By Tim Klingbiel
The Victory had a titanic task ahead of them as they travelled to Ayrshire Park to face the immensely talented Boambee Eagles 1 side, who boasted a 100% record with their narrowest margin being a 5-1 away win over Raiders 1. Bellingen’s coaching staff had full respect for the disparity in experience and skill they were up against, though, and manager Deb Baigent said that the majority of their training in the lead up was focused around defensive drills to prepare the backline for the pace and physicality within the Eagles ranks.
Boambee started strongly and attacked from kick off, but the Bello girls were resolute in defence and showed great determination in the opening few minutes. Midfielders Lauren Rigney and Jordy Guest performed well to break up play and slow the progress of the powerful Eagles, and keeper Ella Jandzio-Fry pulled off a few good saves to offer some resistance. Boambee won a corner in the 9th minute and the Victory had committed most of their players to defence, but some slightly hasty tackling attempts meant the Eagles snuck through and buried their first.
Some swift play from the Eagles followed and it wasn’t long before they had another two to make the advantage 3-0. Bello continued to run non-stop though, and refused to go away quietly. They were all playing to the best of their ability and some quality headers and clearances from defender Sarah Ludwig as well as some great pressure from Lilli Mosco-Klipin and Hannah Watt made life tough for their opponents, who went through a patch of around 10 minutes where they were skewing a lot of shots and failing to find attacking fluency.
The waves of Eagles attacks were too much for even the best defensive efforts of the Victory to stave off forever though, and another flurry of four goals took the score to 7-0 after 32 minutes of play. Guest continued to cover every blade of grass on the pitch and Ludwig remained a paragon of resolute defending, and another string of stoic play from Bellingen allowed them to keep the home side from increasing their tally before the break.
The Eagles were able to relax into a rhythm in the second half and Baigent said some of their set plays were ‘beautiful to watch’, incorporating all players as they moved the ball around nicely. They scored another ten without reply to leave the final score at 17-0, but to the credit of all of the Victory squad, they held their structure and fought to the finish. The less experienced players were undaunted by the difference in skill level and refused to go down without a fight, continuing to chase hard and attack the ball.
Baigent gave special mention to the dedication of the travelling crew of Victory supporters as well as the Eagles, who played the game in the right spirit, and the referees and linesmen who displayed their commitment to the game on ‘Silent Saturday’. Bellingen will travel to the Cabbage Patch this weekend to take on the Urunga Raiders ‘2’ girls in another tough fixture, but one where the margin will hopefully be much closer.
Eagles ‘2’ had performed well against Orara to collect a 3-1 win at Dairyville, and faced another ‘1’ team in round 7 as they hosted the top Woolgoolga Wildcats side. Coach Fiona Clancy said that the team’s philosophy when playing any of the ‘1’ teams is to stick to their own game and use the match as an opportunity to improve. A solid warmup had Eagles ‘2’ looking up for the task and ready to tackle a difficult 90 minute assignment.
A number of Eagles squad members returned this week from injury and they had the luxury of being able to name a bench of some note for the first time in the season. Keeper Hannah Clift-Wilson, defenders Hannah Steele, Jessica Evans, Roxanne Gray, Melissa Shaw and Clancy herself, midfielders Ella Shaw, Michaela Atkins, Anna Creighton, Jordan Ward and Isabella Popescu and forwards Kath Vail, Kahla Craig and Bree Rooney made up the matchday squad.
A positive start for the ‘2’s saw them moving the ball around the park well, with some crisp interchanges between midfield and attack yielding a few half chances. The first half was an arm wrestle that saw Clancy’s troops going very much blow for blow with their more fancied opponents, and momentum shifted back and forth throughout. Both teams were playing solid football, and the spectators were brought to their feet when a great strike from the ever reliant Vail looked goalbound until it clanged into the crossbar.
