By Tim Klingbiel
The Victory travelled to High Street knowing they would have a tough assignment on their hands in the form of Wildcats ‘2’. Coach Kim Barker was forced to draw upon a limited pool of players with four of her younger squad members unavailable and two experienced players in Barb Webster and Sam Barker carrying hip and knee injuries respectively. This necessitated positional reshuffles and consequent forced adaptation by the players to unfamiliar roles.
The struggles were evident early on as the Victory defence found themselves all at sea. Woolgoolga’s speedy wing play saw them take full advantage of the disorganisation and rifle two home inside the first 20 minutes. Zoe Webster began proving herself one of the leading lights for Bello, though, and pushed up out of the backline to join her mum Barb in midfield. The family combination worked a treat, with combinations of precise passing and tandem pressing allowing the Victory to develop several promising pieces of attacking interplay.
Just as the girls appeared to have found their feet and settled into their positions, keeper Ella Jandzio-Fry fell ill around the 25 minute mark and was forced off the field for the remainder of the game. Stand-in striker and Over 30s player Shae Heron had been receiving crosses from Sam Barker and looking threatening in front of goal, but suddenly found herself at the other end of the park as she took up the gloves. Manager Deb Baigent said that Barker ‘took to the new position with gusto, charging off her line without hesitation’ and ‘putting her body on the line, dust flying around her as she hit the deck engulfing the ball with an urgency for ownership’.
Both the Victory and Wildcats traded blows and Barker was able to test the home keeper with a couple of long range drives, as well as Ash Harris – having filled in the void at striker created by Heron’s shift – mustering back to back strikes at goal in the latter minutes of the half. Coach Barker expressed the importance of effective communication during her half time talk, as well as urging her girls to maintain possession and take the easy passing option when available.
Baigent praised Heron’s continued effort between the sticks in the second half as she continued to ‘challenge the Woopi forwards with tenacity and bravado’ and denied the girls in blue on several occasions. Bello themselves were going on the attack with regularity and feeding some excellent crosses into the opposition box. One on occasion, the elder Webster took a great touch to round a Woopi defender and delivered a beautiful cross to the far post, but the Victory attack could not finish the chance.
It didn’t take long for such profligacy to be punished, and a solid finish low and left eluded the athletic dive of Heron, who threw herself at the ball with no regard for self-preservation. It took something quite special to beat her and indeed the strike had been executed to perfection. The score of 3-0 at this point was not telling the full story of what was a very competitive encounter, and Baigent was impressed at ‘the continued improvement of rookie players taking the ball down on their body and demonstrating the advantage of heading the ball’, which she says shows ‘promise of the growth and future of the Bellingen squad’.
Heading towards the tail end of the match, Woopi were able to score a fourth goal, but Heron ensured this would be their last with some great reading of the game, demonstrating both positioning and shot stopping that would ordinarily dictate a far greater level of experience with the gloves. Her communication allowed defenders Jordy Guest and Hannah Watt to combine well with her to marshal the backline, and Molly Odgers ran tirelessly in what was a non-stop effort. Coach Barker singled Odgers out for praise after the game and commented that her continued improvement on the pitch is a credit to her effort and dedication at training and her eagerness to learn the ins and outs of technical play.
Baigent thanked the Woopi girls for a competitive game that was played in good spirits as well as Over 30s players Heron and Donna Navin – who was solid and reliable as always – for filling in and allow the Victory to play out the match without going down on troops. It was a solid performance for the Victory in virtually every aspect except on the scoreboard, and with a few more squad members at their disposal for this week’s matchup with Wildcats ‘1’, they will hope to remain somewhat competitive with an even higher standard of opposition and continue their learning experience of this campaign.
Eagles ‘1’ were unfortunate to have to participate in a genuine mismatch as they took on a green Corindi Breakers side. Every Boambee player scored at least one goal on the afternoon – including both goalkeepers – but it was not a particularly enjoyable occasion for either side. Manager John Walker said that the skill and fitness levels on display were hardly comparable and this is an unfortunate side effect of the combined competition this season. Walker said it was extremely difficult for either side to maintain motivation throughout the match.
