Friday, 6 July 2018

PREVIEW: New-FM Round 17 2018




Under 19's:
West Wallsend (5th) v Cessnock City (9th)
Kickoff: 10:45am
Last Time They Met: CES 0-1 WWB

After a 2-0 win over New Lambton and a very important 1-0 win over the previously unbeaten Kahibah, all eyes were on Westy 19's to see if they could beat Southy and continue their good form. Yet another wash-out denied them that chance and now they face Cessnock who in turn sit fairly low on the table as well. With two games in hand on Belswans, the top four spot is Westy's to lose. The last thing they'll want is an essential knockout game against Belswans on the final day of the regular season.

Due to wash-outs and the bye, Cessnock 19's have only played once in the last month and that was a 2-2 draw with cellar dwellers South Cardiff. Hardly a convincing result and considering they've won just one game in the last eight, they go into this one as firm outsiders. Nothing more to play for than pride but they are a team that certainly can put up a good fight on their day. Hopefully they'll show up with their best effort.

Prediction: Making the top four is never an easy thing to do but if Westy want to be there come finals, they really should be winning this one at home. They're finding some good form and rumours are that a key player may slot into the team that could really fire them up for a potential push at 3rd spot. Can see this getting ugly but will give Cessnock the benefit of the doubt. Two-nil

My Tip: West Wallsend 2-0 Cessnock City

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Under 23's:
West Wallsend (8th) v Cessnock City (5th)
Kickoff: 12:30pm
Last Time They Met: CES 0-6 WWB

It's must win football for Westy 23's on the weekend who have fallen out of contention as of late. Their only win in the last seven games was a 2-1 victory over lowly Toronto. There form has simply not been good enough and they'd be the first to admit it. The side on paper are more than capable of competing for the top four so it's a bit strange to see them sitting in 8th. Rest assured, it's time for them to really rise to the occasion.

Just like their 19's and indeed just like Westy, Cessnock have suffered the wash-out curse. They have three games in hand on 4th-placed Belswans so their fate is still firmly in their hands. Their harrowing 6-0 loss at home to Westy really clicked them into gear but their last result was a 2-1 loss to Southy. Hardly convincing but this team have set themselves up well to likely be Cessnock's only side in the playoffs.

Prediction: These clubs have developed a fair rivalry across the grades in recent years and this could be another memorable match-up. You can't say there's no pressure on Cessnock but with games in hand they can afford a loss or draw. There's pressure and then some on Westy though with their season firmly on the line. For dramatic's sake, let's hope they can keep it such an open finals race. Can very much see Cessnock winning but whatever...

My Tip: West Wallsend 2-1 Cessnock City

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1st Grade:
West Wallsend (4th) v Cessnock City (8th)
Kickoff: 2:30pm
Last Time They Met: CES 1-2 WWB

With eight teams still in contention, it seems like pretty much every 1st Grade game has something hanging on the result and for this game it is Cessnock's season. Firstly to West Wallsend who produced in midweek efforts against Kahibah and New Lambton but fell to a 1-0 loss at South Cardiff in between. With three wins and two losses in the last five, they'll probably want to try and better that just to make sure of a finals appearance.

And that is the test for the Bluebells. With five games to go, it's still in their hands but another loss  will make it very tough to ward off pressure therefore it has to be a fairly simple task of one game at a time. Their attack tuned up big-time with six goals scored against New Lambton and with the bye next weekend, this stands as a very key match-up against Cessnock. These Bluebells are poised to break the finals drought.

The situation is grim at Cessnock. Anything less than a win here and it's very much curtains for their fast-fading finals chances. It's been 16 long years since the club last graced the pitch of Semi Finals football and back then it was in the State League. The club's done well to lift themselves up this year but sitting 8th is not where they want to be. More is needed.

The key concern comes in the lack of wins for Cessnock. Just four wins in 13 games is not a good enough return for a side that had lofty expectations. On their day they can match it with most in the league but that day isn't often enough. The line is drawn in the sand for them, it's win or go home this weekend as a loss could see them closer to last place than the top four.

Prediction: West Wallsend have played in just one finals series since their last Grand Final win in 2007. The club has gone through some tough times but come through the other side and now stand on the verge of breaking a five year finals drought. Cessnock have won just one of their last six games and this could very well be the hammer blow for their hopes.

My Tip: West Wallsend 3-1 Cessnock City

Additional Tip: Bailey Maxton to continue his scoring form with one or two goals.