The teams remained scoreless at the break and it was evident that this one wasn’t going to be a high scorer, with clear cut goalscoring opportunities at a premium. The second half saw little variance in the actual style of football on display, as both teams continued passing well and attacking the ball with intent. The dependable Steele was a rock in defence for the Eagles and kept things tight at the back, and there was no shortage of Woopi attacks for her and her partners to deal with.
Though the Wildcats made them work for every second of the 90 minutes, the Eagles ultimately came away from the encounter with a point against much more fancied opposition in a 0-0 draw. Clancy was delighted with the way her charges continued to press throughout and never took a backward step. She was also impressed with the way they held their shape, and lauded their crisp and organised passing game. Opposition coach Kim Batty was full of praise for keeper Hannah Clift-Wilson, who turned on an inspired performance with the gloves and who Batty dubbed one of the competition’s strongest goalkeepers.
Clancy’s ladies have the bye this weekend but have impressed thus far in the competition, punching above their weight and sitting only three points outside the top four after seven games played. An unlikely finals push is still an outside possibility in the difficult-to-negotiate combined competition, and those around the traps at Ayrshire Park have a lot to be proud of from their ‘2’s who are proving themselves very worthy adversaries for the top teams.
Eagles ‘1’ took on Bellingen Victory in what seemed on paper to be quite a mismatch in terms of skill and experience – one of the disappointing realities of the combined competition structure. Manager John Walker said the girls started slowly but once they broke the floodgates through Siobhan Deam in the 9th minute, it was business as usual for the competition leaders. A Rebekah Oberleuter strike in the following minute paved the way for three consecutive Kylie McDonald strikes midway through the half to seal an early hat trick for her. Keira Plumbe and Kath Vail, coming off the bench after having put in a shift for the ‘2’s earlier in the afternoon, got in on the act too, and by half time it was 7-0.
‘2’s goalkeeper Hannah Clift-Wilson was given a chance to gain some experience in the top side, and was brought in between the sticks to replace regular keeper Di Walker, who had a run on the field in the second half. Scoring throughout the second half was spread amongst the Eagles players, who were able to produce a further ten goals to blow the margin out to 17-0 by full time. The elder Walker said the young and inexperienced Bellingen side showed courage against a much stronger opposition, but too often held back in defence and were victims of a degree of timidity in their general play.
Eagles ‘1’ make the very short trip to Toormina this weekend to take on Sawtell Scorpions in what was once a close local rivalry but now shapes as something of a formality in terms of the result before a ball has been kicked. Nonetheless, anything can happen in football, and the Boambee girls would do well to prevent any complacency from creeping into their game to ensure they preserve their 100% record for the season and take another step towards a fifth consecutive Premiership.
Coffs City United Lionesses
The Lionesses kept up the excellent momentum they have displayed in recent weeks to secure an invaluable 2-1 victory over Urunga Raiders ‘2’ at Forsyth Park. Such is the head of steam these girls have built up that they now lie outside the top four only on goal difference and are somewhat surprisingly only three points behind last year’s 1st Division grand finalists Woolgoolga Wildcats ‘1’ having played the same number of games.
The Lionesses will stay home for another week as they host the Nambucca Strikers in what should be another closely contested fixture. Another three points this weekend would really start to set tongues wagging in the local footballing community and show the rest of the competition that they really need to sit up and take notice of the potential within this crop of Coffs girls.
The Breakers suffered another loss on the weekend, this time at home to Orara Valley Dingoes, but their margins of defeat have improved over the last five consecutive games and the real headline from Saturday afternoon’s fixture was their first goal scored for 2018. Perhaps now that they have finally gotten the goalscoring monkey off their back, the first point of the season will come next.
The girls from Corindi are continuing to make progress and they host a Macksville side this weekend who will provide another tough test to see where they are at in the competition’s status quo. The most positive takeaway for coach Donna Smith and the rest of the brains trust at Pacific Street will be that the yellow and purple are now looking more competitive within games, and they certainly should hold their heads high in a tough and open competition with more speed bumps to negotiate than ever before.
