NPL Match Preview: Youngsters braced for Balcatta test

The PGFC Academy First Team are preparing for a tough test on Saturday as they begin their 2023 NPL WA campaign by travelling to Grindleford Reserve to take on Balcatta Etna FC (kick-off at 3pm).

The youngsters head into the game buoyed by three victories in their final three Night Series games, during which they rattled home an impressive 14 goals.

And the progress his charges made over the course of the five-game pre-season tournament left Head Coach John Walmsley generally happy with the way the squad is tracking.

“We used a lot of players [in the Night Series],” he said, “31 or 32 across the five games, but we were still able to get how we want to play and how we want to structure things moving forward into the season.

“I have a clear idea across a number of players which bodes well for the season as obviously there will be a lot of movement [between the U18s, U20s and First Team] once we start playing the games.

“From an attacking point of view, we got in behind quite often, created chances and scored goals and then it’s just a case of getting better in terms of managing the match and making sure our balance is good so we concede less going forward.

“It’s still early days, but I think the intensity that we’re playing at is where we want it to be.

“We’re on the front foot trying to take the game to teams and hopefully we’re good to watch and never boring.

“That’s what we want; the lads playing with a certain level of intensity and desire, wanting to go and win the match and play on their terms rather than being dictated to by the opposition.

“There’s still plenty of work to do, but so far, so good.”

Balcatta failed to register a win in the Night Series having narrowly avoided relegation from the NPL last season, but they showed significant improvement in the latter stages of the league campaign and Walmsley is expecting the Round One clash to be a tough one.

“I think it’ll be a difficult test for us,” he said.

“Last time we played them, they won 3-0… I think they’ll be quite direct and that can be difficult to deal with.

“So we’ve got to try and play in a way that takes the game to them and tries to minimise them getting the ball into our box and when we’re in possession, we’ve got to make sure that we’re able to keep it and be effective and get in behind as well.

“They’ll give us a good challenge, regardless of their Night Series results.”

In terms of team news, the Head Coach confirmed that there will be some notable absentees on Saturday, but also expressed his excitement at the form being shown by several other members of the squad.

“There are a couple unavailable who have been away with the Australia Under-20s,” he said.

“Kaelan Majekodunmi and Chris Donnell are still overseas and we’ve got one or two out with injuries, plus there are a couple who are with the A-League squad.

“So it’ll be a younger side, but we’ve seen in the Night Series that the younger boys are more than capable of coming in and giving a good performance.

“Daniel Bennie has been superb.

“He was away with Australia Under-17s for part of the Night Series, but since he’s come in, he’s been affecting games all the time, scoring goals.

“Corey Sutherland has had a big impact as well.

“Those two have stood out with their performances, as has Shade Stewart at centre-back.

“He’s been really reliable and consistent and a very important player for us.”

Ahead of the First Team game, the PGFC Academy Under-18s and Under-20s will be in action against their Balcatta Etna counterparts at 11am and 1pm respectively.

The best of luck to all our PGFC Academy teams this weekend!