Eagles ‘2’, however, were involved in a far more competitive encounter, as they rather agonisingly went down 1-0 in a razor thin matchup against Coffs City United Lionesses at McLean Street. The result dealt a hammer blow to the Eagles’ finals ambitions and they have now been dragged back into the dogfight rather than being able to elevate themselves close to the four.
For Glenn Bennett’s ‘1’s, another mismatch looms this weekend as they host Urunga Raiders ‘2’. Rather extraordinarily, Eagles ‘1’ and Raiders ‘1’ have scored exactly the same amount of goals – 93 – each after nine games played, though the Eagles have conceded just three to the Raiders’ seven. The Eagles will be looking to maintain both their 100% record results-wise as well as their stellar attacking and defensive statistics this weekend. Eagles ‘2’ take on the Breakers at home and will expect to win that fixture and reignite their quest to seal a coveted top four spot.
It was a week to forget for the Breakers, who were a victim of circumstance in the combined competition and ran into a side in Eagles ‘1’ who have not only been consistently the strongest in 1st Division for many years, but one in which each player probably has more senior experience than the entire Corindi squad combined. It was unfortunately always going to be a recipe for disaster, and the less said about the result the better.
They will travel to Ayrshire Park this weekend to take on Eagles ‘2’ in what hopefully should be a contest decided by not nearly as wide of a margin as last week. To the Breakers credit, they have never looked like giving up throughout an incredibly difficult campaign and their resilience is second to none. The experience and quality within their ranks will develop in time, but for now it is primarily a case of learning each week and doing their best to be as competitive as possible against 2nd Division opponents.
Coffs City United Lionesses
The Lionesses’ march continued with a hugely important 1-0 win over Eagles ‘2’ on Saturday. They have now kept three clean sheets in their past four games and conceded just two against Eagles ‘1’ the previous week, an exceptional effort by any measure. Their defence is now good for equal third in the competition with just 12 leaked in 10 games, and only Wildcats ‘1’ with five and Eagles ‘1’ and Raiders ‘1’ with six each have kept more than their four clean sheets for the campaign.
They have now opened up a three point gap in fourth – though the chasing Wildcats ‘2’ do have a game in hand and a superior goal difference – and lie just three behind Wildcats ‘1’ in third. Somewhat frustratingly, they have a bye this weekend and won’t get another chance to capitalise upon their wave of momentum until the following week against Raiders ‘1’. That game will be a tough assignment, but after the trouble they gave Eagles ‘1’ in round 9, it’s certainly not beyond these girls and an upset at the Patch might well be on the cards.
The Stingers were riding a run of three straight wins and had given their season an altogether different complexion to how things were looking when they sat on just three points from six rounds of football. A trip to Urunga to take on Raiders ‘1’, however, was going to be a much greater challenge to overcome. Manager Deb Turner said her girls knew ‘it was going to be a hard road ahead’, and ultimately those words proved prophetic.
The Stingers started the match with stout defending and great commitment throughout the side, however the sheer volume of attacks from the Raiders meant the Macksville girls were unable to keep them at bay for too long. Though keeper Sarah Mander made an excellent save, followed by a scrambling piece of desperation defence from Laura Peisely to clear the ball off the line, in a passage of play that courageously denied the Raiders an opener, by the half hour mark it was 3-0 to the favourites. A couple more late in the opening stanza saw the score blow out to 5-0 by half time, a cruel reflection of a half of football where the Stingers had actually produced some decent passages of play.
By the time the second half had come around, Turner said the Stingers had lifted their game and midfielder Sasha Frost was producing some quality plays to provide the forwards with a few solid opportunities to score. Unfortunately, they were unable to capitalise in attack, though the most positive aspect of the half was undoubtedly a vastly improved defensive showing that yielded just two goals for the Raiders. Turner noted that Liz Smith had a great game and kept shutting down Urunga’s attacks on the right hand side, and she congratulated the team on their efforts against a much more experienced side. ‘Player of the game’ went to Paige Ussher who was ‘haunting the Urunga backline whenever she received the ball’ and looked threatening on a number of occasions.