The Stingers had suffered a late defeat against Coffs United that may well have shaken the confidence of a lesser group of ladies, but this squad are built tough and have tasted success before. They understand the resilience required to pick up results in this competition and travelled to Coronation Park for the local derby against Nambucca Strikers full of enthusiasm.
A hand injury to regular Stingers custodian Kate Single in the warmup meant the brave and always game Sarah Mander took the gloves once again. Macksville started with attacking verve and within the first five minutes had gone one up through Lilly Borg. In a back and forth first half, the home side managed to conjure an equaliser courtesy of a hotly contested penalty decision, but a mere five minutes afterwards, Borg had restored the Stingers’ advantage and sealed her brace with a curler. In the dying minutes of the first half, Paige Ussher doubled the advantage and took the score out to 3-1.
It was all happening at the ‘Corroseum’ and Heads were definitely not going to die wondering. Both sides were neck and neck throughout the second stanza, and with 15 minutes on the clock the Strikers were able to halve the deficit. It was a nervy final quarter hour and Stingers manager Deb Turner readily admitted the result could have gone either way, with chances falling to both teams. Ultimately, the girls in red were able to hold out and capture a famous 3-2 derby victory.
Turner praised the ‘awesome’ effort from stand-in keeper Mander, who was instrumental in securing the three points. The result sees the Stingers close the gap on their southern counterparts to three points, and having picked up their second win of the season, they will finally feel they have a bit of momentum on their side. They travel up the highway this weekend to face Corindi Breakers, and will feel confident of being able to secure consecutive victories for the first time in 2018, in what should be another close game.
The Strikers had put together back to back 1-0 victories off the back of a resolute defence, outstanding goalkeeping and opportunistic finishing from in form 17-year-old striker Charlotte Williams, who has already demonstrated a knack of popping up at key moments to provide a decisive contribution and has scored winners two weeks in a row. The Nambucca girls would have to do this one without their heroic number 1 Carly Smith, however, as an injury meant that winger Keily Chase was forced to take up the gloves
They faced a fired up Macksville side desperate to atone for a late 2-0 defeat to Coffs United the previous week, in what shaped as a highly entertaining southern derby. The game was full of momentum swings and the upper hand swapped between both sides with regularity. An early blow from Macksville put the Strikers on the back foot, but a dubious penalty – converted confidently by Anna Champion – gifted them a way back into the contest. Parity was fleeting, however, as Macksville recaptured the lead within five minutes.
Chase came out to collect the ball but was crunched in a fair but robust challenge, and was forced off. The Strikers were now down to their third string keeper and not looking the best as far as squad depth was concerned. The afternoon got even worse as they conceded a third before half time to go into the break two down and with a mountain to climb. Coach Clay Urquhart observed that they were creating more than enough chances to be on level terms at the very least, but the crucial finishing touch had eluded them.
The second half was a genuine arm wrestle but the Strikers refused to drop their heads and kept the pressure up. Finally, at around the 70th minute, Heads found a goal to close the gap – Emily Lane pounced on a free ball in the box to convert her first for the season. It was the Strikers’ second goal from a corner in consecutive weeks and set the scene for a frantic final 20 minutes.
The Nambucca girls threw the kitchen sink at their opponents in the game’s dying stages and released third-string keeper Brea Welsh up the park to try and find an equaliser – meaning they were now down to their fourth choice option between the sticks. Frustratingly for the home crowd, they could not find the final breakthrough and were consigned to a razor-thin 3-2 defeat.
Urquhart said that it was a ‘cracking match played in great spirits by both teams’. He and his squad will be exceptionally determined to make amends this weekend as they travel to McLean Street to take on an in-form Coffs United side. It shapes as another tough fixture that should be decided by the finest of margins and should be an excellent spectacle for both the partisan and the neutral.
Orara Valley Dingoes
A tough loss against Boambee Eagles ‘2’ at Dairyville saw the Dingoes with parity at halftime but dwindling stamina late on in the heat of the afternoon saw them concede two to go down 3-1. They went into the weekend’s away game against the winless Corindi Breakers with a still respectable points total of seven from six games, but were looking to reverse their recent fortunes and get back into the winners’ circle.
