The Premiership looks to have been decided whilst things only heat up as you head down the ladder.
By now there must be cocktail named after those battling in the finals mix whilst the wooden spoon still beckons at the heels of 3 clubs.
If you were looking for excitement and perhaps a little shock, one had to look no further than the National Premier Leagues 2 NSW Men’s this weekend.
Match of the Round:
It was a night where Mounties stormed into the Ilinden Sports Centre but left wondering where they placed their shooting boots as St George showed too much composure, grabbing the win and are now racing towards securing a top 2 finish.
Mounties from the outset immediately made their impression on the game, pushing forward hard and fast creating numerous chances. Within the first 5 minutes they found some space early in the box but the resulting shot was pushed wide.
Unfortunately, that would be the tale of the game.
Mounties would build up fantastically but just couldn’t find the answer as they were bearing down on goal, lacking the finishing touch.
Throughout the first half the visitors maintained the majority of possession and were clearly the dominant side. With classy and effective combinations in the final third, Davidson, Pivato and Heras Romero all took turns to fire at goal, though neither striking cleanly enough to hit the net.
St George couldn’t seem to find their groove, despite this, they grew in confidence knowing shot stopper Costa was standing firm at the back, watching the ball like a hawk, reading every shot, making the save, and denting the confidence of the opposition.
St George then took the lead against the run of play just after crossing the midpoint of the first half.
After clearing a corner, Saints fired a quick counter attack down the left wing, finding a lightning run from Morabito in space. As he looked to take advantage of his position wide on the box he was fouled. Up to the dead ball stepped Romero, who had no trouble hitting the target with a wicked curling shot to the near post. Shaw in goals reached to get a glove to it, but the shot carried too much power rebounding off and rippled the back of the net.
Once St George got their goal, the confidence seemed to ooze from the home side, every player stepping up another notch, touch that much cleaner, every pass that much crisper, winning the battle whilst never looking like they had to work hard.
Yet Mounties were very much still in the game with Mijic coming agonisingly close with a header from an excellent corner routine, just sending it skimming over the bar. Then pressing to get an equaliser before half time, Beneit Romero received the ball and turned brilliantly to find space in the box. With every spectator on the edge of their seat sensing a goal, he unleashed his shot destined for the net, though again Costa denied the visitors making a great diving save to maintain his side’s lead.
The battle continued in the second half, this time, Saints would show supremacy and doubled their lead early.
Some quick possession play through the middle and a delicate ball into space behind caught Mounties off guard. Stretching to recover Mijic jumped high but only nodded his header into the path of the forward run from Lekoski who took a fantastic first touch to nod it forward into space and then one on one, calmly slotted it into the bottom corner, much to the elation of the home fans.
The Saints were now in the box seat and if they looked confident before, it showed even more so now.
If there was any way back into the game for Mounties it would have come from the boot of Pivato and Heras Romero, though the pair continued to fire at goal, their shots would be sent either wide or Saints keeper Costa would step up and make a save.
The game probably should have ended with St George scoring more when Morabito was played in behind and rounded the keeper only to make his angle too tight rocketing his shot into the post. Then late in the game, Saints swung in a corner dangerously to the front post, taking a deflection off the Mounties defence and hitting the far post, only for the rebound to fall to Norval, who on the edge of the six yard box surely could not miss, but rifled his first time shot well wide of the goal.
Mounties had the last chance to grab consolation for their efforts, Beneit Romero shaped a beautiful free kick from just outside the box, up and over the wall but just skimmed past the wrong side of the post and out.
That’s the way the game would end, St George making the most of their chances with Mounties displaying positive signs they are still in the fight to make finals.
Saturday 28th July, Ilinden Sports Centre
St George FC 2 (J. Romero, A. Lekoski)
Mounties Wanderers FC 0
St George FC: H. Akil, S. Ali, J. Bandur, M. Da Silva Santos, C. Jeong, A. Kyriacou, A. Lekoski, D. Loe, A. Morabito, A. Nasreddine, T. Norval, N. Paras, J. Romero, L. Tweneboa, A. Costa
Mounties Wanderers FC: L. Austin, R. Beneit Romero, D. Brischetto, N. Chianese, M. Davidson, J. Heras Romero, J. Ingle, T. Mijic, B. Pivato, A. Schmidt, A. Schroeder, D. Shaw, T. Smith
Hills United 0 vs. Rydalmere Lions 2
Another match of end to end football, both keepers were clear standout performers but the Lions would convert their chances and end victorious.
Hills looked to make the most of home ground advantage and took charge immediately in the match. Throughout the first 20 minutes they found themselves almost camped in Lions territory, probing and testing the defence.
Rydalmere would stand resolute and at the back end of the first half started to get on top of the game and create opportunities only just unable to convert.
