By Tim Klingbiel
The Victory had defeated Raiders ‘2’ at the Patch last round in assured fashion, but found themselves much less favoured against the ‘1’s as they returned home to Connell Park attempting to stave off a maroon tide. It wasn’t to be on the afternoon, but to dwell on the scoreline alone would be to undermine the gallant efforts of the Bello girls, who improved throughout the 90 minutes of football.
Manager Deb Baigent was effusive when describing the effort levels of the ladies in black and white, who she said put ‘110% heart and soul into defending the entire match’ and yet were still able to launch a few attacks of their own. After leaking 7 in the opening stanza, keeping the final score under double figures appeared to be a bridge too far for the Victory, but they dug in courageously and allowed only two Raiders breakthroughs after the interval for a 9-0 result.
Baigent said the Raiders ‘1’ girls came at them ‘in succession of attack after attack’, but clearly there were some lessons learnt on the fly for Kim Barker’s outfit, and if they can deliver performances of the second half’s ilk on a weekly basis, they will force even the top sides in the competition to work hard for the points. Baigent gave special mention to over 30s players Allison Kedzlie – who played through a knee injury and gave an immense effort – and Zoe Pryor – who came out of ‘keeper retirement’ to substitute between the sticks and made some spectacular saves – as they backed up to help the girls fill out a competitive squad.
Coach Barker was happy with the tenacious effort of her team and the exhausting volume of running they were able to produce, and despite a result that would on the surface appear to be a substantial negative, the Victory are as confident as ever for the remainder of the campaign. They travel to High Street this weekend to take on Woolgoolga Wildcats ‘2’ – whose quality is tantamount to a 1st Division side – in what will be another tough test for the defence.
Eagles ‘1’ hosted a red hot Lionesses side who were riding the wave of three straight wins and just one goal conceded in their last 270 minutes of football. It was fair to suggest that Glenn Bennett’s outfit had not been greatly tested in their last three – 15-0, 17-0 and 16-0 wins – and the Lionesses had the potential to put up a much more formidable roadblock and make life tough on the Boambee girls.
The Lionesses defence were certainly delivering on the hype early on as the Eagles were finding it nearly impossible to breach the wall of red. Despite over 80% possession and a plethora of shots for the home side, some energetic goalkeeping from United’s Shelby McKenzie and some resolute work from the Lionesses back four meant it took half an hour for the league leaders to finally find the breakthrough. It was Rebekah Oberleuter who was ultimately able to burst through the fortress walls and secure the lead for her side.
The away side had mustered just a single goal attempt in the first 45 – from a free kick – and the Eagles’ Diana Walker barely needed to break a sweat. The Eagles forwards were certainly sweating though, wondering how they would conjure more goals against the strongest defence they had come up against this season.
They looked a little more assured in terms of the finishing touch shortly after the break, as Keira Plumbe was played through and converted from close range in the 49th minute, giving McKenzie no chance. Again the overwhelming share of possession went to the home side, who played almost the entirety of the game in the Coffs half but just couldn’t capture any sort of flow as far as goalscoring was concerned.
Again United had just one attempt on goal for the half – their only one from open play in the entire game – but the strike was wide and failed to draw Walker into action. Eagles manager John Walker was full of praise for United’s McKenzie, who played a stellar game in goals and was the primary reason behind the relatively low final score of 2-0.
It’s an altogether different assignment for Bennett’s girls this weekend however, as they travel to Corindi to take on an improving but still very green Breakers side. One would anticipate the defensive resistance they face not to be quite as strong as last weekend, but it should nonetheless be an entertaining fixture as the young Breakers ladies test themselves against the best of the best at local level.
Eagles ‘2’ hosted the young Scorpions in a closely contested affair. Coach Fiona Clancy said that Rachael Oberleuter’s outfit kept pressing for the entire 90 minutes and were unlucky not to get on the scoresheet. Clancy said that her girls lost their shape around 20 minutes in and played the rest of the first half in a messy fashion, though they were able to take a 1-0 lead into the break.
A further two goals in the second half combined with some solid defensive work and a dash of good fortune meant the final score was 3-0 to the Eagles. The goalscorers on the afternoon were a trifecta of Ms – Michaela Atkins, Maddy McHugh and Melissa Shaw. The result allowed the Eagles to close the gap on Wildcats ‘2’ to just a solitary goal in net difference, and they now sit just three points out of the semi finals reckoning with a game in hand.
