By Tim Klingbiel
After a tough battle with Wildcats ‘2’ last week that ultimately saw them go down 4-0, the Victory had an even more difficult assignment on their hands as they drew Wildcats ‘1’ at Connell Park. The first quarter of the game saw both sides looking very even as the Bello girls competed well for possession and played at their highest level. Manager Deb Baigent praised defender Bella Ashley for the way she took charge and led by example, showing urgency on the ball and communicating effectively.
Lauren Rigney and Sam Barker were combining well in midfield with some quality one-twos and fellow midfielder Barb Webster offered strength, structure and an exceptional work rate. It was Webster who mustered the Victory’s first shot at goal, which was denied by the Wildcats keeper. Buoyed by having thwarted the attack, the ladies in blue raced up the other end to strike low and hard to the right hand side to open the scoring.
Victory keeper Shae Heron, with limited training as a goalkeeper and only one prior game under her belt between her sticks – the previous week – was showing ‘stoic determination’ according to Baigent and opposing coach Rod Touzel described Heron’s efforts as ‘unorthodox but effective’. Unfortunately for Bello, communication lapses proved a thorn in their side for the remainder of the half and frustration began to breed through the team.
The Bellingen midfield began to tuck into defence and the resultant gaps across the park invited the Woopi attackers to set themselves and launch composed long shots, two of which found the back of the net to send the black and white into the sheds at 3-0 down. During the break, coach Kim Barker ironed out a few issues with marking and verbalised some changes in strategy. Ever the optimist, winger Cath Hawkshaw was keen to get back out on the park to swap sides and take advantage of a less ‘tufty grassed’ flank.
Cath Hawkshaw gets stuck in for the Victory. Photo by Deb Baigent.
Woopi too looked keen to come out from the sheds and despite having a barren substitute bench in contrast to the full complement of Bello players, they showed no sign of slowing down. The relentless defence of Hannah Watt, who produced several well read blocking tackles, as well as the control and accuracy of Webster and the pressure of Sam Barker who shut down Woolgoolga’s Chloe Wighton and Kim Batty on multiple occasions, were highlights for the Victory, and they ensured the Wildcats could never quite ease into cruise control.
Perhaps the highlight of the half was a cracking strike from Woopi captain Batty from outside the box, which Baigent deemed ‘worth of awe and respect’, though a stunning triple save from Heron went close as she dived on the ball, then rolled over it on her stomach, then finally caught it between her feet in the most unorthodox and bamboozling of fashions. The Victory attack were not without their positives despite being held scoreless, with some good crosses, cutbacks and movement off the ball hinting at a solid future once the side have become more established.
The final quarter of an hour saw Hawkshaw volunteer to marshal the sticks for Bello, replacing Heron whose quads had seized up. She was able to produce some inspiring diving saves and match the effort level of Heron to keep things in check for the Victory. With only a few minutes to go, a moment of good sportsmanship took place that was heartening for all involved. Captains Barker and Batty had clashed repeatedly throughout the game in hard but fair tackles and tussles, and on this occasion Barker had managed to pull off a clever nutmeg on Batty, whose frustration momentarily spilled over and saw her bring Barker down with an ankle tap from behind. Crashing to the deck, Barker eschewed any theatrics to dust herself off and accept the outstretched hand of a remorseful Batty, and the match continued with no fuss. Sometimes it is the briefest of minutiae that define ‘the beautiful game’.
Captains Barker and Batty fought tooth and nail to gain the ascendancy throughout the match. Photo by Deb Baigent.
By full time, the Victory had gone down 7-0 but Baigent noted it was a gallant effort by the entire squad as they contended with an established 1st Division side – last year’s grand finalists, no less. Baigent praised Woopi for some excellent goals on the afternoon, and the mood amongst the Bello’s squad was hardly glum by any stretch. They remain at home this weekend as they host Boambee Eagles ‘2’ in what should be yet another challenging encounter.
Two strong results for the Eagles as the ‘1’s eased past Urunga Raiders ‘2’ 19-0 and the ‘2’s defeated Corindi Breakers 8-1. The less said about such lopsided results the better, but coaches Glenn Bennett and Fiona Clancy will nonetheless be relieved to negotiate another week with a combined six points and keep both the ‘1’s’ Premiership charge and the ‘2’s’ finals bid on track.
After both enjoying home games, both the ‘1’s and ‘2’s will travel south this weekend, the former to Bellevue Drive to take on the Macksville Stingers and the latter to Connell Park to face the Bellingen Victory. Both sides will have designs on another six point week for the club and indeed this remains a strong possibility.
The Breakers did not disgrace themselves in an 8-1 defeat to Boambee Eagles ‘2’, and have now scored three in their last five games after not having scored in their first five. The margin is expected to be much closer this weekend as they travel to Morgo Street to do battle with Urunga Raiders ‘2’, who currently lie just two positions above them on the table.
