Thursday, 23 August 2018

PREVIEW: New-FM Semi Finals Week 2 2018

Under 19's Semi Final
Kahibah FC (1st) v Toronto-Awaba (4th)
Kickoff: 10:45am
Aggregate Score: KAH 2-0 TAW

Of the three ties this Saturday, this is the one that is under the biggest cloud of doubt. Kahibah have won 20 of 21 matches this season and have a massive six clean sheets in a row. Add to this, they've conceded just three goals in their last fourteen fixtures and it's safe to expect another defensive-focused display from the Premiers. Just once have they conceded more than once in a lone game and ironically it was against Toronto.

To play like they did in the first half last weekend and still manage to come away with a 2-0 win shows their resolve. Their defence had one or two lapses last week which is rare but they had their blushes saved by Brady McRitchie in goal. A brilliant save in the first half set the scene for their ascendancy as the game went on. The biggest question for them is will this weekend see the return of Kurtis McRitchie after a notable omission last week.

Toronto's certainly not done for just yet but the odds are firmly stacked against them. They need to find what got them the 4-1 win at the AthField two weeks ago and produce it again but this isn't against a defensively-woeful Cooks Hill side. Kahibah are defensively the best team in the competition in 19's, 23's and 1st Grade. 14 times teams have failed to find a way past them out of 21 games this season.

For the Stags, it's not just about scoring goals, they cannot afford to leak anymore. One or two defensive lapses proved ever so costly last weekend and that won't bring you any glory in finals football. They looked like they were really missing one of their key playmakers in Sam Lynch as their go-forward was just a little bit off at times. Their energy and belief was high and needs to be through the roof if they stand any chance here.

Prediction: The Stags put up a good fight in the First Leg but now they have to find a way to produce goals. Kahibah's torrid Semi Final curse is looking like it may be lifted but the 1st Graders lost it all from this exact position a year ago. A comeback in this would possibly be Toronto's greatest moment in a decade and that's in any grades. The club need a good story but hard to see this chapter not ending on Saturday.

My Tip: Kahibah FC 2-0 Toronto-Awaba (Kahibah 4-0 Aggregate) *5-0 AGG

**Update: The main preview was written on Tuesday but it's now been revealed Toronto have been handed a 3-0 1st Leg loss. That is a result of a player that took to the park without serving a suspension. It's incredibly disappointing once again for these players that something like this has happened.


Under 23's Semi Final:
Thornton Redbacks (1st) v New Lambton (4th)
Kickoff: 12:30pm
Aggregate: THO 2-1 NLE

This Semi Final was turned on its head a couple of times last weekend. The first saw Blake McDonnell cough up the ball under the pressure and the Thornton keeper quiet literally hand a chance to Liam Watson. Then the free kick and then of course Harry Callen's own goal. It's still all to be played for but certainly the Redbacks hold the advantage after the first clash.

Thornton by their standards were very lacklustre particularly in the first half last weekend. They of course lost Brock Lewsam to a red card but did enough to hold on for a win. Not anything to celebrate too hard and certainly their efforts this weekend will likely be a bit more refined. The job is far from done and they need to be switched on from the get-go this Sunday. Anything can happen in finals and Scott Winslade will have his team aware.

New Lambton proved what finals football can be about last year when the 19's came from nowhere to win it all. The club's best hopes of silverware this season are most likely in the 17's but the 23's are still alive in this tie and the last thing they'll do is surrender. That said, it is absolutely paramount that they score the first goal in this fixture or it could be all over for them.

The key fault of theirs last weekend was their defending on set-pieces. Twice they came undone from free-kicks so that'll be something they try to correct here. Again it's a tough situation as they need to attack but they can't afford to let any in. The likes of Liam Watson, Luke Homer and Dunnil Yohanes need to find a way to combine a bit better. It can be done but it'll take some doing.

Prediction: The Redbacks won't have Brock Lewsam but his role could be covered by a few names. Jesse Smith seems to be a likely choice and definitely Thornton won't be worried too much in that department. Their attack lacked a little bit last weekend and if they can fire it'll be a Grand Final appearance next week for them. Based on what was seen last weekend and knowing Thornton should improve on it, hard to see it not being a win.