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Under 19's:
Cooks Hill United (2nd) v South Cardiff (11th)
Kickoff: 10:45am
Last Time They Met: SOU 0-5 CHU

The Premiership race is still alive for Cooks Hill but make no mistake, every game is must-win for them as Kahibah are six points ahead with a game in hand. No doubt the main goal is for the Cookers to finish top two and head into the finals with some confidence but as long as top spot is still not assured, they'll keep fighting for it. It was easy for them against New Lambton last week and to this point, they are the only side to really punish Southy this year. It was 5-0 in the last meeting.

Speaking of Southy, any real hope of avoiding the dreaded wooden spoon most likely went out the window when Steve Sarayeldine scored a 77th minute goal for Wallsend but Steve Blunt will have this side pumped up for a big game against a title contender. They've got pride to fight for and they've got nothing to lose. Perhaps a few more rolls of the dice similar to Aidan Kirkaldy's goal will provide some entertainment. Might as well go for it!

Prediction: The Cookers look in good form after wins over Thornton and New Lambton. Some coaches are calling them the best team in the comp ahead of Kahibah which is a credit to the improvement they've shown as the year has ticked by. Can't really see them slipping up here against what will be a fatigued Southy. Score may stretch out as the game ticks by.

My Tip: Cooks Hill United 4-1 South Cardiff

Additional Tip: 4-0 scoreline if Cameron Utiger doesn't play for Southy.

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Under 23's:
Cooks Hill United (2nd) v South Cardiff (9th)
Kickoff: 12:30pm
Last Time They Met: SOU 0-1 CHU

The word "premiership" and the words "Cooks Hill" have gone together like bread and butter over the last two years and indeed the 23's are involved in a very tight tussle with Thornton to see who can finish on top. One thing Cooks Hill has shown is a lack of luck in front of goals. Some games it just doesn't happen for them and last week's trip to New Lambton was one of those days. A 1-1 draw hurt their chances of catching the Redbacks.

Southy just like the 19's are coming off a day and half turn-around which will play a part in how this game goes. It was a cruel late equaliser they conceded on Thursday night and now they have to try and dust themselves off and go again. Cooks Hill will test them more than Wallsend so the defence will likely be tested and goalkeeper Kyle Furness will need to stay alert.

Prediction: The only way Cooks Hill don't win this is if they experience a similar outing to Kahibah and New Lambton. If they can hit the target they should have the quality to get the job done against a Southy side that pretty much watched their season fade away when Trent Milton's 80th minute goal hit the back of the net. Physical and mental fatigue will make it tough for the away side.

My Tip: Cooks Hill United 2-0 South Cardiff

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1st Grade:
Cooks Hill United (1st) v South Cardiff (5th)
Kickoff: 2:30pm
Last Time They Met: SOU 2-1 CHU

This is a very intriguing match-up looking at recent form. Potentially it's a chance to see if South Cardiff are really a contender or just making up the numbers. Cooks Hill have gone to another level in recent times and have won eight of their last nine. Even that one draw was a gutsy 2-2 effort at Belswans after being down 2-0 at half-time. They're short-priced favourites for another Premiership and indeed would be Grand Final favourites again.

The depth and quality that Cooks Hill have is what's most impressive. Other clubs can be ravaged if they lost two or three key players but this team just keep finding quality regardless of the team they put out. Players like Reid Murray, Brodie Richardson & indeed youngster Andrew Benbow are playing key roles as back-ups to the bigger names. They've won 11 straight at the AthField, not much more needs to be said.

So this week they face the challenge of South Cardiff and indeed a Gunners side that handed Cooks Hill a rare loss earlier this season. Southy's form guide is patchy at best and whilst it's not alarm bells just yet, a loss here would deliver a fair bump on their road to potential finals football.

With Cooks Hill, Singleton, Thornton and Belswans all still to face, the last set of fixtures for this team is arguably as tough as it comes. A loss here would mean they'd likely need to win three of their last five whilst a win would admittedly fire them right back into serious contention. Their midweek result against Wallsend did nothing more than highlight an under-performing defence and fairly predictable attack. Riley Taylor's late cameo was decent and if anything added a bit of pace but it was a fairly forgettable night.

Prediction: This could be any other New-FM team coming to the AthField and it'd be hard to not see Cooks Hill winning. They're a class above on current form and certainly Southy will be fatigued after tough games with Westy and Wallsend. If Cooks Hill do get ahead by a couple of goals it'll be interesting to see how Southy answer the call. They didn't react well to losing on Wednesday night...