They will travel to Forsyth Park this Saturday afternoon to face a strong Lionesses side, who will be a very difficult obstacle to overcome by virtue of their incredibly strong defence. Clancy’s outfit will certainly need to have their shooting boots on if they are to come away with the chocolates and elevate themselves into genuine top four contention.
Coffs City United Lionesses
The Lionesses’ three game win streak came to an end on Saturday against competition favourites and current front runners Boambee Eagles ‘1’, but interestingly it may well have been the most impressive performance of their season despite being on the wrong end of the ledger on this occasion and having already secured some impressive wins along the way.
For the first 30 and the last 30, the Lionesses were impenetrable and further defensive displays of that standard will cause all manner of problems for sides with attacks less powerful than that of the Eagles. Being able to keep a side of that strength to a score of just 2-0 is an incredible achievement and indeed they are the first team this season who have been able to keep the Eagles under five.
They will need to improve their focus on attack this weekend as they take on the Eagles’ 2nd string counterparts, with the result being vital if they are to consolidate their top four position. With just 12 goals conceded in nine games, their defence is on par with last season’s 1st Division grand finalists Wildcats ‘1’, but their 15 goal attack pales in comparison to the three teams ahead of them on the ladder who have scored 73, 86 and 39 respectively – the first two with one less game played.
This Saturday at McLean Street is nonetheless a winnable game for the Lionesses, though it will undoubtedly be a very close and competitive affair. The finals dream remains very real for these girls, who probably wouldn’t have been entertaining the idea of such a lofty finish in the strong combined competition earlier in the season but will now be daring to believe that September football is in their sights.
A strong second half on the weekend was definite cause for encouragement among the Breakers camp, as they travelled down to Coronation Park to take on the Nambucca Strikers. The Strikers had essentially killed the game off as a contest by the time the whistle blew for half time, but the Breakers dug in and showed some excellent fight to take the game to the home side in the second stanza.
The Breakers were able to score their second goal of the season, and despite conceding five to the Strikers, there are definite signs of improvement in the defensive stakes as well. The 14-0 and 11-0 losses to Raiders ‘1’ and Wildcats ‘1’ respectively seem a distant memory now as the Breakers’ last five fixtures have seen them tracking at less than four a game conceded.
While that might not sound like a particularly noteworthy statistic, it’s worth bearing in mind the gap in experience the Breakers are up against on a weekly basis, and the way they have improved over the course of the campaign to the point of now being right in the contest against fellow 2nd Division sides has been inspiring to observe.
Their assignment this weekend – to try and stop the competition’s top side in the shape of the ruthless Eagles ‘1’. It’s not going to be an easy one for the girls in yellow and purple and no one realistically expects this to be the weekend they pick up their first points of the season, but it should provide a good yardstick to see how far they have come along since the Raiders and Wildcats tussles earlier on in 2018.
An impressive run of form had the competition’s southernmost side returning home to Bellevue Drive off the back of two wins including a clean sheet in their most recent outing against the Breakers. Taking on Raiders ‘2’ on Saturday afternoon, they got off to the best possible start, as Dakota Hillery showed superb skill to elude the attentions of the opposition defence and score the Stingers’ first after just five minutes of football.
The ladies in red were on fire and a string of passes midway through the half ultimately allowed Kayla Turner to provide an assist for Tazma Clifford, who doubled the advantage. In the dying stage of the half, Laura Peisley got in on the act and made it three for the home side without reply. A charged up Stingers outfit weren’t about to let up, and came out of the sheds with just as much verve as they did in the first half, with Lilly Borg quickly extending the lead to four.
The Macksville frontline kept turning up the pressure and won an indirect free kick, which Melina Cooper was able to bury from close range. As the Raiders ‘2’ girls rapidly began to run out of steam, the stamina and determination of the local girls allowed them to prevail late on, as Borg grabbed her brace courtesy of a fine strike from outside the box.
With a final score of 6-0, it had been a consummate display in both attack and defence for the Stingers, with backs Liz Smith and Jascinda Connolly in particular being singled out by manager Deb Turner for their stoic efforts in turning away everything the Raiders threw their way. The ‘woman of the game award’ went to Kirra Perry, who Turner said did an excellent job in midfield.
Riding the wave of three straight wins and two consecutive clean sheets, the Macksville girls have now pushed their goal difference into the positives with a +1 on the ledger, and sit just four points outside a semi final berth with a game in hand. For an ostensibly 2nd Division calibre side, they are punching above their weight and turning in some accomplished performances against more experienced opposition each week.
