rival. Old Boy's Day at The Gardens saw the Red Devils concede three goals in a horrific 20 minute period in the first half and ultimately lose 4-1 to West Wallsend.

It's been a dramatic shift for a team that not that long ago went to South Cardiff and won 3-0 under pressure on the back of a gutsy away win at Singleton. Next they lost to Cessnock and then won albeit unconvincingly against Kahibah. Last Sunday this team were seemingly found out and it's looking like this weekend could be the end of their season. This is an all-or-nothing game for Wallsend F.C.

Prediction: The scene is set for a dramatic match-up between two sides that are out-of-form and desperate for something, anything. Really it has draw written all over it but that is quiet frankly not good enough for either side, especially Wallsend. But that's how the last few weeks have gone these teams. Newysports is tipping a frantic last ten minutes or so but ultimately it could very well end in disappointment for both.

My Tip: Thornton Redbacks 2-2 Wallsend FC

Additional Tip: Whatever the result, late drama either way.

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Under 19's:
New Lambton (6th) v Kahibah FC (1st)
Kickoff: 12:45pm
Last Time They Met: KAH 2-0 NLE

Somehow someway the New Lambton 19's remain alive in the finals race. Toronto's drama has re-opened the door even after the Eagles were brushed aside 5-3 last weekend by Singleton. Despite the trio of Jock Dockrill, Tristan Newbold and Flynn Devon all scoring their first goals of the season, last weekend was simply not good enough for the side, conceding five goals. Chances are Toronto may lose their final two games meaning this game isn't do or die for New Lambton but it is their biggest test yet.

As for their opponents, this game marks a chance to make history and claim the 19's Premiership. Jarrod Gorsuch's recruitment drive and the addition of quality ex-NPL players saw the Rams rocket into favouritism and really that's where they have stayed at least in the race for 1st place. 16 wins and 1 loss this season tells a story and 8 goals conceded tells a bigger story. Whether it be at Alder, Kahibah or Turner, top spot is 99% assured and their true test comes in the finals.

Prediction: This is a potential finals preview as one of either Toronto, Belswans or New Lambton will do battle with Kahibah in the finals. The Eagles have looked a clear level below the soon to be Premiers but they have nothing to lose as their key fixtures are the last two games. If they are to have any success on the weekend, they simply have to man up to a very imposing opposition. Whether that happens is the question.

My Tip: New Lambton 0-4 Kahibah FC

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Under 23's:
New Lambton (4th) v Kahibah FC (9th)
Kickoff: 2:30pm
Last Time They Met: KAH 4-1 NLE

With each passing week, the finals get a little closer and for New Lambton 23's, their fate is firmly in their own hands. Coach Paul McGuinness has been left frustrated some weeks by a lack of consistency and that is what they need to address, firstly if they are to make it and secondly if they are to compete once there. Whether they make it or not, there's been positive development for this team in 2018 and a lot more to come next year too.

The finals drought for Kahibah in the Under 23's will continue and it doesn't come as a huge surprise. Yet again another team that has found little consistency in results this year and as so they are pretty much out of contention. They sit 15 points above Singo and Toronto so things could be worse but the remaining games are a formality and a chance perhaps to prove some worth ahead of the 2019 squad trials. The fact that the likes of Kurtis McRitchie, Preston Cunningham and Harry Dagwell played 1st Grade last week says change is needed.

Prediction: The Eagles have been affected by injury mostly in 1st Grade but it has played a part in the 23's. They rotate players between 23's and 1st more than some clubs but still they're in a positive position where their fate is still in their own hands. It was a heavy 4-1 loss when the Eagles travelled to Kahibah but on this occasion, can envision the likes of Luke Homer & Trent Stack causing havoc. 

My Tip: New Lambton 3-1 Kahibah FC

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1st Grade:
New Lambton (9th) v Kahibah FC (10th)
Kickoff: 4:30pm
Last Time They Met: KAH 1-1 NLE

For people who enjoy the finals race, this game didn't mean much the first time round and probably means even less this time but for these two clubs it's yet another chance to look to the future. New Lambton have been in better form since Jim Foley's arrival and even with a few injuries they managed to produce a memorable win at Singleton last week and erase the demons of the heavy flogging early this year.

Even looking at last week's Eagles squad, it's still a lineup full of potential talent. Definitely a few players who can produce at a solid 1st Grade level and some that are still moulding their craft. It's one of the youngest sides in the competition and many are expecting New Lambton to be right roaring and ready to go come Round 1 2019. Until then, it's all for pride and they've won it back. They can guarantee they'll finish above Kahibah if they win and who would have fought that in the pre-season?

Turning attention to Kahibah and it has been one of the more forgettable years for 1st Grade side of the club. Their three-successive NL1 finals series appearances seem like an eternity ago and really for the top two grades at least there is an urge to just move on and put it all in the past. Some weeks have been absolutely misery where somehow they are unable to win and last week according to sources was one of them, shooting themselves in the foot again.