My Tip: Cooks Hill United 4-1 South Cardiff

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Under 19's:
Belmont-Swansea (4th) v Thornton Redbacks (7th)
Kickoff: 10:45am
Last Time They Met: THO 3-3 BEL

Belswans 19's picked up their most important win of the year on Tuesday night as they downed Toronto 1-0. That result fired them up into 4th position but West Wallsend are just one point behind them with two games in hand. That makes life very difficult for this team and considering they face Westy in the final round, it could all come to a climatic ending. Safe to say, winning every game until then is paramount to their hopes.

Thornton's pre-season of promise has once again turned to a fairly forgettable campaign. Their very slow start was always going to be difficult to recover from and to their credit they have provided more highlights than some teams. As mentioned last week, 23's coach Scott Winslade has rewarded performance in the 19's with a chance to play with his top of the table team. That's enough reasoning for this team to continue putting in the good effort.

Prediction: Thornton lost to Toronto 1-0 last week whilst Belswans beat them 1-0 during the week. If that's anything to go by, it might be safe to expect a fairly tight game here with potentially only one goal in it. It's funny saying that considering it was a 3-3 draw in the last meeting. No way there'll be six goals on Saturday. Expecting one and hopefully from Belswans just to keep the finals race interesting. Sorry Redbacks!

My Tip: Belmont-Swansea 1-0 Thornton Redbacks

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Under 23's Match of the Round:
Belmont-Swansea (4th) v Thornton Redbacks (1st)
Kickoff: 12:30pm
Last Time They Met: THO 5-1 BEL

This is the "Match of the Round" in 23's but more so a chance to see exactly what this Belswans team is made of. This is a much firmer test than they faced against Kahibah and indeed Toronto during the week. They're hovering in 4th place but Cessnock are two points behind them with three games in hand. It's a game that pretty much defines their season and what their chances are if they do sneak into the finals.

Thornton were delighted with not just their 9-0 win over a depleted ten-man, and later on nine-man) Toronto side but probably even happier with Cooks Hill's 1-1 draw at New Lambton. They are now three points clear of their only title challengers with a game in hand as well. There will be a change or two to their squad but they'll go to Blacksmiths with all intentions of taking another step towards the Premiership.

Prediction: Surely Belswans will look for another option than to start Josh Rufo in his third game in a week. Yes he scored midweek but in all honesty, they looked much better going forward once youngster Liam Lucas came onto the field against Kahibah. They need to be at their very best to stand any chance and can honestly see them being found out here.

My Tip: Belmont-Swansea 1-4 Thornton Redbacks

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1st Grade Match of the Round:
Belmont-Swansea (3rd) v Thornton Redbacks (2nd)
Kickoff: 2:30pm
Last Time They Met: THO 3-0 BEL

It's Old Boys' Day at Blacksmiths and yet again it's another massive day. All three games have vital importance for the home side and all three games mean a lot in the race for finals. Only Cooks Hill have better form heading into Round 17 and it's a testament to what Belswans have established as a club in the last few years. The never say die attitude is firmly on show yet again.

Goalscoring has been a key issue for them this season but they're slowly starting to turn the tables on their differential and are averaging just over two goals a game in recent times, a far-cry from April when they went three weeks in a row without scoring. Josh Sutton's return has really bolstered their attack but before that they've been ticking boxes for the last seven weeks or so. Josh Rufo is no doubt hoping to go out with a bang at the end of the year.

Every time Thornton come into one of these games, you have to question their inexperience. Yes they have quality but they don't have experienced-quality like Chris Gazzard, Mitch Cook, Sean Matthews. Players who know how to win big games. That's their ultimate test this season and especially as they head towards finals.

Their win against Toronto last week was solid but again that isn't something to reflect where they stand as a contender. This game certainly is. They beat Belswans 3-0 earlier this season but things have changed since then. So all in all, it's a tough test for a Thornton side that is still learning how to win the big games. At the very least, this is do or die for their very, very slim Premiership hopes.

Prediction: This game could be a preview of things to come in the finals and Semi Finals-time is when Belswans go to another level. They've hit very good form as of late and have shown their depth as well which is a big positive compared to some of the other clubs in contention. Old Boys' Day is always a big one at Blacksmiths and surely they'll be fired right up to impress the men who paved the way at this proud club.

My Tip: Belmont-Swansea 3-1 Thornton Redbacks

Additional Tip: Josh Sutton to score for Belswans as he continues his impressive return.