Coffs City United Lionesses
The Lionesses had the bye in round 11, which came at a somewhat frustrating time when they were carrying a huge amount of momentum and looking like a genuinely top echelon side in the competition. They have a difficult assignment ahead of them this weekend as they make the trip south to take on Trevor Martin’s Urunga Raiders ‘1’, but judging by the amount of difficulty they had Eagles ‘1’ in just three weeks ago, it’s certainly not beyond them by any stretch.
The Stingers hosted Woolgoolga Wildcats ‘2’ on Saturday in what the vast majority of football enthusiasts in the area believed would be a closely contested fixture. They were proven right, in an entertaining affair were both sides showed up looking ready and raring for action. The Wildcats struck first, but the Stingers refused to drop their head and levelled proceedings through the prolific Lilly Borg, who finished off a quick attacking move.
A close midfield battle was playing out, and the Wildcats were able to make another breakthrough just before the break to take a 2-1 lead into the sheds. The Stingers returned with verve, applying pressure and lifting their overall standard of play, which saw Kirra Perry produce an equaliser.
Manager Deb Turner praised the strong defence of Liz Smith, who led the way at the back and helped repel the Wildcats for much of the second half. Heartbreakingly for the home side however, the Wildcats were able to produce an 89th minute winner to travel home with three points in the bag. Smith was deemed ‘player of the game’ and coach Pete Turner was effusive post-match, noting it had been a great game played by both teams and congratulating his spirited Stingers on their display.
The Stingers will have a mountain to climb this weekend as they host top of the table Boambee Eagles ‘1’, but while many sides may view such a contest as a case of damage control and set up in a purely defensive system designed to stifle and suffocate their opposition, Macksville are a much more entertaining and enterprising side than that and will no doubt to their best to get on the front foot and catch the normally omnipotent Eagles napping with a few lightning counter attacks.
The Strikers were justifiably heavy underdogs going into their home game against second placed Urunga Raiders ‘1’, but turned in a spirited display. Midfielders Anna Champion, Amie Goswell and Emily Lane were full of running all afternoon and produced some very physical play. Wingers Zara Pastega and Sam Walsh were proving adept defensively, helping the backline of Cheree Chapman, Melissa Urquhart, Brea Walsh, Jess White and Jemma Burtonwood out on innumerable occasions to make life tough for the Raiders.
With keeper Carly Smith in inspired form and pulling off a string of great saves, Urunga were ultimately resorting to long range efforts in an attempt to somehow elude the Nambucca custodian. They took 35 minutes to find the opener, utilising a height advantage to outjump the Strikers defence and head home to take a 1-0 lead to the break.
With Walsh doing her best impersonation of the Roadrunner and Pastega serving balls on a plate from the right flank, strikers Kyiesha Cohen and Terri White were able to make a number of incursions into the Raiders defensive third. Cohen and White were regularly rotated to maximise the intensity levels, with Keily Chase and Ella Lewis also contributing off the bench to make life difficult for the Urunga midfield playmakers.
The score remained 1-0 until the final quarter hour, when a long range strike caught Smith unsighted and doubled the advantage for the Raiders, who rode their luck to score a deflected strike just moments later. The Strikers kept on stepping up to the plate despite running on empty, with Simone Jordan’s late cameo helping matters immensely in the energy stakes. One final late strike to the Raiders pushed the scoreline to a rather harsh 4-0, which was hardly reflective of the Strikers’ quality on the afternoon.
With their two win streak now having been broken, Clay Urquhart’s girls will be as keen as ever to start another winning run as they host Orara Valley Dingoes this Saturday. They lie just four points outside of a finals position, but with a goal difference of 20 less than the fourth placed Wildcats ‘2’, they will have a mountain to climb if they are indeed to feature in September football.
Orara Valley Dingoes
The Dingoes produced a spirited showing on the weekend as they held the Scorpions to a 1-1 draw at home. A win would have kept them at the relatively lofty heights of just three points outside of finals, but the loss combined with their unenviable -35 goal difference leaves them in a precarious position as far as a top four finish is concerned. But the Dairyville girls have improved in leaps and bounds throughout this campaign under the influential Helen Moseley, and will back themselves to steal a result this weekend as they make the trip to Coronation Park to take on the Strikers.
Coming off the bye, Rachael Oberleuter’s girls were ready and raring for a return to the pitch, and had a trip to Dairyville on the cards to sate their footballing appetite. Looking as hungry as they have all season, they fought tooth and nail en route to a well deserved 1-1 draw and in doing so increased their 2018 points tally by 50%. A difficult game awaits in the form of a trip to High Street to play Woolgoolga Wildcats ‘2’, but if they can manage a draw with the Dingoes – who defeated Wildcats ‘2’ 5-4 just a few weeks back – they are certainly in with a shout.
