NPL Northern NSW Semi Finals 1st Leg Preview
Lambton Jaffas v Edgeworth Eagles
Saturday 25th August, 2:30 pm at Arthur Edden Oval
The last time these two sides met in the NPL Northern NSW finals series, it was scoreless for 110 minutes. This time around, they’ll have at least 180 minutes to find goals and it all starts this Saturday at Arthur Edden Oval.
Of course, when the two have met this season, there have been plenty of goals in normal time. Nine, in fact – Lambton won their season opener against Edgeworth 4-3 with a goal at the death, and the two drew 1-1 in the return fixture in round 12.
These two teams come into this match with form which can only be described as contrasting.
Edgeworth, having wrapped up the premiership a fortnight ago against Lake Macquarie, have won their last three matches. They haven’t lost a competitive fixture in a long time: you have to go back to June 9th in the FFA Cup to find their last defeat.
What’s more impressive, is it’s even longer in the league. The last time they lost in the NPL Northern NSW was May 13th, when Adamstown managed a famous 1-0 victory thanks to a lone Luke Vallone goal. That’s 12 league matches without defeat for the Eagles.
Lambton hasn’t enjoyed the type of season which many thought they might have at the start of the season, but it’s still been one which they can look back on with some pride. Recent form hasn’t been great though: two losses on the trot (to Lakes and Maitland), and without a win in almost a month.
Before that though, they’d enjoyed a solid run of four victories on the trot and hadn’t lost in the league since May 12 when they were beaten by Hamilton. That’s the type of form they’ll have to rediscover this weekend, and you might tip them to do just that.
While it’s not exactly clear how much can be read into a team’s home and away record, given the relatively small geographical area which the NPL Northern NSW teams operate within, it’s undeniable that Lambton’s is good.
So good in fact, it’s the equal-best (with Maitland) in the league. They’ve only lost at home on two occasions this season: three weeks ago to Maitland, and to Hamilton back in May.
Edgeworth can match it though: they have the best record on the road by a long shot. In nine games away from home this season, they’ve won eight and lost just once.
In the type of do-or-die tie where experience can make all the difference, Lambton has an abundance of it; the likes of Joel and Ryan Griffiths, Jobe Wheelhouse and Brad Swancott.
They have struggled with injury at various junctures this season, but James Pascoe has nearly a full contingent to choose from this weekend. Ridge Mapu is out after tearing his ACL last weekend, Bren Hammel is back training and is a good chance to snag a spot on the bench, while Marcus Duncan has a question mark over him also after picking up a head knock last weekend.
Missing out on some of their all-too valuable experience in the semi-finals is Edgeworth, who will be without veteran striker Daniel McBreen as he fulfils coaching duties with the Guam national team.
They’re likely to have a near-full squad to pick from. Aaron Oppedisano is on the road to recovery, while Dylan Holz, Pat Wheeler, and Dom Bizzarri were all rested in last weekend’s 1-0 win over Valentine. Aaron McLoughlin is likely to be out this weekend.
What the coaches said:
James Pascoe (Lambton)
“There’s a healthy contingent of boys from last year still with us, I think it’s always a little bit dangerous to look back and try to draw too much comparison to 12 months ago for a number of reasons, be it form or fitness. Edgeworth are very different to what they were in the grand final last year.
“We’ve just got to go in knowing that we’re playing against the most consistent team in the competition, who are very disciplined at what they do. They don’t play flashy football, but it’s effective, and they’ve done it better than anyone else this year. We’ve got a challenge over the next two weeks to get on top of them over two legs, but having said that, I know the quality that is in my group.
“Our issue this year is that we haven’t had enough of our best players on the field at any given time for any stretch of time… but we go into it with a good attitude and no fear of what we’re going to come up against. We know them well, we’ve got a good record against them, and we’ll give it our best shot.
“If you look at some of those experienced boys, Michael Kantarovski will have his sixth start of the season because of his injury problems. Joel Griffiths has missed five or six games with work and another couple with injury, Jobe [Wheelhouse] likewise, I think has had two starts out of twenty games. They’ll give me what they can give me.
“I don’t know that they can give much more, given how their seasons have gone, but it’s probably a case of the boys around them doing their job and not rely on the older boys to carry the team through. They’ll provide what they can, which is experience, big game knowledge, they’ve all got great techniques, game smarts, they’ll provide all of that. It’s the other boys that need to bring the real physical effort to carry those boys along.”
Damien Zane (Edgeworth)
“It’s just another game, really. They beat us in the grand final, but if we beat them [in the semis] it’s not going to change the result of that grand final and what we’re trying to do is to get into this year’s grand final. It’s a semi-final now, not the regular season, but not much changes.
“The intensity always rises, players are excited and keen to get out there and win a spot in the grand final. For all four teams, I’m sure the intensity has gone up a notch this week and it’s common. Players get excited, but it’s about keeping a lid on that excitement and not using up too much energy thinking about it.
“We’ve got to come up with something tactically outstanding because they’ve got far better players than us. I’ve been on the whiteboard 24 hours a day trying to work out how I can even the ledger up without putting a 12th man out there.
“We lost to them in round one in the last three minutes and gifted them an equaliser in the second round, and we’re concerned with ourselves at the end of the day. We go into this match as champions and I’ve got every bit of confidence in the boys that we can play our game and they can worry about us.”
Maitland Magpies v Broadmeadow Magic
Sunday 26th August, 2:30 pm at Cooks Square Park
It’s not a scenario that many would have thought possible looking at the ladder across the final few weeks of the competition, but it will be Magic and Maitland meeting in a finals clash for the first time since July 2000.