My Tip: Thornton Redbacks 2-1 New Lambton (Thornton 4-1 Aggregate)


1st Grade Semi Final
Cooks Hill United (1st) v Belmont-Swansea (4th)
Kickoff: 2:30pm
Aggregate: CHU 1-1 BEL

Depending on who you ask at Cooks Hill, the game last weekend at times resembled more Mortal Kombat than it did football. It was a tough old game at a windy Blacksmiths and judging by the weather forecast, it'll likely be a wet weekend which plays into Belswans' favour a bit more. They killed Kahibah off last season with their confidence in horrendously windy conditions.

As for the Cookers, there was some worry around their skipper Daniel Johnson who was injured in a challenge that earned Klaudon Ahmataj a yellow card late in the first half. Even though their depth is strong, he would be a big out for the club if he can't recover for this one. They weren't happy with the physical treatment they got last weekend but they have to retain their core focus and that is another Grand Final appearance.

It's safe to say Cooks Hill lacked a little bit compared to their usual scoring form last weekend and at the AthField they'll look to return to that form. That said the pitch isn't going to help them but they know the ground well and given they scored 13 goals on it two weeks ago, they know how to find the back of the net at the AthField. They got 28 out of 30 points possible at the ground this year and haven't lost a league game there in the last 17.

From where Belswans were just a few seasons ago to where they are now is a testament to all at the club who have worked very hard at boosting their image and attempting to bring the glory days back. After two heartbreaking Grand Final losses, they are extremely determined to end a drought that dates back to 1986. This team is their best chance of winning it all.

What Belswans did last season at Kahibah Oval will live long in their club history but to come to the AthField and knock the double Premiers and reigning Champions off their perch would be perhaps their greatest moment in three decades. Because there's no doubt Belswans would enter the Grand Final as the favourites if they were to get the job done on Saturday.

It's obvious that the team aren't going to try and "out-football" Cooks Hill. This will be more a mental battle than anything else. When Southy came to the AthField and almost won a few weeks ago, it was all about them being in the face of the competition heavyweights and forcing them off their game. Experience and will is evident in this squad but they need more here. This needs to be a gritty display and defensively-focused. They will not be able to overcome the Cookers in a goal-fest. It needs to stay tight.

Prediction: There needs to be more from the Belswans attack. It would not surprise to see Josh Sutton handed a start as really they need him out there. It's potentially worth the risk injury-wise as it's make or break this game. But when it comes down to it, Cooks Hill are by far the best footballing side in this league and it's probable we'll see that eventuate at the AthField.

My Tip: Cooks Hill United 3-1 Belmont-Swansea (CHU 4-2 Aggregate)



Under 19's Semi Final:
Cooks Hill United (2nd) v West Wallsend (3rd)
Kickoff: 10:45am
Aggregate: CHU 1-4 WWB

Alas the other Semi Finals are all mostly well-alive but this one is seemingly dead and buried. Cooks Hill were nothing short of embarrassed in the 1st Leg as West Wallsend ran riot at Johnston Park. Even when the Cookers scored to claw back to 2-1 and Westy went down to ten men straight after, they still managed to fall further into what looks a big hole to get out of.

Where did it all go wrong for the Cookers? Again like the Toronto-Awaba game apparently was, it was poor defending and shaky goalkeeping. They well and truly were found out last weekend and it's incredibly hard to see them holding Westy out here. The fact they conceded twice after Westy's red card is probably the most scathing part of the whole assessment.

Last Saturday was just a torrid old time for the Cookers 19's. They started poorly and that trend continued apart from one or two decent periods of attack. The substitutions of Will Dundas and in particular Dimitri Patsan were a misjudgement. Perhaps their two best players gone and their replacements making errors that lead to Westy's 4th. A horror day at the office and a miracle needed now.