What Kahibah did show last week was true fight and determination and that hasn't been seen a lot this season.  They put a very young side on the park and they did the job for the club. Now the question is, do they stay with that lineup? Jye Hodson is gone for sure after his red card but for the remaining ten, they will be hoping to stay, including two emerging talents in Joe Hadden and Preston Cunningham. In addition, any positive result here will mean Toronto claim the wooden spoon.

Prediction: Honestly hoping this game isn't a bore. There's a lot of talent coming through now for both sides and it's a chance for both to showcase what may be in 2019. Great to see Andre Gumprecht and Jim Foley both rewarding performance in the lower grades. Preston Cunningham, Joe Hadden, Hayden Pearce, Asama Radford, hopefully this is an open and entertaining 1st Grade fixture.

My Tip: New Lambton 2-3 Kahibah FC

Additional Tip: Shelter is not a strong point for Alder Park so hopefully no rain!

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Under 19's:
Cessnock City (7th) v Belmont-Swansea (5th)
Kickoff: 10:45am
Last Time They Met: BEL 3-0 CES

Just like New Lambton, Belmont-Swansea have seen their finals hopes boosted by Toronto's mishaps and another team who benefited last weekend was Cessnock City who instead of losing 1-0 were handed a 3-0 victory on default. It would have brought a few laughs at Turner Park but the reality is they have been lacking as of late. Their defence seemed to solidify a little last week, looking at the 1-0 score but this is another tough test.

As for Belswans, this game is their season on the line, just as it was last weekend. Do they deserve it, based on last week, no. The urgency just didn't come soon enough against South Cardiff and a scoreless draw with the last placed Gunners is hardly something you'd expect in a season-defining game. More is needed to keep alive this fantastic run of making finals in the Under 19's. Their attack needs to fire.

Prediction: Despite the fact that they have to play Westy in the final round still, this game is do or die for Belswans. If they can't overcome Cessnock then they don't deserve to be playing in the finals and really they're only getting this second chance due to another club's misfortunes. A win here puts them into fourth position, above Toronto on goal difference.

My Tip: Cessnock City 1-2 Belmont-Swansea

Additional Tip: Harry Rapp to score a goal for Belswans and continue being an unlikely contender for the 19's Golden Boot.

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Under 23's:
Cessnock City (2nd) v Belmont-Swansea (7th)
Kickoff: 12:30pm
Last Time They Met: BEL 1-2 CES

There is a new side occupying second spot in the 23's and it is the in-form Cessnock City Hornets. With five straight wins they are storming towards what looks to be a certain finals appearance. They had it easy last week as Toronto waved the white flag early but odds are the Hornets would have won by more than three goals so if anything it dented their goal differential. All that aside, this team has been winning a lot and have become the masters of late victories, something that's done them a world of good.

Belswans' season in the 23's has been that familiar story to a host of other clubs, inconsistent. It was always going to be difficult with a youngish side but still they probably should have done better than what they have. Last week saw them down on numbers and it gave a chance for two 17's players in Callan Wink and Cameron Sparkes to start the game. A hopeful look towards the future and that's all they can do now.

Prediction: It's uncertain if Belswans will be bolstered numbers-wise but those young fill-ins last week certainly played a good part in the game and it might be smart to give them a further taste of senior football. Whatever team the away side put out, chances are they won't get anything on the day as the Hornets are just cruising at the moment. At home, it's hard to see Cessnock slipping up.

My Tip: Cessnock City 3-1 Belmont-Swansea

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1st Grade:
Cessnock City (8th) v Belmont-Swansea (2nd)
Kickoff: 2:30pm
Last Time They Met: BEL 1-0 CES

There's no hiding the fact that Cessnock City will be disappointed about the 2018 season as they were aiming to make finals or at least take it to the wire in the finals race. They've fallen short of that but they'll also realise that it has been a large success based on recent years. Six wins this season is as many as they had in 2015, 2016 and 2017 combined and that really puts it all into perspective. They've gone from being quiet frankly the laughing stock of the league to a formidable foe on their day.

This season of course didn't come on pennies, it took a little bit of financial investment as not many players would want to go play for the bottom team of the competition for free. And off the park it's a case of attracting more sponsors that will guarantee the sustainability going forward. They're looking ahead to next year but this game is a chance to test themselves against one of the best teams in the league.

This isn't any normal challenge for Cessnock, they're up against arguably the form side of the competition in Belmont-Swansea. Those with long memories will know that this spectacular climb up the table from the brink of disaster came with a gritty 1-0 win over you guessed it, Cessnock City. That was the 3rd game (the first two were draws) of what is a stunning 12-game unbeaten streak.

There were doubts last weekend for the Blacksmiths locals as they were missing a couple of key players, including Josh Sutton and facing a high-quality Southy side. Still they found a way to win and they've shown a real will as of late to get the job done under any circumstances. A win here would go a long way towards securing a top two spot and a home 2nd Semi Final. 