They will have a tougher time of things this weekend as they travel to the Cabbage Patch to face Raiders ‘1’, but these types of fixtures need to be viewed as learning experiences and the girls will be better for the opportunity. If indeed they are able to nab a result and keep the momentum rolling, they have the potential to create a quite seismic shift in the competition’s status quo and that may well prove a motivator for these girls.
A strong first half set the scene for a 5-1 win over the Breakers at Coronation Park on the weekend, but there were a few signs of vulnerability as the game matured and the hometown girls switched off just slightly. It would have been just the tonic coach Clay Urquhart and his charges were looking for, with the win arresting a two game losing streak and preventing a brief form slump from progressing into something of greater concern.
The reality of the situation is that the Strikers have done quite well thus far in 2018, and sit behind local rivals Macksville Stingers on goal difference alone. The combined competition was always going to be a tough hand to play with, but if we were to remove regular 1st Division teams from the reckoning, the Strikers would be occupying a 2nd Division finals position at present and would lie just a point off the top of the ladder.
Indeed, depending on the various permutations of results on Saturday, a win over Raiders ‘2’ could take the Nambucca girls as high as fifth and potentially still within cooee of finals football after 10 rounds of play. That’s not a bad campaign by any measure, and Urquhart and his ladies have a lot to be proud of having soldiered through something of an injury crisis and kept moving onwards and upwards throughout.
Orara Valley Dingoes
Helen Moseley’s girls will be itching to get back out on the park after having the long weekend off and then the bye in round 9. They lie just three points outside finals football, but with a goal difference in tatters from two colossal defeats to the top sides from Boambee and Urunga that will likely hurt them in the final reckoning.
They will be welcomed back by Woolgoolga Wildcats ‘1’ as the Dingoes travel to High Street in search of another 3 points on the road. It won’t be easy, but there is something of a Jekyll and Hyde feel about this Dingoes group where you never quite know which one you’re going to get. If they can put their collective best foot forward, there’s no reason they can’t create some problems for their much more fancied opponents.
The Scorpions made Eagles ‘2’ work hard for the points in the local derby at Ayrshire Park, with immense levels of determination allowing them to regularly break down the play of the home side and sully their structure to often great effect. They were unlucky not to score and mustered several attempts that on another day may well have fallen their way.
Ultimately, though, coach Rachael Oberleuter and her girls will have little to show for the short journey, with the final score of 3-0 to the Eagles meaning their points tally won’t be increased just yet. They have a week off this round but will look forward to round 11’s trip to Dairyville, with Orara Valley Dingoes firmly in their sights for a green and white assault. Having already drawn with a current top four side in Coffs City United Lionesses earlier in the season, there’s no reason the Scorpions can’t spring a minor upset and come home with some points from their Dairyville adventure.
Raiders ‘1’ made the short trip westward to take on Bellingen Victory at Connell Park. With the ‘2’s having lost a round earlier to the same opposition, Trevor Martin and his girls were ever so keen to square the ledger against their local rivals. They were expected to win, owing to the gap in pedigree and experience between the two squads, but the weight of expectation brought what Martin said was ‘a strange feeling of anticipation’ to the encounter.
As has become something of a custom for these Raiders girls in recent weeks, they took the field with a bare eleven due to the continued unavailability of keeper Jessica Snow. Zali Rees, Kate Fry, Serine Brandie and Steph Morrison each drew a short straw and variously had stints with the gloves over the course of the match.
As expected, the home side started off with a defensive setup and looked to crowd their back third whenever the Raiders had possession, and Martin noted that ‘this was probably their most effective strategy and it certainly made it difficult for the visitors to find space around the edge of the box’. Urunga have put quite some emphasis upon this part of the game on the training ground though, and they were duly able to carve out decisive breakthroughs amid a run of limited chances.
With creative combinations across the front third allowing the Raiders to break opposition lines, it seemed inevitable that the opener would come for the girls in maroon. A neat series of passes released the lively Jackie Kambere, who burst through and took her chance calmly to break the deadlock. The Raiders continued to stick to a composed possession game and were happy to go back and incorporate the keeper in their play when necessary before moving the ball into spaces they had created.
Looking powerful down the right flank, Sheree Bowland and Serine Brandie were working well in tandem and were straight on the front foot whenever an opportunity presented itself. Bowland grabbed a brace including a curling left footer into the top corner, and suddenly it seemed the floodgates had opened for the travellers. By half time, it was 7-0 and even though the Victory were able to produce a few decent attacks, the Raiders’ strong backline looked as assured as ever in snuffing out anything thrown their way.
