By Tim Klingbiel
Maclean Bobcats vs Northern Storm Thunder
Redemption for Thunder as Parkins makes it three in two from the bench
Wherrett Park set the stage for what the Bobcats would have seen as an opportunity for redemption after being held scoreless in consecutive weeks to two of the competition’s top sides in Coffs City United Lions and Urunga Raiders. They were very competitive against the Raiders and on another day could easily have returned home with the points, but the week before saw – by their standards – an abject display against the Lions and coach Dennis Mavridis would no doubt have been thinking it was high time to arrest the form slump and kick start a season that now saw the men in green in danger of falling behind the 8 ball.
After a case of the April blues, May had yielded altogether happier returns for the Thunder, with two commanding wins and a draw against the competition leaders – the only side thus far to take points from the powerful Bombers – being tempered only by an immensely entertaining 4-3 home loss to Coffs Coast Tigers. Jade Porter had prepped his men well this season and though results weren’t going their way early on, they were never playing bad football and finally the law of averages has started to come into effect.
For the Bobcats, Gary Burns and Riley Bender came into the XI for Sean Potter and Travis Armstrong, while Fraser Marsh returned to the bench as did Lance Knibbs, with Cullyn Stewart-Butcher and Matt Farrell making way. Marsh would have to be eased in delicately as he had spent rounds 7 and 8 sidelined by a hip flexor injury and the Maclean camp were keen to ensure one of their star performers would not need to spend any further time on the pine.
Storm’s Felix Sinzinkayo dropped back to the bench for Josh Harrigan in what appears to be a weekly keeper swap for the Thunder. The remainder of the starting XI were identical to the previous week’s home game against Grafton United, but the bench had a slightly different composition. Jacques Ndizeye and Michael Turner made way for Ian Marsh and John Omtha, the talented Burmese midfielder proving a canny pickup in the off season from Coffs United, where his perpetual motion in the engine room and excellent close control were deemed surplus to requirements in the Premier League fold.
The game commenced with both sides going hard at it and a stellar defensive display from the Thunder repelling virtually anything the Bobcats threw at them. The fact that the Thunder’s three best on the afternoon were central defenders Nathan Skinner and Nathan Parkins and holding midfielder Mykel Watson paints a picture of the type of afternoon that was playing out – the Bobcats were giving everything they had, but the experience of the Thunder continued to show through as their break up play was successful time after time.
Storm have quite possibly the most collective Premier League appearances of any of the squads going around in this competition and the resultant composure and street smart approach looks to be really paying dividends as the season itself matures. Combining resilient defence with an attack that has finally found its feet makes for a devastating combination, and indeed they were able to capitalise up the other end too and grab a few of their own.
By full time it was 5-1 to the Thunder and Beajay Wendt had a brace to his name, Jamie Kennedy nabbed one and Matt Parkins climbed off the bench for a late double to make it three in two weeks from late cameos. Jarrod Doyle scored one in reply for the Bobcats, but the fact they were only able to muster a solitary strike was not reflective of their performance in attack on the afternoon, which was strong right up until the finishing touch that repeatedly eluded them. Marsh was substituted on, but didn’t last the duration and ultimately needed to be replaced himself by Brad Corbett as he pulled up lame. It’s a concerning situation for the Bobcats to have one of their key men under an injury cloud and they will be praying to the football gods to set things right in short order.
Two straight five goal performances will have Porter purring at the output of what earlier this season appeared to be a rather flaccid attack. Last week there were five different scorers, but two braces this week including an inspired performance off the bench from Parkins shows there are some strong individual performers starting to emerge from the pack at the Cove. A finals charge is well within reach for the Korora men and this weekend’s home game against Coffs United will offer them the chance to signal the legitimacy of their credentials as a contender to the rest of the division.
They gave the Lions all kinds of strife in the last meeting between the two sides – a night game at Forsyth Park in the pouring rain where an opportunistic Wendt goal just seconds after coming off the bench had the Thunder leading until just 5 minutes from full time, when a double from ex-Storm man Gum Mayak in the game’s dying seconds broke their hearts – and will fancy themselves to repeat the dose this time around with perhaps improved scoreboard outcomes.