That they did, as they came away from Pacific Street with an important 3-1 victory that elevates them to 7th spot on the table and, rather improbably, just three points outside the top four despite their eye-watering -28 goal difference. Most of that arose from just two heavy defeats, against Urunga Raiders ‘1’ and Boambee Eagles ‘1’, as none of their other defeats have come by a margin greater than two goals.
This weekend sees them assigned a tough fixture in the form of Woolgoolga Wildcats ‘2’, and they will need to use every bit of home advantage they can muster to collect a result. It’s certainly not out of reach though, as they have thus far shown themselves adroit at dealing with 2nd Division opposition and have put themselves in with a shot at a decent table finish in 2018.
Sawtell had been involved in two tight games in rounds 5 and 6, with a pulsating 2-2 draw with Bellingen Victory and a narrow 1-0 loss to Nambucca Strikers unfortunately not yielding the all important points to progress their campaign and move them up the ladder. Nonetheless, Rachael Oberleuter’s side were continuing to show improvement week to week and have been faring relatively well against the 2nd Division sides.
The established 1st Division outfits, however, are an altogether different proposition. The Scorpions took on Raiders ‘1’ on Saturday at Toormina Oval and the southerners rifled home four inside the opening 20 minutes. The girls in green came into their own, though, and dug in resolutely while starting to play a bit of football of their own, holding the Raiders out for the remaining 25 minutes of the first stanza.
The second half saw the difference in quality, speed and stamina between the top tier sides and their less experienced opponents, and Urunga broke away to romp home with a 14-0 win. Oberleuter is under no illusions about this weekend’s fixture against the most dangerous side the competition has to offer in Boambee Eagles ‘1’, and fully expects it to be another one way affair, but says that her and her girls will keep on going as they always knew it would be tough against the 1st grade teams.
Raiders ‘1’ travelled to Toormina to take on the Scorpions and as has happened on numerous occasions in recent weeks, coach Trevor Martin had only a bare eleven to call on and that was after the promotion of Kate Fry from Team 2 to give them the full compliment on the field. Expectations from the Urunga camp were high as the Scorpions had given Team 2 a run for their money earlier on in the season, and Martin issued the challenge to his players to produce a high-intensity game even when the need to do so may not be immediately apparent.
Martin praised the progress of the Scorpions and said they have come a long way since the game against Raiders ‘2’ in round 1 of the consolidated competition. He noted that at times they held a good shape and aimed to move the ball around, as well as looking to find players in space and control the game when in possession. Raiders ‘1’ are a different beast though, and proved able to deal with the structured football on display. They ramped up the pressure to break down the patient build up-oriented approach of the Scorpions and were quick to apply pressure to the ball carrier. A well organised defensive setup meant the Raiders won back possession soon after it had been lost.
On the ball, the Raiders were strong and played all over the park, showing their ability to get forward regularly whether through the middle or out wide. Martin has made a point of late to ensure the front four are working as a unit rather than as individuals, and at times his side found themselves victims of being perhaps too focused on this philosophy. On the odd occasion when the ball was being moved around the edge of the box begging to be hit, a finish was not forthcoming despite some lengthy and creative interplay. Nonetheless, they were able to find four goals before the break and kept their clean sheet in the process.
Sawtell’s keeper was doing a great job of preventing the margin from blowing out in the opening stanza, and made some stellar saves while contributing an air of confidence to their defence through her vociferous marshalling of the backline. The Raiders had been doing their job, Martin used the halftime talk to emphasise the importance of finding greater intensity and remaining focused on playing their style of football. He pointed out that had they been playing Wildcats ‘1’, who they face this coming weekend, the half time chat would have taken on an altogether different complexion as the display in the opening stanza would not have cut the mustard against an opponent of that level. Martin also asked for more effort to finish instead of trying to run the ball in – shades of the last days of Highbury – and a higher tempo in the second half.
