Slice of Cheese

The Friday Forecast: Top Of The Table Encounters

Jamie Richardson

Buckby Landrover Park is the place to be on Saturday afternoon as the top two sides in the NPL and WSL prepare to duke it out in a crunch afternoon of football. With 2 top of the table showdowns taking place between the hosts Launceston City and the visiting Coastal sides in Ulverstone and Devonport, the ramifications from these 180 minutes of football will impact significantly on both top divisions title races.

In the NPL at 4:30pm, Launceston City host the Devonport Strikers in a vitally important meeting that could potentially see Devonport jump top. City hold top spot by 3 points heading into the game, but after last weeks loss to South Hobart, the gap has narrowed and how they respond to their first loss this season could prove decisive. It’s not just the ladder position that has made it such a big game, City have a number of former Strikers players in their side in Niko Giantsopoulos, Daniel Syson, Tyler Fischer, Lindsay Millington and Harrison Wicks. The presence of so many former Strikers players has added further fuel to the northern rivalry, and it certainly played a role in producing a fiery clash the last time they met. City won that Round 6 game 3-2 at Valley Road, as both sides ended the game with 10 men and City held off a late Strikers surge to claim the win. Tyler Fischer scored twice that day and his form ever since has been nothing short of devastating. The American Striker has scored some 12 goals in his past 7 league games now and would be considered the competition’s most dominant player if not for Brayden Mann, who is scoring at an even more ridiculous rate with 13 from his past 6 and 21 in 12 so far this season. The two star strikers will hold the key to their sides success in this one as they are both in scintillating touch and loom as likely match winners.

The Fischer-Mann combination was lethal in 2017- Solstice Photography

Earlier in the afternoon, the Hobart Zebras will be eyeing this as a week they could gain some ground. With their main title rivals all facing tough games this weekend, their home game against bottom placed Clarence should be a chance for them to make some inroads. Whilst they should be too strong, they could only manage a 1-1 draw in their previous meeting this season.  It snapped a dominant run of results in these head to heads, that has been inspired primarily by Mathew Sanders, who has scored 9 goals in his past 5 games against the Reds. With both sides playing for the Luke Cripps Memorial Shield motivation should not be an issue for anyone. Clarence will be an interesting watch this week to see how they respond to last weeks disappointment. It was one of their better performances across the full 90 but those final few minutes have the potential to leave some scars. The Zebras meanwhile seem to be back to their best and with their defence looking as secure as it has all season, they appear right back in the title race.

Two sides not in the title race, but just as keen for the points will be Rangers and Kingborough. The Lions have Rangers firmly in their sights with a chance to leap them up to sixth on the table with a win. They stole victory from the jaws of defeat against Clarence last week and will need to improve if they are to reverse their 1-0 defeat from round 6. Nick Lanau-Atkinson was the hero that day and again he will shoulder much of the attacking load in this one. Whilst they broke out for 4 goals against Clarence a fortnight earlier, they have still been shut out in 4 of their last 5 games and need to offer more in the final third. Over the past two seasons, these have tended to be low scoring affairs, with scores of 1-0, 1-1, 1-0, 1-2, 1-1, 2-0 suggesting the sides usually run each other close, the outlier being Rangers 5-2 win in their final meeting last season.

Solstice Photography

The final game of the round takes us to Warrior Park where Olympia will welcome South Hobart. Should South Hobart win this, it would be 11 straight victories for them over the Warriors! You have to go back to mid 2015 under Glen Mcneill, Olympia’s title winning season, for the last time they got a result, a 1-1 draw that is now over 3 years ago. Eight straight NPL wins from their last 8 encounters and Lakoseljac/League Cup wins in that period since that draw demonstrate how incredibly dominant South have been. Perhaps it was little wonder that Olympia failed to take advantage of what was possibly their best performance of the season in Round 6, blowing a 1-0 lead to lose to South 2-1. At this point you have to wonder the psychological impact these repeat results have had on them. With Lucas Hill added to an injury list already containing the likes of Mearns, Undy and Holmes injured for this one, it will be a huge effort if they are to at last reverse the trend on Sunday. They may field a side even younger than the one that took the field against Zebras last week, which was the most youthful side in the league.

In the other top of the table clash, Ulverstone have a chance to land what could be the knockout blow when they take on Launceston City at 2:30pm. I’d be comfortable saying that if Ulverstone win this game, then they will win the title. It won’t be won mathematically of course, but a 12 point lead with 8 rounds to go is simply a lead that won’t be reigned in. Assuming City win out from there, a large assumption of itself, then Ulverstone would still only need to take 12 points from those remaining 8 games. Given they are still yet to drop a single point this year, it would be a collapse of unfathomable proportions to lose the title from there. Quite simply, Launceston City must win this game to give themselves any chance of hoisting the trophy. The dropped points away to South Hobart last week were a big blow and Ulverstone have show no sign of slipping up. A draw would also be just fine for the Reds, as a 9 point gap still keeps them firmly in the drivers seat and with room for error in the run home.

Ulverstone can all but wrap up the title with a win- Solstice Photography

Switching back to the WSL and a major six point match in the relegation dogfight is set to take place at the Den. Both Kingborough and University are in dire need of the points, especially given the resurgence Clarence has enjoyed that has seen them jump from 6 points behind, to now sitting in front of both sides.  University won the game between the sides earlier in the season 2-0, though they now are winless from their five games since and have scored just one goal in the process. This needs to be the circuit breaker for them, especially given their inferior goal difference to the Lions. Yet as the Lions run to the Statewide Cup final, and defeat of the Hobart Zebras has shown, their ceiling is probably higher even if they haven’t been at their best in games against sides around them on the table. There is too much talent in this side for them to go down, but unless they take the points on Saturday, it remains an ever present threat.

Now for those aforementioned resurgent Reds! After eight weeks of the season, things were looking pretty bleak for them. With a goal difference of -33 and not a single point accrued, they looked the most likely side to be going down. But things have turned significantly, the arrival of Mady O’Brien and Melissa Harrison are chief among the factors. The Canadian has been glistening over the past two weeks and is a player who can win games off her own boot.  They showed their shock win over Launceston City was no fluke by duly beating University and Kingborough in consecutive weeks, so could they now go even further and make it 4 in a row? The thought of Clarence downing the Zebras would have been unthinkable heading into the season, but is now suddenly in play, if still unlikely. Despite some patchy recent form, the Zebras 1-1 draw with Taroona last week was a reasonable result and despite struggling with injuries and player numbers, there is still more than enough class in this side to arrest a slide that has seen them go winless over the past month.

Finally the round will end on Sunday at Kelvedon Park where Taroona and South Hobart will meet for the second time this season. In Round 6 they played out a cracking game that saw Taroona narrowly edge out South 2-1 but both sides seem to have improved since then. Taroona are coming off a month that has seen them play in a Statewide Cup final and the competitions top three sides, so they will be looking at this one as an easier game, and one they should win. Failure to do so could see them drop below South, who can jump up into the top four with a win. Having knocked off Launceston City last week, they have shown their best is good enough to get result and that they won’t meekly succumb to the top sides in the league after some heavier defeats earlier this year. Taroona are not a side known for heavy scoring, so this should be a pretty tight affair, on a heavy pitch that will make playing in the style both of these sides prefer, extremely difficult.

 

FFT Media and Communications Coordinator, Everton tragic, long form journalism devotee, Andrea Pirlo enthusiast and admirer of the parked bus.