The Bobcats on the other hand will need to regroup quickly, as they have now fallen outside the top four – though only by a single point. They had managed to get past the Thunder in round 2 off the back of a clinical counterattacking game but the approach did not serve them as well this time around. Mavridis’ troops now sit on an unenviable recent run of three consecutive defeats, and their scheduled round 10 game against the Bombers this weekend has been postponed due to their opponents’ trip south for the Newcastle rounds of the FFA Cup.
The men from Maclean will need to wait a fortnight until they take on Coffs Coast Tigers – a chance to atone for the 2-0 defeat at Polwarth Drive in round 4 – and with those two sides and the Thunder locked in a tight three-way battle for fourth with only a point between them, every fixture between any permutation of those sides is a virtual six pointer from here on in and carries even greater weight than normal.
Grafton United vs Boambee Bombers
United run out of steam after roaring start
Scott Elphic’s Grafton United had started the season with some excellent results but had struggled through May – three defeats and a forfeit in four games that yielded just one goal combined made for tough reading. But those results hardly told the full story – the 3-0 and 2-0 defeats to Coffs United and Urunga respectively were marked by strong displays from the men in purple and they had given their opponents a run for their money on both occasions.
The Bombers were coming up to Rushforth Park off the back of exceptionally strong wins over the two Tigers sides – 10-1 at Junction Hill against Westlawn and 6-0 at home against Coffs Coast – but a slight defensive reshuffle meant they would be on somewhat shaky foundations and would need to be wary of being exposed by a Grafton attack who have proven themselves more than willing to take chances. Boambee have often gotten by this season on the pure strength of their attack, and the game before the aforementioned pair of strong wins saw them all at sea in a draw against Northern Storm, a situation they would not want to find themselves in again.
From the Grafton starting side against Northern Storm last week, Selwyn King and Lee Stutt made way for Ethan Piper and Andrew Durrington – making his first Premier League appearance – while Nathan Daniels was replaced on the bench by Corey Ford. Josh McIntosh was unavailable for the Bombers and was replaced by Darby Sherrin in a backline with two wingers as fullbacks and two centre backs each with less than two seasons’ worth of Premier League football under their belts – the experience and quality of Mark Norberry still deemed unworthy of a starting spot even amidst a spate of injuries and unavailability.
Rushy set the scene for a quality spectacle, with the United junior mascots all present and accounted for to run on to the field with the home side. Elphic’s pre-match talk revolved around ensuring the boys followed the tasks set earlier in the week at training and during the team meeting, and despite looking decidedly nervous, they were clearly pumped for the occasion. The 4pm kickoff meant the game would be played under darker skies than the travellers had been used to this season – with only one prior late game for the Bombers, round 8’s trip to Back Lane – and indeed it appeared early on that it might have been a bit too close to the Boambee defenders’ bed time, in particular Sam Crampton who is used to being tucked in as soon as Big Dog has made an appearance on Channel 9.
United were pushing the ball around well and utilising slick 1-2s to open the Bombers up. The strength of their attack was creating genuine problems and the Grafton boys were hungry to win every challenge. Rattled and somewhat frustrated by the way things were panning out on the park, the Bombers retreated into their shell somewhat and were caught on the back foot. By the time the referee’s whistle blew for half time, Hayden Young and Joe Macari had managed to put the ball in the net for the home side with only a Luke France strike in reply for the Bombers – 2-1 to Grafton.
The effort had taken its toll on Rushy’s favourite sons though and Elphic knew his boys were busted when they came into the sheds. With 45 long minutes still remaining in the game, it would be a monumental assignment for them to try and preserve their lead and there was precisely zero doubt that the Bombers attack would turn up the heat down the finishing stretch. United would have to dig deeper than they ever had if they were to secure a seismic result.
Indeed, it was a positive response from the travellers who would have copped an absolute roasting for the ages from coach Shane Duncan in the dressing room, and within minutes of the second half’s commencement, Brady Parker had delivered the equaliser and in doing so knocked a great deal of wind out of Grafton’s sails. In the 55th minute, Lachie Moye was able to give Boambee the lead, but the home side stubbornly refused to roll over and kept giving everything they had on tiring legs. The Bombers’ stamina was proving just a little too much to deal with as United were proving less able to mount substantial threats to restore parity.
The dying minutes of the match saw France in the right position for a simple tap in to open up a two goal lead and then finally a late penalty converted by Mitchell Brewster that pushed the margin out further to a final score of 5-2. As referee Marty Gadd blew the whistle for full time, the Bombers had secured the points, but the scoreline did not tell the story of the duress they were put under by Grafton early on and the tricky and at times shaky nature of the victory.