This weekend will see the Stingers host Woolgoolga Wildcats ‘2’ at Bellevue Drive. It will be a difficult game, but if they are able to pick up the three points they will put themselves right up amongst the finals conversation. The way the table stands at present means one could practically throw a blanket over a gaggle of finals aspirants from positions 5 to 9, and by the end of the season there could well be a very different look about the order of the teams therein. Macksville will know that their destiny remains in their own hands and this should spur them on to continue playing their best football and delivering quality performances each week.
The Strikers’ finals ambitions were starting to look like they were on life support after two straight defeats to Macksville and Coffs United, but last week’s strong win over Corindi appeared to be just the tonic they needed to reignite their charge towards the upper echelons of the ladder in what shapes as one of the closest and toughest finals battles for many years. The short away trip to Morgo Street to take on Urunga Raiders ‘2’ would offer them a chance to clock up consecutive wins and close the gap even further to where they no doubt want to be come season’s end.
Close the gap they did – a 3-0 win allowing them to leapfrog Macksville, Orara and Eagles ‘2’ in one fell swoop and move from ninth to sixth on the ladder. Should they manage to win their game in hand, they could hypothetically close the gap to the fourth placed Lionesses to just a solitary point after ten games of football. It’s quite an exciting position to be in for Clay Urquhart’s side, who have gone from strength to strength this season and continue to improve in every facet by the week.
The clean sheet in particular will be pleasing, but repeating the feat will be a near insurmountable task this weekend as they take on the powerful Raiders ‘1’ side at the ‘Coroseum’. It’s likely that the girls in blue, white and red will be targeting the encounter more as a learning experience than one marked down in the diary as three points in the bank, but if they are indeed able to produce a result, it would be a seismic shock in the context of the competition and might well be the catalyst for a dream run home for the Strikers in the latter passages of their 2018 campaign.
Orara Valley Dingoes
It was a tough day at the office for the Dingoes, who fell 9-1 to Kim Batty’s Wildcats ‘1’ side at High Street. Despite what the magnitude of the scoreline might suggest, there was a lot of fight in the Dingoes, and Helen Moseley’s girls kept coming at the home side from kick off right up until the final whistle. Batty praised the spirit of the Orara girls’ display, and it’s no mean feat to be able to score against the top Woopi side – who have kept five clean sheets this season already.
The Dingoes will hope to recapture the vibe around the squad that saw them win two straight in rounds 8 and 9 – both of which were highly entertaining fixtures – as they host Rachael Oberleuter’s Sawtell Scorpions at Dairyville on Saturday. Despite some chastening results over the course of the season so far, the fact of the matter for the Dingoes is that if they are able to win their game in hand, they could feasibly close the gap on the fourth placed Lionesses to just three points, so anything is still possible for the girls in yellow with time still left in the season.
The Scorpions had a bye in round 10, and will travel to Dairyville in round 11 to take on Orara Valley Dingoes. They will no doubt be targeting a result in that game, as Rachael Oberleuter’s outfit look to continue moving from strength to strength throughout what has been a tough reintroduction to life in local senior football.
The girls are in good hands, however, and have already been able to produce a very credible season highlight in the form of a 1-1 draw against the competition’s current fourth placed side, Coffs City United Lionesses, back in week three of the combined competition in late April. Only twice this season have they been defeated in a fashion that could be deemed genuinely comprehensive, and there is certainly no shame in going down to sides at the level of Eagles ‘1’ and Raiders ‘1’ in such a manner. In any case, the Scorpions will keep getting better and should provide Orara with a stern test on Saturday afternoon.
Trevor Martin and his Raiders ‘1’ girls came into their home fixture against Macksville wary of the threats their opposition posed and aware of the winning culture out of the Stingers camp that was fostered through last season’s victorious 2nd Division campaign that culminated in a memorable Championship to take home to the Bellevue Drive trophy cabinet. Martin knew they could not take this one lightly, and though his girls approached the match with confidence, he said they also understood that ‘they would need to step up and apply themselves to the job at hand with more intensity and commitment than [had] been the case in [their] last few matchups’.
