By Tim Klingbiel
Another week and another interesting set of results in the North Coast Football men’s premier league competition. Urunga have put themselves back in the Premiership hunt by clawing back 3 points worth of their deficit to Coffs United in impressive fashion, while wins to Boambee and Maclean and Orara’s triumph over Sawtell have kept the race for third and fourth wide open.
Sunday afternoon’s heavyweight bout at the Cabbage Patch was always going to be this week’s watercooler cause célèbre, but it is the result that will have fans south of Lyons Road jumping for joy and the McLean Street faithful bristling as Paul Pomroy’s men turned on an accomplished 90 minute performance to dispose of the competition leaders 4-1. A brace from Fabrice Wamara underlined his imperious recent form and will no doubt have upcoming opponents working on innovative gameplans and defensive structures to nullify arguably the competition’s most dynamic attacking player.
But as with every Raiders game, this was not a result owing solely to isolated moments of individual brilliance, but rather cohesive interplay and intimate familiarity with the nuances of their in-game structures. Two games against Grafton United await and though smart money would be on those being fairly routine outings, it is this Saturday’s away trip to Barry Watts Oval to take on an in form Bobcats side with 4 wins and a draw in their last 5 that should prove their biggest test of the remaining fixtures. Pomroy should have another strong squad to call on but with the reserve grade side also looking to secure a Premiership, it will be all hands on deck for the men in maroon on a weekend with much at stake.
But the Lions too are a classy side and their sustained success throughout the competition’s history is no coincidence. They will dust themselves off and regroup for an important final fortnight that sees them take on two dangerous sides in Orara and Sawtell. Like the Raiders, the Lions have separated themselves from the chasing pack over the years on the back of an almost telepathic understanding of where each player is going to be at any given time, which in turn is attributable to stratospheric levels of commitment on the training paddock over the course of each season.
Glen Williams won’t have to do much work to prime his troops for what seems an inevitable rematch come finals time, and with a battle tested squad who are well adjusted to the rigours of deep runs competing for silverware on multiple fronts each season, the herculean efforts they will need to muster to stave off two hungry finals aspirants in the form of the Dingoes and Scorpions will come as no great shock to the system. A night game at McLean Street will hark back to the Den vibes of the Lions’ traditional Showground home and the atmosphere is certain to be electric for the 5:15pm kick off, the red and black no doubt eager to maintain their unbeaten home record for the season and stamp Forsyth Park as the fortress for their new generation of stars.
The boys from the west once again signaled their title credentials with a crucial victory over Sawtell to climb above the Toormina side on the table and carry the momentum of last week’s 1-0 over Storm into Saturday’s clash with the Lions. Orara flattered to deceive last time out against the Scorpions in a 3-0 loss at the foothills of the BMX track, but back at their Dairyville digs they turned the tides despite a very strong challenge from their game opponents. While the Dingoes have been free scoring this season with around 10 goals every 3 games, their defensive record of 39 goals conceded places them equal 7th in the league and may be a cause for concern approaching a murderer’s row of opponents in the next few weeks.
This week’s fixture will be a challenge of an altogether different magnitude against the competition leaders, and the cauldron that is McLean Street is a tough place to go for any side hoping to pick up 3 points. With the race for finals positions coming down to such fine margins (should Boambee win their game in hand against Westlawn Tigers, we will be looking at a 2 point gap between 3rd and 6th), one feels that the Dingoes will need at least a point this weekend to go into their final game against Maclean with their destiny still in their own hands and not having to depend on other results falling their way. After suffering a 3-0 defeat in their last encounter with the Lions, it’s not quite mission impossible for Joel Finlayson’s men but the yellow and blue will need to pull out all the stops and turn in a season best performance to come away with the chocolates. The one certainty is that this will be must-see football, and any neutral would do well to mark this one down on the calendar and perhaps head out to the Coffs for a succulent rump steak during the post-match festivities and commiserations.
The euphoria of last week’s season-defining 2-1 scalp over the Raiders has well and truly worn off for Sawtell as Saturday’s 3-2 loss to the Dingoes has created a few headaches for Rod Purkiss and his boys heading into a challenging last two weeks. In a season of ultra fine margins, they will be disappointed not to have come away from Dairyville with at least a point in the locker and anything less than a win away at the Cove this week against a dangerous Northern Storm side puts them behind the 8 ball and may even see the once beating heart of their finals ambitions flatline entirely.
A 2-0 win in their home game against Storm back in early June will give the Scorpions a lot of hope and positivity heading into Saturday afternoon’s make or break tussle, but the attack of the boys from Korora looked rampant on the weekend and keeper Brad Palmer will need to have his wits about him at Plantain Road, where he held the esteemed position of club captain at not so many years ago. Sawtell have readjusted admirably after the loss of experienced goalscorer Luke France in recent weeks but will need to lift yet another gear in a stylistic matchup that seems to point towards an open game that comes down to who can bury the most chances rather than a dour defensive arm wrestle where an isolated counter attack or scrappy stab home in a crowded box nicks it.
A late season charge that has seen Maclean pick up 4 wins and 1 draw from their past 5 games has put the men from the upper reaches of the Clarence firmly in the finals conversation, backing up the 9-1 shellacking of Coffs Coast Tigers with a 3-1 win over the same opponents in Wednesday night’s catch up game and a 6-1 canter against the other Tigers side from Junction Hill last Saturday. It’s been a fruitful few weeks for the Bobcats but their biggest tests are still to come, with a home game against a Urunga side at the peak of their powers this Saturday afternoon and an away trip to take on Orara in the final week ahead of them.