Whilst Cooks Hill were terrible last weekend, you can't undersell West Wallsend. The Bluebells were right up for the game and worked their way to every loose ball and just showed energy and belief levels that blew the opposition out of the water. Despite that, Westy still have petrol in the tank. They weren't at their best last weekend and that is a scary prospect for the already rattled Cookers.

Josh Knight's suspension is over and it's uncertain yet whether he'll start but if he does it just adds another big element to what is already looking a near-impossible task for the Cookers. That said, they don't really need him out there. Steve Thomson may prefer to keep Knighty out and unleash him for what looks a likely Grand Final. Either way, it's a good selection headache to have.

Westy were the only team to sing a victory song last weekend but they'll be very much grounded heading into this fixture. With Thommo as coach, the players will have it banged into their heads that the job is only half done. There is no room for complacency and really if anything Westy will be hungry for more. They'll want to do it all again and really blow the aggregate score out.

Prediction: This would be the greatest New-FM comeback since Lakes were stunned by Wallsend in 2015. Although that time it was only 3-1 in the 1st Leg. Westy's defence had been a potential weak-point heading into the finals but they stepped up last weekend and barring a disaster, they should be going through. Whether or not the Bluebells look to add further pain is the question.

My Tip: Cooks Hill United 2-4 West Wallsend (WWB 8-3 Aggregate)


Under 23's Semi Final:
Cessnock City (2nd) v Cooks Hill United (3rd)
Kickoff: 12:30pm
Aggregate: CES 1-2 CHU

Just like the 19's, the lower-ranked team were victorious here but this is a much-closer affair after the first leg and that is definitely a surprise given the catalogue of chances Cooks Hill had late in the game. Mat Zechel was kept very busy and there's no question Cessnock rode their luck a little bit to keep the deficit at just one. Now the tough questions are asked about this Hornets side.

The Hornets were quiet lacklustre in attack compared to their top form and they really do need to find their better football to stand a chance of turning this around. Without many clean sheets this year, it's key they find a way to the back of the net multiple times. A 1-0 win would see them through on away goals so it's not a huge mountain they have to climb back it'll take close to their best football.

Cooks Hill finally put a pretty forgettable month behind them but they too will be feeling a little disappointed after the 1st Leg. They'll feel as though 2-1 was perhaps a little less than what they were aiming for. Some misses chances stacked up on the day whereas they could have gone on with it and headed into this week full of confidence. That said, they know it's firmly in their control.

Kazu was their livewire last weekend and looks to be the player to watch for but even off the bench they have some quality like Reid Murray. Emerson Augey's injury woes will be a worry and without a doubt they missed their goalkeeper Adam Gunster as a leader and rock at the back. If they produce their best they'll likely go through but they need to be wary of a Hornets side that have nothing to lose. 

Prediction: It maybe didn't feel like it on the day but looking back at the highlights, it's safe to say Cessnock were borderline dominated by Cooks Hill in terms of chances created last week. The Hornets must find a way to test the Cookers at the back. They pounced with one or their few chances last week but it needs to be close to Cessnock's best to progress. That said, Cooks Hill to finish the job.

My Tip: Cessnock City 0-2 Cooks Hill United (CHU 3-1 Aggregate)


1st Grade Semi Final
Thornton Redbacks (2nd) v West Wallsend (3rd)
Kickoff: 2:30pm
Aggregate: WWB 1-1 THO

Whilst it was the same scoreline at Johnston Park, this game was a little bit different to the Belswans v Cooks Hill result. There weren't as many clear chances in this game and definitely not as much foul play. That said, Westy had to fight on with ten men after Bailey Maxton rather stupidly got himself sent off for kicking the ball away after a foul on halfway. He'll know he let his team down but to their credit they didn't let it affect their chances.

Neither team looked like they wanted to risk it all late in that 1st Leg but definitely there needs to be a winner through whatever method this weekend and it's tough to tell who that may be because these teams are so evenly matched. Thornton came away with the advantage on away goals so they're in the box seat but they were tested in the second half last weekend.

