Toronto Awaba FC v South Cardiff FC
Lyall Peacock Field, Saturday 2:30pm
The chance to join West Wallsend in the grand final is on offer this Saturday when Toronto Awaba hosts South Cardiff in the preliminary final at Lyall Peacock Field.
It’s the biggest game of the year so far for both sides, who entered this year’s finals series at the opposite ends of the top five teams on the table.
Toronto Awaba were the runaway premiers after securing the top spot back in July, while South Cardiff only just scraped into fifth place on goal difference.
But rankings will play no part come Saturday when two teams who are determined to reach their first league grand final in over a decade leave it all on the line for 90 minutes.
While finals games can often be cagey and low-scoring, this game has the potential to explode. Toronto Awaba scored the greatest number of goals of any team this season with 64, and South Cardiff was next best with 60.
The teams are entering the preliminary final off the back of gruelling semi-final clashes that were played in sweltering conditions last weekend.
The Stags went down 2-1 in the major semi-final against West Wallsend on Saturday after the fighting it out into extra time, but they will certainly be better for the hit-out, having gone into the match with just three games under their belt since they secured the premiership on home soil back on July 30.
The Stags have lost three of their four matches since then but coach Jarrad Hiles is confident that his men are ready to fire this Saturday.
“We definitely felt it,” Hiles said.
“The boys know they had been in a game and it’s all about recovery now. There’s only Connor Fitzpatrick who’s got a bit of an ankle niggle, but he should be okay to go. Everyone else is right to go, and they’re all very motivated.
“If we can get through this weekend, I’ll look back at it as a very beneficial hopefully 90 minutes.
“When you look at our form compared to Southy’s though, we’ve won one out of our last four and they’ve gone and knocked over Kahibah and Singo away, which is something we couldn’t do the last time we played those teams.
“It’s going to be a good tough game. They’ve got pace and some really good, experienced players.
“All year, I’ve sounded like a broken record, anyone can beat anyone on their day, so we’ll be switched on and we won’t take them lightly, that’s for sure.
“There’s a lot at stake – a place in the grand final – so the boys will go in there firing. They are pretty keen and they know they have this one last shot, and they don’t want to waste this opportunity. There won’t be any need for me to hype them up for it. They are driving that motivation themselves.”
South Cardiff enter Saturday’s clash having not yet beaten Toronto Awaba at all this year. The sides drew 4-4 when they first met in Round Three and then the Stags demolished the Gunners 5-1 in Round 12 and 6-2 in Round 21.
Leaking goals has been South Cardiff’s Achilles’ heel in 2023, but they have improved since the finals started having conceded just one goal in two weeks.
The Gunners coach Perry Mellon put that down to the side being far more organised at the back over the past fortnight and the return of the goalkeeper Izaac Terry being a significant boost.
Mellon is well aware that the Gunners are the underdogs in a knockout match against the best team in the competition come Saturday but said that his side were on a roll after knocking out two higher-ranked teams during the past two weeks. They are now keen to add another side to that list.
“Toronto are the premiers, and over the course of the season, they have been the best and most consistent team. In my opinion, they well and truly deserved that,” Mellon said.
“But like we’ve discussed over the past couple of weeks, it becomes a new competition in the finals, and you can blow all form out the window really.
“Our last two games against Toronto, they have absolutely smashed us both times. But they were in the middle of our spell where we had lots of injuries and unavailability, so we definitely weren’t at our strongest in those games. I look back at the first game where we had a 4-4 draw with them at home really early in the season. We competed really well and we were well and truly in that game.
“It should be a really good game on Saturday, I think. It’s a big pitch out there that’s in good nick most of the time, so we are looking forward to playing there.
“We’ve got a bit more confidence now, and we came fifth, so there’s no expectation on our boys.
“We knew that if we could get in the finals, we could compete against the good teams, and teams wouldn’t want to play against Southy. It’s lived up to that so far and we’ve caused a couple of upsets. We’ve got a bit of momentum now and the vibes are high.”
Mellon said that there were a few sore bodies among the playing group following Sunday’s 1-0 win away from home against Singleton in hot conditions but declared the Gunners would enter the weekend at full strength.
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