Such is the closeness of the finals battle in 2017 that it may well come down to goal difference and this is what might hurt Dennis Mavridis’ men. Currently at +21, the clubs directly either side of them, Sawtell and Boambee, sit on +31 and +34 respectively, so if things finish all square points-wise, it will more than likely be the Bobcats who make way. Keeper Alex Moffitt will need to be a brick wall in the final two rounds while the attack must be as clinical as ever to keep the Bobcats in the hunt, but memories of 2009 will still be reverberating around Wherett Park and the north’s most famous giant killers may dare to dream once again.
The Bombers had more than a few scares on Sunday as Northern Storm forced them to sweat for the 3 points in a 6-5 thriller where neither defence covered themselves in glory. In reality, Boambee dominated much of the gameplay and only loose marking and profligate finishing made the scoreline as close as it was, but Shane Duncan is none too pleased with his side’s defensive record this season and despite the competition’s second most prolific attack, they will need to improve substantially at the back should they be featuring in finals football. The absence of regular fullback Joe Willman for finals will necessitate a restructure, dynamic centre backs Matt Ryan and Geoff Robertson will be called upon to pick up the slack.
This weekend’s game against Coffs Coast Tigers will be season defining for the Bombers, but they will be glad that their destiny is in their own hands at this late juncture – a win in that game plus maximum points in the back to back fixtures against Westlawn Tigers will put the Bombers in the 4 irrespective of other results and they will be backing themselves to get the job done. With the stamina of Lachie Moye, Josh Barden and Jamie Newling in midfield to rely on, Boambee’s work rate is going to be tough for opponents to handle and their style of play has genuine potential to cause problems for the competition’s movers and shakers come finals time as Duncan’s structures and philosophies finally begin to really embed themselves in the side after sustained efforts in training over the season’s second half.
After 4-1 and 4-2 losses to the Lions and a 9-1 humbling by the Bobcats, Coffs Coast Tigers will have been relieved to get back to winning ways in their return to Polwarth Drive with an authoritative 10-2 conquering of Grafton United on Saturday. In an interesting curio, Tigers have actually scored more goals than two of the competition’s top 3 sides, Urunga and Orara, this season (despite having played one game more than the former), but with the leakiest defence outside of the two Grafton clubs, their attacking prowess has proven mere window dressing on a house with shaky foundations.
That being said, Tigers have hardly had things easy this season, and with better discipline to minimise suspensions, a bit of defensive improvement and a less hectic schedule, they would seem a decent chance of making up the points gap between their current situation and finals contention – which really only equates to another 3 wins over the course of a season – by the time 2018 rolls around. A 3-1 midweek defeat to Maclean will be disappointing for the boys in tangerine, but the two remaining games against Boambee and Northern Storm will offer them the opportunity to make some headlines of a very positive nature. Should long time stalwart Dane Dixon go around for another campaign, his two decades of premier league experience between the ears will surely help the Tigers’ young charges tighten up their overall play, with the dynamism of Tom Mitchell and adroit glovework of Jake Tarrant already forming the framework of a decent defensive unit.
The weekend saw another close loss for the Storm but this time it was an attackers’ day out. Talisman Jamie Kennedy had a field day with 4 goals including becoming the first man to elude the outstretched paw of Jake Stitt from the spot in quite some time, while fellow club mainstay Mykel Watson chipped in with a strike of his own. It’s not often that 5 goals aren’t enough to win you the football game but that was the case on the weekend, as Storm shipped 6 and despite a gallant effort saw another game slip through their fingers. One for the stats gurus – when was the last time two teams met twice in the regular season with 11 goals scored in both games and at least three scored by each team on both occasions (8-3 and 6-5)? Surely a first for the NCF Premier League competition.
Despite what conceding 6 goals may suggest, the Nathan Skinner-less defensive line of Michael Turner, Jeff Odgers, Nathan Parkins – who provided onlookers with one of the more entertaining moments of the season in the form of what looked to be a failed breakdancing attempt while on the ball – and Jacques Ndizeye actually acquitted themselves quite well and forced the Boambee attack into a number of errors – it was primarily the midfield battle where the game was lost. A courageous effort from Manuel Rivera saw him turn in a full 90 for reserve grade and then start reserve grade directly afterwards, playing around 70 minutes in one of the game’s most high-tempo positions of central midfield, while goalkeeper Marcus Woschitzka had turned out at striker in the previous game – while these may seem only tangential minutiae, they tell a story of a strong effort from an undermanned side and the fact they took a full strength Bombers all the way is testament to what the Thunder are capable of. Next season will no doubt see them mount a much stronger finals challenge, but first they must back up against Sawtell and Coffs Coast Tigers to close out the season, and they will be justifiably confident of making waves on both occasions.
The Grafton derby takes place this weekend at Rushforth Park and Clarence-based fans would do well to get along on Saturday night for what should be closely contested encounters in both reserve grade and premier league. Both clubs are playing for pride at this point but United will definitely looking to get one back on their Junction Hill rivals after going down 4-1 in the clubs’ previous rendezvous and register their first points of 2017. They will face Urunga in the last week of the season while Tigers will take on Boambee in back to back games, so both sides will probably view this weekend’s fixture as the last realistic chance to get some points on the board. Full credit has to go to both clubs for playing the game in the right spirit throughout the season and always giving the best possible account of themselves, and their respective reserve grade teams have been a thorn in the side of their opponents in recent weeks with some impressive performances.