James Wand produced a couple of very handy saves on the day and the keeper looks to be at or near his best level at the moment. But at the other end Jesse Cook is just as reliable so again it's an area where the teams cancel each other out. Thornton's passing game may just edge it but in reality these teams are incredibly even across the park. Make no mistake, this Sunday is the biggest home game Thornton have played. 22 years they've been in the league and they've never made the big one. This is potentially their moment.

West Wallsend's return to the finals took off on very shaky terms as a poor turnover from Sam Holt handed Jye MacKellar the chance to smash home the opener just seven minutes in. Holt redeemed himself by scoring the equaliser for the Bluebells and it was a very memorable day as the entire West Wallsend community got right behind their local football club. Excellent work by all involved last Sunday.

Now onto the pressing issue and that is the question, can West Wallsend make their first Grand Final in eleven long years? They certainly created some chances last weekend and they'll head to Thornton Park knowing that away goals will be on their side. After losing 6-1 at Thornton earlier this year, they've managed to improve each time they've faced them. First a 2-0 loss and now a 1-1 draw. Now it's time for the next step.

Westy probably expected to out-enthuse Thornton last weekend but the Redbacks stood firm at a fairly hostile Johnston Park. Now the tables turn and Westy have to get something from a ground where they typically do not travel well. The last time Westy won at Thornton was in 2013 when they last played finals. Perhaps an omen but just like Thornton there is history to be made for the Bluebells.

Prediction: This is a lot tougher to call than the CHU v Belswans game. These teams are so equal on paper and it really showed last weekend. The prospect of extra time is high as a 1-1 draw wouldn't surprise but ultimately at the end of the day, only one team can progress and Newysports continues to believe that team will be West Wallsend.

My Tip: Thornton Redbacks 2-2 West Wallsend (Westy 3-3 Aggregate *Away Goals)



*Southy 0-0 New Lambton 15's in 2nd Match

Under 14's Semi Final:
Kahibah FC (2nd) v Cooks Hill United (3rd)
Kickoff: 10:00am

Firstly a credit to Alex Evans and the Kahibah team for getting this far in the competition and indeed credit for doing what is right and putting outfielders in goal to cover for the injured Christian Casitovski. Tom Bailey & Kye Brock are their key goalscorers but Robbie Flick has been in form and his size plays to his advantage. A very good side and will be looking to create some history for Kahibah.

Cooks Hill's form has been a little patchy with losses against Wallsend and namely Kahibah so they have to overcome that mental hurdle but this one-off Semi Final is a new step for these players. Josh Moore, Ben Sommer & Alex Lodge are their top goalscorers and thus the ones to watch for and they'll look to test Kahibah's fill-in keeper.

Prediction: Kahibah have the advantage after beating the Cookers not too long ago. It'll be a tough ask but think the Green and Blacks will get the job done.

My Tip: Kahibah FC 2-1 Cooks Hill United


Under 15's Semi Final:
South Cardiff (2nd) v New Lambton (3rd)
Kickoff: 11:30am

Newysports is not getting into the huge debate back and forth about the 15's and in particular Southy and Kahibah and the coaching issues. What is true is that Stuart Prince has done a fantastic job with this Southy side and they are the club's best performing team in 2018. The Gunners don't have a clear stand-out goalscorer but across the park have a very talented squad, although one which hasn't beat New Lambton this year.

The Eagles played Southy just last weekend and on a tough Alder Park pitch and a windy day the teams weren't able to be split in a scoreless affair. New Lambton's main goalscorer is Kyle Beveridge but Brandon Bush has been handy in attack as well. Both sides have two decent goalkeepers so it should be quiet an even match-up for the Semi Final.

Prediction: Newysports did catch about 20 minutes of their earlier meeting at Ulinga Oval which preceded a 1st Grade match. More impressed with New Lambton on the night but can't go past Southy.