The return of custodian Jessica Snow between the sticks gave them the rare luxury of having 12 players at their disposal for the match – after a recent run of having the bare XI at a maximum. Martin said that the visitors showed their intentions early and demonstrated ‘a willingness to press hard and take the game to the home side’ with ‘no lack of commitment from them and strong physicality in the opening minutes [setting] the stage for an entertaining battle’. Having already anticipated such an approach, however, the Raiders rose to the occasion and lifted their own intensity to match that of the Stingers.
The girls in maroon moved the ball quickly through the centre of the park and brought the strikers into the play with regularity, creating some golden opportunities early on. Ash Mackie in particular was asking questions of the Stingers defence, tucking in and running at defenders at will. It was through this channel that the Raiders found their opener – Mackie crossing to Sheree Bowland at the far post, who finished confidently. Martin said that Bowland’s form of late has been deadly, and so it proved as she quickly grabbed her brace, beating a defender to make space and finish from the edge of the D.
Almost every single time Mackie had the ball, she was creating genuine headaches for the visitors, and before half time had two of her own. Martin gave full credit to the Stingers for their enterprise when they did have possession, never hesitating to pour forward and attempt a direct approach. He praised the efforts of Lilly Borg and Dakota Hillery, who each made inroads on multiple occasions only to be thwarted by a composed and thoughtful Urunga defence, who were happy to play a passing game inside their own third before pushing forward at their own pace and not panicking whatsoever.
By the time the game was over, the Raiders had produced seven without reply, though a much improved defensive performance in the second stanza from Macksville meant the Urunga girls added just two to their half time score. Belinda Moore was excelling herself in something of a free role behind the front four, creating a second phase of attack wherever possible and ultimately getting herself on the scoresheet as well. Martin singled out Macksville keeper Sarah Mander for her excellent performance that prevented the score from blowing out further, and said that ‘the whole Macksville squad showed determination and a never say die attitude throughout the match and ensured that the home side could not relax and take anything for granted’.
For the Raiders, Martin said that ‘it was a strong performance and reassurance that [they] can lift to the occasion where required, [as well as] good reinforcement that [their] approach and intent are not at all in doubt’. They will need to apply that very same philosophy this weekend as they travel to Coronation Park to take on a hungry Nambucca Strikers side who seem to have recaptured some form. It’s not going to be an easy game and the Raiders will need to have their wits about them to prevent a boilover and stay in the Premiership hunt.
Both sets of Wildcats produced some quality football in round 10, grabbing six points between them and conceding just one goal in a combined 180 minutes of football at the blustery High Street grounds. Coach Kim Batty said her ‘1’s were expecting a tough match against Orara, who had defeated their ‘2’s just a couple of rounds earlier. They prepared well for the challenges the Dingoes would throw their way, and ultimately dealt with the assignment in the strongest possible way.
Batty said her girls ‘had some moments where [they] played the ball around the field well with some nice supporting play, which created multiple scoring opportunities’, and everything fell into place nicely for the Wildcats. She credited the Dingoes for fighting hard and keeping the Wildcats on their toes, with one defensive lapse being punished with aplomb to sully a potential clean sheet for the home side. By full time, the final count of the damage was 9-1, and the three points helped the girls in blue keep the pressure up on both the ladder leading Eagles ‘1’ and the second placed Raiders ‘1’.
Wildcats ‘2’ took on Bellingen Victory, having faced 1st Division opposition in each of their previous two rounds. They were able to get back on track, dominating possession and displaying an accomplished passing game. Coach Rachel Baston said it was great to see that what they had been focusing on in training had greatly improved the girls’ game and was being implemented effectively in a game situation. She said they ‘were able to create numerous scoring opportunities through some quick [changes of pace] and precise through balls’. They ultimately came away with a strong 4-0 win, which allowed them to stay in touch with the Lionesses in the fight for fourth spot.
Wildcats ‘1’ will travel to Bellingen this weekend, and with Wildcats ‘2’ going to Macksville, Batty believes they will be struggling for numbers. She says they ‘will definitely need to be on [their] toes for this game as [she thinks] Bello with their full squad will be challenging’. Baston says she expects a tough game for the ‘2’s, and hopes her girls will improve upon last weekend’s performance and come away with the win. Another six point weekend is definitely within the realms of possibility and would prove an excellent shot in the arm for both sides’ campaigns.