Prediction: The win over Toronto last weekend highlighted what Cessnock City can do on a good day, granted against the likely wooden spoons winners. This is a much more difficult test and something to gauge themselves on heading into the off-season and another key recruiting window. Belswans should be winning this one but it'll be tough.

My Tip: Cessnock City 1-3 Belmont-Swansea

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Under 19's:
South Cardiff (11th) v Singleton Strikers (9th)
Kickoff: 10:45am
Last Time They Met: SIN 3-2 SOU

On paper it looks another dull late season affair between two sides out of contention but there's more to this game for South Cardiff. This is the Gunners' last desperate chance to maybe just maybe avoid the dreaded wooden spoon. Results have been better as of late and performances have improved but they still linger at the foot of the table. Coach Steve Blunt can obviously see the bigger picture and recognise development but he'd love nothing more than to avoid another wooden spoon. The players wouldn't mind either.

Singleton's stirring 5-2 victory over finals contender New Lambton was just another case of what could have been in 2018. The side have been far too inconsistent but on their better days they are capable of taking it to any team in the competition. Whilst their defensive record has been fairly average at times, they have almost double the goals scored as Southy. They're free to go for it again so might be safe to expect an attacking focus.

Prediction: This is a firm test for South Cardiff. Their defence has scrambled well as of late and they will need to be up for it again against an attack-minded Singleton side. On the flip side, it's a test for Southy's underwhelming attack which failed to fire at Blacksmiths last weekend. Very hard to figure out just what might happen in this one. We'll play it safe!

My Tip: South Cardiff 2-2 Singleton Strikers

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Under 23's:
South Cardiff (6th) v Singleton Strikers (10th)
Kickoff: 12:30pm
Last Time They Met: SIN 0-1 SOU

The finals are on the line every week for Southy 23's and they've certainly done well to even make it this far from where they were. Five wins and two draws in their last seven games has seen them rocket up into 6th position and now they stand on the verge of pulling off an unlikely passage into finals football. Confidence is fairly high for the Gunners and really this is a game they'll look at as a likely three points if they put in the hard work.

For large portions of the season, Singleton have purely made up the numbers in the 23's and been brushed aside more often than not. On paper their 1-0 loss to New Lambton last weekend showed a little bit of improvement compared to some of their previous matches. It's unlikely Toronto will avoid the spoon so all Singo have left to play for is pride and maybe a chance to really stuff up a team's hopes.

Prediction: Singo's only two wins this season have both come away from home but granted their last win was over fellow struggle team Toronto. To go to Ulinga and effectively end Southy's season would be quiet the achievement for the out-of-form side. Expecting the Gunners to do the job but making it hard for themselves.

My Tip: South Cardiff 2-1 Singleton Strikers

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1st Grade:
South Cardiff (5th) v Singleton Strikers (7th)
Kickoff: 2:30pm
Last Time They Met: SIN 1-0 SOU

South Cardiff were not kidding around in pre-season when they made the bold claim the Premiership was their target. This team on paper looked like they'd challenge for the top two but alas that hasn't happened and their inconsistency may just cost them the chance to play finals football. The pressure is right on them now after a late loss last weekend to Belswans and they simply need to win this.

With Kahibah and Thornton in their last two games, this game could very well shape the season for these Gunners. A loss could drop them to 7th whilst a win could lift them to 3rd depending on goal difference. That's how important this fixture is. Last weekend was a performance where Southy were hard to get through but they left a bit to desired in attack. It's likely to be a nervy match at Ulinga.

Singleton are well and truly gone, perhaps not mathematically but they looked like they'd spent their chance when Kahibah drew them up there a few weeks ago. It's been a year of positives and really there should be a sense of achievement kick in once the disappointment fades away. A lot of bad rumours were swirling in pre-season but the Strikers have been one of the stories of this season.

Singleton's last match next weekend sees a "dead-rubber" against Cessnock but this game proves to be a chance to show what they can do and in the process really stuff up the hopes of another club. Losing to New Lambton at home last weekend was not really good enough for this team and they'll want to make something of their final two matches, starting right here.

Prediction: South Cardiff will not play finals football unless they win this game. That's a bold prediction but it may prove to be very true. The Gunners simply need to win. Their form against other finals contenders this year hasn't been ideal and this game against a team that is gone from the finals race, is absolutely paramount to their hopes. Southy to win...surely.

My Tip: South Cardiff 2-1 Singleton Strikers

Additional Tip: Macca to continue his push for the Golden Boot.

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YOUTH GAME(s) OF THE WEEK: Sunday is jammed packed with big games. Thornton v Southy in the 15's will be crucial, especially for the Redbacks' finals chances whilst in the 17's, Wallsend simply need to win to stay alive against New Lambton. Then there is Westy v Cooks Hill where in 14's and 17's it is a huge fixture in the finals and Premiership race.