Up on the hill at Cooks Square Park on that day more than 18 years ago, it was Maitland who triumphed with a big 4-0 win. Fast forward to the 2018 season, and it was just a few days that Maitland and Magic met at that very ground.
Maitland’s season was riding on the result, and they got in and got the job done with a 2-0 win over a Broadmeadow Magic side which perhaps had one eye on the FFA Cup.
Ultimately it came to no avail for Magic, who went down 4-0 to NPL Victoria high-fliers Bentleigh Greens on Tuesday night at Magic Park. The red men can hold their heads high though, having made the FFA Cup Round of 16 for the first time.
In that match were a number of players who were rested for the weekend’s clash against Maitland, including the likes of captain Josh Piddington, Luke Virgili, and Shane Paul. One would expect all three will play again this weekend.
Aside from last weekend’s 2-0 Maitland win, the pair has faced off once more this season already: that was a 0-0 draw at Broadmeadow back on May 27.
Given that finals matches are often cagey affairs with neither side willing to give up a goal, it’s not ludicrous to think that this weekend could be similarly low-scoring. Especially given the defensive strengths of both teams.
Maitland has conceded just 21 goals this season, the third-best record in the league. They have a backline which will likely remain the same as it has been for the past fortnight: Grant Brown, Alex Read, Zac Thomas, and Liam Thornton.
When you add in the way it’s screened by Carl Thornton and the Swan brothers, it’s a formidable barrier for any side to try and break down. Especially Magic, who along with Jets Youth haven’t scored against Maitland this season.
To rebut that particular stat though is how lethal Magic has been in attack this season. With 44 goals in the league, they have the highest output of any side in the league and that’s supported by two main men up the front end.
They’re Kale Bradbury and James Virgili, who with 14 goals each this season finished second and third respectively in the race for the Golden Boot. However, they haven’t scored in their last three outings.
When it comes to big-game experience, both sides have it. From Maitland, Matt’s Thompson and Trott were both on the team sheet in the 2008 Hyundai A-League Grand Final. Magic has just this week played a match on the national stage, and coach Ruben Zadkovich played for Perth in the first ever FFA Cup final.
James Virgili is ‘on the comeback trail’ and coach Ruben Zadkovich has confirmed he will be involved. Magic will definitely be without Mitch Oxborrow, who has one match of a five-game suspension left to serve.
Maitland will have virtually a full contingent to pick from this weekend, and according to coach Michael Bolch, it will allow him to have the same starting side for the third week in a row for the first time this season.
What the coaches said:
Michael Bolch (Maitland)
“It doesn’t matter who you match up with in the semi-finals, I think all four sides that have made it… anyone can really win it. They [Magic] rested three or four players last weekend with the FFA Cup in mind, so I’m expecting a much stronger side this weekend.
“There’s a lot of excitement around the club at the moment, we’ve struggled with a lot of injures and that sort of stuff through the year and we’re just starting to get everyone back on board, the likes of Ryan Clarke, Matt Swan and Matt Thompson. The boys know there’s an opportunity there to come away with some silverware this year, they know if they turn up they can go all the way.
“Adam Duggan, Tom Duggan, Tom especially started three games for us there against Edgy, Olympic, Lakes, those sort of games and did really well for us. He’ll make an impact off the bench for us. Justin Micallef has been doing well off the bench for us, and young Louis Townsend and Adam Duggan have stepped up for us all year.
“Piddo has been the rock of their [Magic’s] defence for ten years, Luke Virgili is probably up around 150. If James [Virgili] plays he’s been up around the leading scorer for a couple of years, Shane Paul is their midfield general… they’re probably getting 600 first grade games back into their starting line-up next week, which is a massive difference.
“They’ve been perennial semi-finalists and grand-finalists over the last six to eight years with that same group of players, they went out last year in extra-time to Edgy so I’m sure they’re looking to go one further.
“We’ll concentrate on what we can do and what we can control, we’ve sort of been playing semi-final football for four or five weeks now, and to come off wins against Jaffas and Magic coming into the semi-finals, hopefully, that holds us in good stead for what we’ve got ahead of us.”
Ruben Zadkovich (Magic)
“I think the boys were quite good last night [in the FFA Cup], first half especially was great. We needed two or three good chances, and we created them but we just didn’t take them. We didn’t get much going our way, but I thought we were quite good and on another night we might have got something.
“Not scoring in our last three doesn’t worry me, I think we’ve scored more goals than anyone else in the competition. I’m not concerned at all, I’d be worried if we weren’t creating chances… if we keep creating them, the boys will score.
“We’d like to put a strong team out in both grades [under 20s also], but we’ve got plenty of depth and plenty of players that will be back. We’ve had a couple out in the last few weeks with niggles and suspensions across all grades… all in all, we’ll have enough depth there to field two really good teams and I don’t think it will affect us too much in first grade.
“I wouldn’t take too much away from last week [2-0 loss to Maitland], it was a bit of a tricky game, from their side because they didn’t know what to expect [of us] and you’ve got to fear the team that has nothing to lose sometimes. It’s not a game I can draw too much out of.
“What I can draw out of Maitland and their form is that they haven’t conceded many goals, something like two in the last eight or nine, and you don’t get that by chance or luck you get that by hard work. I think that’s probably what we’re in for at the weekend, a team that’s resolute and hard to beat.
“We’re going to have to be wary, they’re going to be hard to beat, well-organised… I’m expecting a really tough game, especially up there at Maitland, it’ll probably be windy like it always is up there. They’re a good group of boys at Maitland, they always put on a show and it’ll be good. End-to-end, but also a bit cagey.”