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Under 19's:
Singleton Strikers (8th) v Kahibah FC (1st)
Kickoff: 10:45am
Last Time They Met: KAH 1-0 SIN

Singleton have probably been the best side to watch of the six teams now out of contention. Their results this year have obviously been very inconsistent but they've troubled the top teams. Cook Hill and indeed Kahibah found it very difficult to find a way past these guys. Marcus Morris man-marked Kurtis McRitchie out of the game last time and with Kahibah missing their star striker, his job may be a little easier. They have nothing to lose which makes them a dangerous prospect.

Kahibah on the other hand have become the masters of the 1-0 win (something Singleton 1st Grade know a thing or two about). They've had difficulties finding a way to goal without the aforementioned Kurtis McRitchie but their stoic defence has stood firm to the task all season long. If they do deliver Kahibah's first New-FM Grand Final appearance it'll be on the back of their backline and goalkeeper. Absolutely brilliant. 

Prediction: The defensive record of Kahibah means that they don't have a lot of pressure to score goals. One goal has been enough a few times in recent games and this is a team that lead very well from the front. Last week was shaky against Belswans and it's safe to expect Singleton to come out firing. The main clash here won't be McRitchie v Morris, it'll be a the opposite end, Stuchbury v Clare. That's where the game will be won.

My Tip: Singleton Strikers 0-1 Kahibah FC

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Under 23's:
Singleton Strikers (10th) v Kahibah FC (7th)
Kickoff: 12:30pm
Last Time They Met: KAH 3-1 SIN

It's put up or shut up time for Kahibah as they put their 23's season on the line at Singleton. Firstly to the Strikers who have largely been a disappointment this season. They have shown "some" improvement. They're no longer conceding goals aplenty each week and you have to give credit to a guy like Ryan Guihot in goals. A club legend who just keeps showing up every single week and lifts himself up when he's down. There's a positive for this team and an inspiration point for the younger brigade at Singleton. Put the effort in through thick and thin.

Kahibah should be sitting in 5th position if not for the player eligibility issue but that aside they only had themselves to blame for the 1-1 draw with Belswans last weekend. Not even the help of last year's 23's top scorer Asher Beasley (before departing on a vacation) could guide them to a victory and now the pressure is growing. This is pretty much a must-win game for them.

Prediction: It's pretty simple. If you want to play finals football you have to beat teams sitting in 10th that have a goal differential of -38 and just six points all season. If Kahibah can't get the three points then feel free to draw a line through them in the finals race. Must-win football.

My Tip: Singleton Strikers 1-3 Kahibah FC

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1st Grade:
Singleton Strikers (7th) v Kahibah FC (9th)
Kickoff: 2:30pm
Last Time They Met: KAH 2-3 SIN

Newysports will be at Howe Park to give our friends from Singleton one last visit for the season and ultimately that's what this will be if they fail to win this game. Their Semi Finals hopes have faded in recent times and this game is essentially do or die for their season. With an extra game played, it's simple for them. Sit four points clear for Round 22 or face a nervous wait. At this stage they may not even get back into the top four!

Goal-scoring is a key issue. Apart from their wins over bottom three sides Kahibah, New Lambton and Toronto, they have scored more than one goal on just the single occasion and that is simply not good enough for a team that want to break a 14-year finals drought. They're facing a very out of form Kahibah side on the weekend so anything less than a win would be a hammer blow to their hopes.

As for Kahibah, it's quiet difficult to come up with two paragraphs. It was a slow start to the year, then turned into a slow month or two and even when they looked like turning a corner with the win at Thornton Park, it's just continued. It's got to a point where the side have just accepted they're not good enough to compete with the higher-ranked teams.

Even their strong-suit in recent years, their defence has absolutely crumbled at times. Heath Kepreotes returned last week as well as Matt Lee to fullback but they were still soundly beaten 3-0 by a ten-man Belswans. Andre Gumprecht and Mat Moncrieff has not surprisingly turned their attention to next season. The best news of all is that there may be some potential infrastructure improvements at a very "less than ideal" Kahibah Oval.

Prediction: One or two key Kahibah players have seemed to have lost all interest or at least haven't been putting in 110% each week. Their season is a total write-off and all the pressure here is with Singleton. The Strikers have an away trip to Thornton next week so no doubt this is a must-win game. Kahibah aren't a gimme three points but they didn't look all that flash against Belswans last week.

My Tip: Singleton Strikers 1-0 Kahibah FC

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Under 19's:
Toronto-Awaba (3rd) v New Lambton (6th)
Kickoff: 10:45am
Last Time They Met: NLE 0-1 TAW

Tuesday night saw a rarity as Toronto lost to a team below them on the table. Their strong point has been their consistent against the teams outside the top four but Belswans grabbed a 1-0 win on the night. Hardly a reason to hit the panic button but that loss did probably kill off their chances of pipping Cooks Hill into the top two. They'll look to get right back to winning form as finals football gets closer and closer.