With the home side continuing to work hard in defence, Martin noted that ‘the game tempo was not as [the Raiders] would have preferred and although [his side] played a strong game with good shape and ball movement, [they] did at times lack intensity particularly off the ball’. While they continued their dominance through the second half, the goals dried up somewhat and they were only able to add a further two to their tally. The final count was 9-0 on the afternoon and Jordan Healy – who Martin said ‘was also instrumental in a number of assists’ – Ash Mackie and Zali Rees, with a brace, all found their way on to the scoresheet by the time the final whistle was blown.
The cerebral Martin noted that ‘it’s difficult to manage the issues that come from this mixed competition, [and] although [he] felt [his side] could have done better, as did the girls, it’s difficult to be critical of how [they] put the game together or of coming away 9 goals to the better’. It was a very fair assessment of proceedings, and Martin is pleased with what he is seeing on the park, stating ‘the football is sound and the playing style [is] working for us – our focus going forward will be to find our own intensity and continue to try and create a quick passing game which suits our philosophy rather than allow the situation or opposition to influence our approach’.
With that in mind, this weekend’s fixture against Macksville Stingers could prove an excellent opportunity to see how the Raiders girls can put that mindset into practice. They lie just three points off the top of the ladder and are still very much in the Premiership conversation, but when the side you are chasing is the seemingly indomitable Boambee Eagles ‘1’, there is absolutely zero margin for error and all of these games must be viewed as potential banana skins to be wary of. They will favour themselves to come away with the points at the Patch on Saturday but complacency must not play a factor, otherwise a confident and in form Stingers side could sting them right where it hurts.
That very side put Raiders ‘2’ to the sword last weekend, a 6-0 walloping consigning the ‘2’s to their fifth straight defeat in what has proven an exceptionally tough competition to negotiate – particularly with the critically low numbers the ‘1’s squad are currently operating with, meaning the ‘2’s are rarely able to send a full strength side out on the park.
This weekend will see Raiders ‘2’ hosting a Nambucca Strikers side coming off a strong win last start. While the potential is certainly there to collect a result at home, they will need to find a new level and both sharpen up the attack and shore up the defence if they are to trouble Clay Urquhart’s well drilled outfit. After a win and two draws in their first four rounds, they have failed to register a point since, but perhaps this will be the weekend the Raiders can recapture some form and kick off a surge in momentum towards the latter half of a gruelling campaign.
There really isn’t a great deal that can be said about intra-club derbies aside from the fact that it is a decent opportunity to get some practice and work on structures. Often these encounters feel more like training games than occasions where valuable competition points are on offer, but nonetheless it was Wildcats ‘1’ who came out on top over their ‘2’s counterparts on Saturday and captured another three points to boost their Premiership ambitions.
The 7-1 final scoreline is hardly of any great relevance in and of itself, but it does have some interesting implications in terms of ladder positions for each team. The hit that Wildcats ‘2’ took to their goal difference brings the margin between them and Boambee Eagles ‘2’ down to just a solitary goal in the battle for fifth spot.
Earlier in the season, it looked as if Wildcats ‘2’ would be near enough to a shoo-in for a finals berth, but the recent run of form from the Lionesses in conjunction with the ‘2’s’ own slump means it has become a highly intriguing six way dogfight for fourth. Once all those aspirants have played the same amount of games and the results have all come out in the wash, it is actually feasible that all six could be separated by just a single point (extrapolated out to 9 games each).
Despite lying in third place on the ladder, Wildcats ‘1’ have a vast chasm to make up if they are to overhaul the two sides above them – Eagles ‘1’ and Raiders ‘1’ – and claim the Premiership, as they would have to close a five point and 43 goal gap with one less game to play with. Realistically, their chance at silverware lies in Championship form, so finals football must surely be the main focus right now out of High Street as that is where anything can happen – as they so nearly proved in 2017 by coming within a penalty shootout of knocking off the Eagles.
Wildcats ‘1’ will remain at home this weekend as they host Orara Valley Dingoes, who are coming off something of an extended break having followed the long weekend with a scheduled bye. They will be highly fancied in that matchup but Kim Batty’s outfit will need to be wary of a Dingoes side who have pulled off a few excellent performances already this year. The ‘2’s will host Bellingen Victory in what should be a competitive encounter as the girls in blue look to firm their own finals charge.