Elphic was justifiably beaming with pride over his outfit’s performance, praising the way they knocked the ball around and singling out defensive debutant Andrew Durrington as well as Jack Daniels who was able to shut down Brady Parker with aplomb for large stretches of the game. He also believed one Bombers goal was offside and that his side should have been awarded a penalty, and it’s tough to argue that a score of 4-3 would probably have been a bit more reflective of how things played out. An excessive challenge on goalkeeper Matt McMahon saw him forced off the pitch so Wylie Tynan had another stint between the sticks, which meant a precious opportunity to substitute one of the tired outfielders had to be sacrificed.
But when all was said and done, it had been a formidable display from United and they are richly deserving of the positive comments coming their way this season. This Sunday they will travel to Polwarth Drive to take on Coffs Coast Tigers, having won the first encounter in round 3 with a stoic 1-0 on a fiery evening with two red cards being issued. Tigers have improved markedly since then, but some would argue so have United, so it shapes as an intriguing matchup with any result possible.
The Bombers would not have been overly impressed with the nature of the victory and though they picked up the all-important three points, there look to be a few cracks that are only just being papered over at present. Their next four fixtures in the competition are Coffs United, Urunga, then postponed games against Maclean and Urunga – both of which were put to one side in favour of FFA Cup commitments – to be shoehorned in somewhere along the line. All four of these games carry the very real potential of defeat and they will need to deliver markedly improved performances if they are to continue their undefeated run.
This weekend sees them travel south to take on NPL Northern NSW contenders Charlestown City Blues, having advanced to round 6 of the FFA Cup. They will welcome back Jack ‘The Macksvillean Adonis’ Mitchell, who has been away in Europe for the past month – where he set out to obtain ancient serums of growth hormones from Roman warriors beneath the Colosseum in order to repair his injured hamstring to full working order, all the while seducing a bevy of European lingerie models to whom he is likely to rack up substantial child support debts in the coming years.
The acclaimed glazier will look to provide an additional degree of clarity to the makeup of the squad, and should link up with partner in crime Christian Penny who will also return from an extended layoff, in addition to Josh McIntosh – the trio will substantially bolster the cattle Duncan has to work with and form a much stronger lineup than he has been able to field in recent weeks. They will kick off at 5:30pm on Saturday and the match will be streamed live via Bar TV.
Coffs City United Lions vs Urunga Raiders
Mayak hat trick delivers for Lions as Lokpo and ‘Turtle’ marched
The Lions have been looking in superlative form of late and had gone four games straight without conceding a goal. Their best side had been back on the park for a few weeks and the fluidity and dominance had returned to their play. Coach Glen Williams was confident his side could solve the puzzle posed by the Raiders, who had yet to taste defeat in NCF competition in 2018. In a meeting between two of the three clear title contenders this season, the result would surely have seismic implications on the outcome of the Premiership and thus attracted an extra sense of intrigue.
The Raiders’ last three games had each been tough going – a 3-2 over Coffs Coast Tigers where they were down at half time and snatched a win late on against the run of play, a 2-0 at the patch against Grafton where they were stifled for large portions of the match and struggled for any real attacking fluency, and a 1-0 Morgo Street arm wrestle last week against the Bobcats where either side could have captured victory. They have been picking up points consistently this season without ever really looking their best, but they always get up for the big games and coach Craig ‘Turtle’ Simpson would undoubtedly have them heading into this one with a winning mindset.
Caleb Lokpo returned for the Lions and replaced Thangkin Shetta in the starting lineup, while Dut Garang occupied a spot on the bench in place of Todd Milne. The rest of the 15 man squad were identical to last week’s 11-0 destruction of Westlawn. Tim Rupprecht was drafted in for the Raiders to replace Cale Simmonds in the starting lineup after benching last week, but the rest of the eleven were unchanged from the side who took on the Bobcats last week at the Patch. Joe Soergel, Jaxen Heward and Matt Smith were replaced on the bench by Jack Martin and James Power as the Raiders trimmed their 16 man matchday squad down to a lean 14.
The evening fixture at Forsyth Park kicked off with the home side having by far the better of the early play. The pitch was as hard and bouncy as ever, and at times the general interchanges had almost a futsal vibe. Within the first five minutes, an excellent string of lead up passes from the Lions saw Gum Mayak positioned well to release Caleb Lokpo one on one. Lokpo fluffed his lines, missing the target to let the Raiders off the hook. Continuing to dominate, they kept creating chances and within the first quarter of an hour had hit both the crossbar and the right post.