The Raiders made the short trip to the ‘Corroseum’ and coach Trevor Martin said he and side side fully expected a ‘determined and gritty approach’ from their hosts. He wasn’t wrong, and as the Raiders took the field with just ten players available and no genuine keeper, they knew they were going to be in for a difficult afternoon.
As the home side sat deep and put most of their players behind the ball in an effort to absorb pressure, the Raiders were starved of space and found it difficult to create clear cut goalscoring opportunities. Despite getting forward well, the Raiders were largely unable to find the crucial final ball and with such a crowded box and a pressing Strikers defence, the Raiders were finding themselves shooting from further and further out, with Nambucca custodian Carly Smith performing superbly and equal to seemingly everything thrown at her.
A consistent run of attacks for the Raiders ultimately led to a cross from the left that found its way to the back stick, where Belinda Moore was on hand to calmly place the ball behind Smith and give the Raiders the lead. The home side reacted well by pushing even harder than they had been, with Martin noting they ‘showed no fear in taking the ball forward when opportunities came’. The Raiders backline had steeled themselves for battle though, and Nambucca’s deep lying setup meant they were unable to pour forward in great numbers and thus they rarely caused great difficulty for the visitors.
There was, however, a 10 minute spell where that pattern looked like changing. Martin said his girls ‘lost composure in the back third and made it difficult to clear [their] lines – play was panicky at times, perhaps due to the unexpected pressure’. The Strikers came close during that period of play but fortunately for the Raiders, a sense of calm was ultimately recaptured and they got back to keeping more controlled possession.
Clear cut chances remained few and far between, but Jordan Healy almost produced a moment of magic as she volleyed a driving Kate Fry cross hard and low just inside the post. Only an athletic dive and an outstretched glove from Smith thwarted Healy on that occasion. The Strikers had an opportunity of their own to find an equaliser just before the break, having been awarded a free kick just outside the box when Steph Morrison was adjudged to have impeded a Strikers attacker in a one on one tussle. The strike was off target though, and the teams went to the interval with the score delicately poised at 1-0 Raiders.
During the half time break, the Raiders crucially picked up an 11th player to complete the on field lineup. Martin reinforced ‘the need to match the home side’s determination and commitment if [his side] wanted to dominate’. He observed that ‘although everyone already knew the solution, it has been a while since it’s carried this much weight’.
An 11 vs 11 ball game in the second stanza changed the complexion of the game quite substantially, with the Raiders feeling as if they could steady the ship and ‘re-establish the links that were missing in [their] first half shape and combination play’. Almost immediately displaying improved purpose and intensity, they began to create chances with much greater regularity and the front four were combining well. Only the wall-like Smith was separating them from a much greater leading margin, making saves even on occasions when the Raiders had already commenced their celebrations.
Though frustrated by how tough it had been to break through, the Raiders lifted their desire to find a way to forge ahead. Overlapping runs from their fullbacks ramped the pressure up on the Strikers defence and at one point Morrison thought she had the Raiders’ second until a goal line save denied her at the last possible moment – though on first inspection it appeared the arm that produced said save may not have been Smith’s, play was waved on and the girls in maroon went back to the drawing board.
Through the relentlessness of their attack and the sheer weight of possession, Urunga did finally find their second, as a good attacking combination found Moore to seal her brace. This breakthrough buoyed the Raiders’ spirits, and they were able to ramp up their level yet again as dangerous wide player Ash Mackie got herself on the scoresheet. Minutes before the final whistle, playmaker Amy Gibbins, sitting just behind the strikers, chipped in with one of her own to make the final score 4-0.
Martin gave full credit to the home side for playing the main role in making the game the competitive encounter that it was, stating that ‘they took to the field full of self belief and for them the match was never a foregone conclusion’. He believes that the match ‘was probably just the tonic Urunga 1 needed coming towards the last few weeks of competition’. They will host Coffs City United Lionesses this weekend in what will be another tough encounter against a stoic and well organised defensive unit.
The ‘2’s had a rather less distinguished day out, going down 19-0 to the top of the table Boambee Eagles ‘1’ side. They have now gone four games straight without scoring, but will no doubt be looking to regroup ahead of this weekend’s home fixture against Corindi Breakers, where they will most likely enter the tie as favourites.
It was an excellent weekend for the Woolgoolga club, as both Wildcats sides registered victories – Wildcats ‘1’ getting up 7-0 over Bellingen at Connell Park and Wildcats ‘2’ nabbing a pulsating 3-2 win right at the death at Bellevue Drive against Macksville, with the winner coming in the 89th minute.
Those results mean that Wildcats ‘1’ have kept themselves mathematically in the Premiership hunt while the ‘2’s have elevated themselves into fourth spot on the ladder as a result of the Lionesses’ bye. The potential of both teams featuring in finals football remains still very much alive, and while the ‘1’s have to sit out this weekend with a bye, the ‘2’s will be looking to keep the good times rolling and make it three wins in a row as they host Sawtell Scorpions at High Street on Saturday.