To the Raiders’ credit, they responded immediately, having recognised the need to raise their level, and gained the upper hand right from kick off. Quicker passing, more off the ball runs, greater intent in general play and more accurate finishing had the front four all chipping in. Ash Mackie grabbed five, Sheree Bowland and Jackie Kambere each completed hat tricks and a couple of supporting defenders and midfielders also got their names on the scoresheet in a dominant 14-0 win.
Less important than the scoreboard to Martin was the response to the half time talk from his players and, in his own words, ‘their willingness to implement the necessary changes to effect a result’. He credited Sawtell for playing ‘the entire 90 minutes with a positive attitude and never [sitting] back during the encounter’, saying that they earnt his team’s respect in doing so. He recognises that it is a very steep learning curve for the less experienced teams and holds Oberleuter’s girls in high regard despite the margin of defeat.
Raiders ‘2’ took on Coffs City United Lionesses at McLean Street, but due to the conflicting time slots, Martin was not able to be present. A close and physical encounter played out, and the general play itself was contested very evenly throughout. The Lionesses, however, made better use of the ball in the attacking third and showed superior finishing to take the chocolates with a close 2-1 win.
Raiders ‘1’s home game this weekend against Woolgoolga Wildcats ‘1’ looms as a genuine barnburner with legitimate title implications. Both sides desperately need the three points to try and keep pace with the ladder leading Boambee Eagles ‘1’, and neither will give an inch as they do their level best to remain in the Premiership hunt. Raiders ‘2’ are at the Patch as well, as they take on Bellingen Victory in what should be another close game between the competition’s current 10th and 11th ranked sides.
Wildcats ‘1’ entered their battle with Boambee Eagles ‘2’ at Ayrshire Park as heavy favourites, but due to a bit of moisture in the days leading up to the game, AP1 was deemed unplayable and the game was relocated to the smaller AP2 auxiliary field. The Woopi girls were unprepared for the change, and the compact field size disrupted their style of play.
A crowded game played out and the ordinarily fluent passing combinations of the Wildcats were now disjointed and scrappy, with their midfielders feeling like they were spending most of the game in one another’s pockets. Boambee goalkeeper Hannah Clift-Wilson was a thorn in Woolgoolga’s side all afternoon and gave away absolutely nothing, thwarting the Northern Beaches outfit’s attackers time after time and frustrating them no end. Coach Kim Batty said Clift-Wilson, though a new face to her side, must certainly be up there at the very upper echelon of goalkeepers in the NCF women’s competition – high praise from someone who has been around the local game for umpteen seasons and seen everything local football has to offer.
Feeling they had no room to move, the Wildcats change their structure slightly in the second half. They felt that this was working better and would eventually pay dividends, but the plucky Eagles appeared equal to everything thrown their way. Ultimately, a scoreless draw played out, and Batty said the Woopi girls went back up the highway knowing they would really need to work both harder and smarter if they are to find the net against such well organised defensive sides. She congratulated the Eagles for giving her girls a real run for their money and indeed it was something of a shock result.
The setback sees Wildcats ‘1’ fall away from Eagles ‘1’ at the top of the ladder, now two points behind with one more game played. They take on Raiders ‘1’ this weekend, who lie just a point back with a game in hand and are very much breathing down their necks. It’s a genuinely crucial fixture with massive implications in the title race, and fans would do well to make their way down to Morgo Street on Saturday afternoon to witness what should be a very entertaining showpiece.
Wildcats ‘2’ had the week off, but still sit inside the top four and in a curious scenario, can actually go level on points with the ‘1’s this weekend if they manage to defeat Orara Valley Dingoes at Dairyville, despite having a game in hand. The Dingoes will present a tough test as they have been playing well against the 2nd Division sides, but Wildcats ‘2’ are as close to 1st Division quality as you will see and their current standing as a top four side is merited. Their finals ambitions are still well and truly alive and another three points this weekend will have even the top three sides starting to look over their shoulders.