Half an hour in, the Raiders defence made a rare error and Mayak reacted like lightning to pounce on the loose ball and bury the opportunity. He made no mistake and had given his side a precious lead before the interval. Half time came around and with the score at 1-0 Lions, the Raiders were painfully aware they would need to step their game up substantially to be in with a shout. They had mustered just one clean shot at goal in a one sided first half and despite the still narrow margin on the scoreboard, they had a mountain to climb to drag themselves back into the contest.
The Lions emerged from the sheds looking just as dominant as they had started out, but with attacking profligacy emerging once again as a familiar issue. The Raiders countered strongly, though, and created a golden chance to equalise within the first five minutes of the half, missing a sitter as an attacker stood on the ball right in front of goal. This time it was the Lions who had been let off the hook, and it wasn’t long before they would make the Raiders pay.
A penetrating run from Mayak created some chaos in the Raiders defence and he was brought down just outside the box. The angle was acute but Mayak backed himself and slotted the resultant free kick straight into the top corner to double the lead. The men in red and black continued to create opportunities and missing a lot of shots, but eventually a deflected strike fell to Mayak who buried the scraps and claimed his second hat trick of the season.
Lokpo had sustained the first yellow card of his senior career earlier in the game, and it was a case of déjà vu as he picked up another in the last 10 minutes to be sent for an early shower. Things had gotten quite spicy both out in the middle and on the sideline, as ‘Turtle’ too was ejected from the technical area due to a few heated exchanges. The Raiders responded immediately to the red card, as Rupprecht grabbed a goal to reduce the deficit.
The final few minutes was all the away side as the men in maroon turned up the pressure and effected a plethora of defensive errors from the Lions. They were a trifle unlucky not to score a couple close as time was expiring and close the gap even further to breathe some genuine life into the contest, but Coffs doggedly held out and preserved the 3-1 margin. Referee David Goodwin called time and the Lions had secured an invaluable victory to keep the pressure up on the Bombers and open up a three point gap on the Raiders, who had a game in hand but were now 14 behind on goal difference.
It was by and large an excellent performance from the Lions, who outplayed their opponents until late on when they went a man light. They have underscored their Premiership credentials to great effect and it would now appear they have moved back up a spot not just in a literal points tally sense but in the pecking order of the division. Perhaps their greatest challenge still lies in the form of the Bombers, but they cannot afford to look past this weekend’s opponents Northern Storm Thunder in what will be a tricky fixture to negotiate at the Cove.
The Raiders have no reason to be hitting the panic button just yet – after all, it is their first defeat in NCF competition this season – but they haven’t quite shown all the signs of a Premiership winning outfit just yet. Only three out of their nine games thus far have yielded wins by more than one goal – two of those against the competition’s bottom two sides in Westlawn and Grafton – and it’s the first time in a number of years they have been tracking at more than one goal per game conceded.
In addition, their attack have scored literally half the goals – 20 versus 40 – of Boambee’s after eight games each. Needless to say, the stat lines aren’t quite where the Morgo Street brains trust would like them to be at this point in the campaign. They will target this weekend’s trip to Junction Hill as an opportunity to restart the momentum and push on to the next level in attack. The Westlawn boys have been doing it tough of late and a repeat of the 6-2 rout at the Patch looks certainly within reach.
Coffs Coast Tigers vs Westlawn Tigers
Sechi prevents sticky situation as Coffs Coast look Gooey with no Squeezo
After a 6-0 drubbing at the hands of Boambee at Ayrshire Park last week, Felipe Barrera’s Coffs Coast Tigers side were keen to make amends and deliver a greatly improved performance as they returned to Polwarth Drive to take on Westlawn. Part of a run of five games out of seven at home, they would have been very keen to secure as many points as possible ahead of a tough run of away fixtures to negotiate from round 11 onwards.
Westlawn hadn’t had such a great time of things with two heavy defeats in consecutive weeks leading into this game. With both Boambee and Coffs United putting double figures past them – the first occasions they had lost by more than four this season – there was lots to work on for James Joyce’s men in terms of tightening up the defence, while the attack had gone AWOL too, scoring just one in their past three outings. The last time they played their Coffs Coast feline counterparts, however, they were able to produce a decent performance in a 1-1 draw, so they would have been quietly confident of their chances of coming away with a result.