New Lambton's performance last week was a new low for their season but on reflection, if they win this and beat Belswans next weekend, then maybe just maybe they might claw their way back to life. They'd realistically have to win six from six to finish the year and hope that teams above drop a game or two along the way. That said, above all else, they need to show a performance lift because last week was unacceptable.

Prediction: Mathematics aside, New Lambton look gone and as result it's hard to see anything but a Toronto win in this one. The question is can Toronto go one further and bang more than one or two in. Their goalscoring form has dried up a little bit at times and they'll be hoping to use the remaining games to tune into their top form.

My Tip: Toronto-Awaba 2-0 New Lambton

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Under 23's:
Toronto-Awaba (11th) v New Lambton (6th)
Kickoff: 12:30pm
Last Time They Met: NLE 5-2 TAW

The bare-bones Toronto 23's side has looked more like a 19's side with three or four older heads. Understandably 19's coach Shaun Paterson (one of the few that still gives it all for the 23's) has grown frustrated with his players being ravaged by two games every week. As a result, the midweek game saw multiple 1st Graders "play down" to make the numbers. Nick Roberts, Connor Thorpe, both Mackay brothers and most notably, the Head Coach Blake Glennie who stepped into goals. It's a bad situation and fortunately the end of the season is getting closer.

New Lambton enter this must-win fixture on the back of two draws with West Wallsend and Cooks Hill. Coach Paul McGuinness was happy to be just playing again after multiple wash-outs but now attention turns to pushing for the finals. Draws simply aren't going to be enough for them so the time is now for them to step up to the next level. Will be interesting to see if any 1st Graders try to make eligibility for the finals.

Prediction: That last point on New Lambton is key. Some sides have "stacked" their 23's in the past once 1st Grade's chances were dead and buried. It wouldn't be a bad idea in this reporter's opinion but it all depends on what Jim Foley wants to do. A 1st Grader or two certainly would help boost the 23's chances. Even with their regular squad, they should be more than capable of brushing aside this depleted Toronto side.

My Tip: Toronto-Awaba 1-4 New Lambton

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1st Grade:
Toronto-Awaba (11th) v New Lambton (10th)
Kickoff: 2:30pm
Last Time They Met: NLE 5-4 TAW

Well what can you say about a bottom of the table clash? Surprisingly it was a nine-goal thriller last time these sides met so definitely anything is possible on Sunday. What is certain is that a New Lambton win will very likely conceal the Stags to another wooden spoon. Credit to Blake Glennie's side for managing to put in two better efforts against Thornton (0-3) and Belswans (1-3). Much better than the Wallsend result.

The Stags have rewarded their hard-working youngsters with chances to bide their time in 1st Grade. It was a starting 1st Grade debut for Luke Gibbons on Wednesday night as well as Declyn Ford. Arbi Watt and Will Cinello on the bench as well as Jacob Stivano who has pretty much established a routine 1st Grade spot. There are some positives at Toronto. Their 19's pulling double and sometimes triple duty is admirable.

New Lambton did manage to knock off Cessnock last week but have been put in their place so to speak by Southy (4-1), Cooks Hill (5-1) and West Wallsend (6-1). Jim Foley's side have gone through a learning curve and certainly it's more about the future rather than the now. The gaffer has a keen eye on the 23's and 19's and it's shown by Hayden Pearce's stunning promotion to starting 1st Grader as well as the likes of Broce Torrance, Dunnil Yohanes, etc getting chances from 23's.

With all that said, this is a game the Eagles will firmly believe they can win. A loss would bring them right back into a dog-fight to avoid the wooden spoon and no doubt a result isn't assured with Toronto improving in the past two outings. New Lambton need to channel the belief and quality they showed to knock off Cessnock if they stand any chance here. Complacency would be ill-afforded.

Prediction: This game really could be anything. Very doubtful it'll be a scoreless draw though so expect goals. How many goals and who for is the question and that can't really be answered. If this score prediction below is correct it's nothing more than blind luck as who could really call it. Might go a Stags win just to open the spoon race up again and have a three-horse race with New Lambton and Kahibah.

My Tip: Toronto-Awaba 3-2 New Lambton

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YOUTH GAME(s) OF THE WEEK: Considering both clubs are known for their quality youth programs, it's no surprise that all three games between Westy and New Lambton have important finals context riding on the results. Sunday's key match is in the 15's where Thornton look to prove themselves as a serious contender when they face Kahibah.

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