My Tip: South Cardiff 2-1 New Lambton


Under 17's Semi Final
New Lambton (2nd) v West Wallsend (3rd)
Kickoff: 1:00pm

Another brilliant Semi Finals lined up in the 17's and once again it sees New Lambton meet West Wallsend. Lots have changed since their clash last season but it's likely to be an even more entertaining affair this time round. The Eagles under Nic Pepper have excelled over the last two seasons and Newysports is looking forward to when some of these players may take the field in 1st Grade at the club because the long-term future is bright.

West Wallsend 17's have been quality for a few years and again it's been good work from Gary Ellis and co. guiding this team to some more success. They had some bumps along the way this year but have found extremely impressive form as of late and that includes a 3-0 win over their opponents this weekend. Lots of 15's GF winners from last year in the squad so they know how to win big games.

Prediction: Despite the ladder positions, Newysports likes the chances of a Westy win in this Semi Final.

My Tip: New Lambton 1-3 West Wallsend



Under 14's Semi Final:
Wallsend FC (1st) v West Wallsend (4th)
Kickoff: 10:00am

Wallsend have had a near perfect season in the Under 14's and they have done an extremely good job in a mostly forgettable season for the club's NL1 ranks. 98 goals in 20 games is a huge total and they are in brilliant form apart from a loss to West Wallsend not too long ago. Their key man is Bailey Ryan who has more goals than Westy accumulated points this year. 42 goals and counting.

Westy 14's are a young and determined side led well by Brad Andrews and they have picked up that Bluebell spirit that seeps through their youth ranks better than perhaps any other club. They have a few players who can strike and they have the 14's best goalkeeper in Riley McFarlane. Defensively they have to be strong in a do-or-die Semi Final. A win here would mean Westy have played in five of the six Grand Finals in recent years, all bar 1st Grade! 

Prediction: It'd be quiet bold to tip against the free-scoring Red Devils. Finals football is always unpredictable so it's not a given but feel as though they'll get it done.

My Tip: Wallsend FC 3-1 West Wallsend


Under 15's Semi Final:
Kahibah FC (1st) v West Wallsend (4th)
Kickoff: 11:30am

Perhaps the most talked-about New-FM 15's game in history and unfortunately all for the wrong reasons. Northern's ruling has put Kahibah in a tight spot and it's expected the coaching staff will play 17's keeper Ethan Zek in goals. And it sucks because it will bring a asterisk to this potential victory and it's hard not to feel for this brilliant Kahibah side. The Premiers will look to go on with their business and put all this other garbage aside.

West Wallsend were beaten by Kahibah last time they met and Newysports was there to see it but the Bluebells too are a very talented side and have won seven on the bounce to propel themselves into form. Ryan Chandler's return has been great for them and he missed the Kahibah game last time. Possibly he may be the key for them. They've got nothing to lose and everything to gain so they'll be itching to take to the park.

Prediction: Kahibah have been ravaged by injury but have stood defiant every step of the way. No reason to see that stopping now, regardless of who they put in goals. Defence wins championships and they can definitely go the distance.

My Tip: Kahibah FC 1-0 West Wallsend


Under 17's Semi Final
Cooks Hill United (1st) v Kahibah FC (4th)
Kickoff: 1:00pm

This is an intriguing match up but it may very well be the easiest to call. Cooks Hill 17's have been fantastic this season and there's no doubt that Bruce O'Donnell is the best coach the club have who's name doesn't have Law in it. A Championship, a premiership and now the chance to win the big one again. A lot of talent (Benbow, Poslon, Moir, could go on with it). Across the park they are a talented group and the future is bright for them at the club (if they don't get pouched!)

Kahibah also have a decent squad but consistency has let them down this year. Mat Moncrieff's team have lost both games 3-1 to the Cookers which doesn't bode well for their chances. They'll no doubt like the underdog tag but to go to the AthField and knock off the Premiers would take some doing. All that said, this team have a 50/50 chance of playing in a Grand Final. They're out there to get the job done.

Prediction: This on paper looks the easiest to call but said that before and been proven wrong. Cooks Hill a very talented side and expecting it to shine through. Conditions (poor pitch + rain) might not allow the best game.

My Tip: Cooks Hill United 2-0 Kahibah FC



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