The home side had made only one change from the previous week’s game against the Bombers, with one of their best performers on the day in Squeezo being curiously dropped for the usually defensively minded Matt ‘Gooey’ Guyatt up front. An extended bench meant that Mi Reh and Paul Dixon were named in place of Mark Ifrah. Jesse Benfield and Bailey Tobin were promoted from last week’s bench and Harry Vidler also game into the starting lineup for Westlawn, with Riley Keogh and Jordan Newman dropping back to the bench and Dylan Lucas making way.
Squeezo, filled to the gills with indica and gutter thistle and bristling from his demotion, proved a point as he hammered home five goals in reserve grade in a superb performance that demanded not only a Premier League recall but probably a lucrative European contract shortly after he completes his modelling duties in the Gold Coast as well as a stint on Love Island and a quick boot camp at Tiger Muay Thai in the foothills of Phuket.
Two sides with relatively porous defences went hammer and tong over a highly entertaining 90 minutes of football and it was predictably something of a goalfest where after all was said and done the result was decided by which attack was the most effective. It was a tad spiteful at times as referee Dave Connor had to go to his notebook on four occasions – two for each side – for various infringements.
The decision to replace Squeezo up front didn’t pay a great deal of dividends for the West Coffs boys but thankfully Ethan Sechi was in phenomenal form and chipped in with a decisive hat trick that ultimately sealed the result in his side’s favour. Fullback Zack Smith found his way on to the scoresheet as well, but Westlawn were able to score three of their own through Harry Vidler, Sam Brien and Luke Shipman.
Curiously, Joyce opted not to utilise his bench as the starting XI played out the full 90, and they perhaps could have used the additional burst of energy that the fresh legs of Messrs Keogh, Newman and Grayson may have brought to the fold as they searched madly for an equaliser down the stretch. Westlawn did have their chances to secure what would have been an improbable second 4-4 draw of the season, but unfortunately for them their Coffs counterparts were just a little too strong at home on the afternoon.
It was nonetheless an encouraging performance for the Junction Hill boys and it marked a massive improvement from the results of the previous two weeks despite the fact they still left without a point. In reality, their season was consigned to being all but over as far as finals are concerned once Boambee and Coffs had rendered their respective Back Lane eviscerations, but these Tigers are proud men and will fight tooth and nail – or should that be claw? – for every point on offer right up until the final matchday of the season. Even in the Boambee game where they went down 10-1, they continued to attack and play out from the back for the entire 90 minutes, the scoreline not telling the story of the positive approach and decent football on offer from the men in yellow.
They return home this weekend to face a Urunga Raiders side still smarting from a costly defeat against the Lions and no doubt gearing up to deliver a shellacking, but Joyce’s troops will have other ideas and will look to make life as tough as possible for one of the competition’s top dogs. They had their moments last time they met Craig Simpson’s boys at the Patch and went blow for blow throughout an entertaining first half, with a liberal helping of goalmouth action at either end making for quite the spectacle and forcing the Morgo Street title aspirants to really sit up and take notice, before running out of legs late on and allowing a scoreline that once again did not fully reflect their competitiveness.
The three points were absolutely crucial for Coffs Coast Tigers, who now lie outside the top four on goal difference only but have an inferior goal difference to the chasing Maclean Bobcats who are a point behind. With such thin gaps between fourth and sixth, the last finals berth is going to come right down to the wire – it would appear the top three have already pulled away beyond reach – and the margin of error thus narrows by the week.
Barrera and his men will be desperate for some September appearances and will need to produce another winning performance on their home turf this weekend as they take on a tough Grafton United side who led the ladder leading Bombers at half time and defeated Tigers at Rushforth Park in their last meeting. A Squeezo recall appears imminent and if Sechi displays the same sort of form he showed against Westlawn, the Tigers attack certainly won’t be looking toothless by any stretch.
Defence remains an issue, with a minimum of three conceded in each of their last five games, and only three occasions all season with less than three leaked, but their modus operandi seems to be that attack is the best form of defence and this will likely be the mantra going in against Scott Elphic’s boys who are never backward in coming forward. In all, it shapes as a close and entertaining fixture and anything less than a win for Tigers will be quite a setback in their aspirations for higher honours, so there is a great deal on the line.