Slice of Cheese

League Cup Final Preview

The top two sides from the PS4 NPL TAS in 2017 are set to clash in Saturday’s League Cup Final in a tantalising conclusion to the local season. Both have claimed silverware this season already, as South Hobart ran away with the league title and the Warriors claimed the Lakoseljac Cup. Whilst Saturday’s prize may not be as grandiose and not offer the pathway to national competitions the others did, both sides have remained determined to claim the additional silverware on offer through the first two weeks of competition. The spectre of National competition does hover over this game prominently though, with South a week away from taking on Brisbane Strikers and they will look at this game as an ideal tune up. Conversely the Warriors will hope to catch South with one eye cast toward it and catch out their modern rivals to finally break their South Hobart hoodoo.

It’s a rivalry that has been decidedly one sided in recent times. The last time Olympia managed a win over South was all the way back in Round 3, 2015. South have now won their past 7 games over the Warriors over the past two seasons including all 3 League meetings this year by margins of 3-0, 6-2 and 3-2. Perhaps encouragingly for Olympia, the closest they have come was in their most recent league meeting, falling 3-2 after Oscar Thomas’s miracle clearance goal from halfway in stoppage time. Yet despite the somewhat fortunate nature of their winner, you couldn’t walk away from the game feeling South didn’t deserve the three points. They created more chances and despite going down 2-1 early in the second half, always looked the more likely side, which has been the case in all their meetings this season.

Perhaps most notable from that game and arguably the reason it was the closest of the clashes was the change in style from Olympia, playing in a far more direct manner than usual. Weston prefers a possession based style but after the first hammering at the hands of South he identified a shred more pragmatism was required. South Hobart’s ability to press and win the ball high up the pitch has wreaked havoc on sides trying to pass their way through this year with their mobile front 3 and all action midfield duo of Morton and Turner excelling in this area of the game. It certainly brought about the Warriors downfall in that 6-2 result and you would have to anticipate less building from the back on Saturday from Olympia as they look to avoid that pitfall.

The searing pace of Callum Brown caused Olympia major headaches on a small Warrior Park pitch in the Semi Finals and Alex Walter, Ben Hamlett and Darcy Hall (if fit) might experience similar joy on the significantly longer KGV. It’s in wide areas the Warriors have been hurt this season and the bigger pitch could accentuate this weakness if South can take advantage and allow their outstanding pair of full backs to bomb on. Their threat from wide areas is exceptional and whilst they are undoubtedly strong all over the pitch, boasting an extremely deep squad, you get the feeling it’s from the flanks where the damage will be done if South are to continue their domination of the Warriors.

The firepower from South is overwhelming, Morton and Turner are more prolific than most strikers, offering an extraordinary goal return from midfield. They have weapons everywhere and whilst the Warriors central defensive pairing of Hill and Vandermey are strong, their hasn’t been much continuity at the back this season for Olympia. It will be an enormous task for them to hold out a side that are now unbeaten in their past 17, winning 16 of them behind an attack averaging 4 goals a game.

If the Warriors are to win then returning talisman Jakub Sklenar, who is as prolific a striker as the state has seen in recent years looms as the ace in the deck. Yet too often in the big games this year he has been left isolated and lacking the supporting cast in attack. With the likes of Undy and Wadawu back now, that shouldn’t be an issue. It’s no coincidence that the Warriors form dipped when they were out of the side after starting the season strongly. If they can supply him the ammunition, then Sklenar can provide the goals to win.

Perhaps the best hope the Warriors might have is if Nick Mearns can play match winner. His past 18 months have been derailed by injuries but when fit he is one of the finest players in the state and a big game player, as he showed when claimed the best afield medal in the Lakoseljac Cup final. Despite not operating at 100% fitness, he was pure class against the Knights last week and a performance from Mearns at the top of his game could lead the Warriors to a second cup win for 2017, he is that much of a difference maker.

South will deservedly enter the game as favourites and their exceptional depth means they should have the quality to continue their dominance over Olympia but in Cup finals anything can happen. With so many top quality players on show, the only thing that’s certain is this should be a cracking contest to end the local season for 2017.