The half-time scoreboard reflected a well contested affair with both sides easily capable of producing the goods.
Reaching two thirds into the match, the Lions were asking how they did not have the lead after Stewart missed a sitter from 5 yards.
Hills looked to have found the solution in going ahead with threatening wing play in behind the defence only to lack the last piece of the puzzle in front of goal.
Stewart though, would make up for his earlier disaster and put the visitors ahead with 7 minutes left to play. On the end of a well built attack, he fired a shot forcing the save and then was quickest to react, following up the rebound and finding the back of the net with his second attempt.
The Lions would then seal the deal in injury time when they sent an attack racing down the left wing, crossed into Fofanah who kept his composure and put it past the keeper making it 2-0.
Mt Druitt Town Rangers 2 vs. Northern Tigers 1
An early goal from the travelling Tigers looked to put them in pole position to keep on with their great form and take down the league leaders.
A dangerous low cross from Stewart was parried by Saliadarre but it rebounded into his shoulder and into the goal.
Rangers would keep their heads and stick to their game plan, getting back into the match at the midpoint through the first half.
Getting stuck in and doing the work, Rangers equalised from a well worked set piece routine which saw Clowes level it up and break his goal scoring duck for the season.
Each side stepped up the intensity, though there would be no more changes to the scoreboard as the half time whistle blew.
Not being intimidated by the league leaders, Tigers pressed on and kept up the attack. They were very unlucky to lose not one but two players to injury which looked to have changed the complexion of the match.
Each side competed well and there were decent chances begging to be taken but again the score would remain the same.
That was until Rangers took the lead late in the game. With fatigue beginning to set in, Gonzalez was played in behind and finished well to give the league leaders the 3 points and now a second hand reaching for the Premiership.
Western Sydney Wanderers 1 vs. GHFA Spirit FC 3
Venturing away from home, Spirit continued their goal scoring form from last week and took another stride towards playing finals football.
The visitors grabbed the lead a third into the match after Bozanic was played in behind and fouled in the box. West made no mistake and struck the penalty cleanly and into the back of the net.
Wanderers would keep the ball well and find periods of promising possession but couldn’t find a way through and make any real threatening goal scoring opportunities.
Spirit looked to have grabbed another 5 minutes after taking the lead when main threat on the night Bozanic rifled a shot which rattled the crossbar and the Wanderers defence.
Just before half time it was 2-0. After winning the ball high up the pitch, Whitlock released West who turned supplier angling the ball back to Whitlock who fired home.
With plenty left still to play for in the game, the home side continued to form up attacks through controlled possession. It would eventually lead them to a chance to get back into the game.
Looking to go a little more direct the Wanderers found success from a cross as Spirit gave away a penalty. The visitors keeper Romic dived well and made the save only it was pulled up as the assistant referee judged that he had come off his line early. Bartolotto would win the second round and put the hosts back in contention tucking away the spot kick with just over 10 minutes to play.
It was not to be for the hosts as they conceded late in the game.
Bozanic who had continued his threat all evening got his name on the score sheet after being played in and firing past the keeper to earn Spirit a 3-1 win.
Canterbury Bankstown 1 vs. Central Coast Mariners 0
Despite the gap between them on the ladder, suggesting this may be a one-sided affair, the game turned out to be a hard slog and it was a singular goal that made the difference.
Having previously struggled to gain points on the road against Berries, the Mariners looked to use the result from last week as motivation to focus solely on collecting 3 points.
The home side though from the kick off took it to the Mariners which caught the high flyers a little off guard. Pushing more numbers through the midfield, Berries found themselves creating promising chances, building the confidence throughout the team.
The match was evenly contested and the arm wrestle would swing one way then the next, each team making chances but neither converting.
With an ambition for a top 6 finish, each Berries player put in the extra work and with almost 15 minutes to play they got their reward. McMurray played in Paradanta who neatly created space for his shot which he fired hard and low from outside the box and into the bottom corner.
North Shore Mariners 6 vs. Blacktown Spartans 2
Those who say the NPL 2 isn’t exciting for the neutral clearly haven’t been down to many matches this season.
North Shore Mariners and Spartans called to the skies and whipped up yet another game where goals rained down.
The home side took the early advantage scoring after 6 minutes and would continue to press on and net another by the midpoint of the first half.
It could have spelled out an impending doom for Spartans however they rallied and kept themselves in the game grabbing a goal back to head into the sheds definitely still within the mix.
Shortly after the restart Spartans levelled up the affair and it looked to make the game interesting with most of the second half still to play.
Unfortunately it would turn out quite the opposite.
The home side quickly restored their lead after conceding, giving them the confidence that would eventually lead them to victory.
With less than 20 minutes to go, it began to rain goals. North Shore Mariners scoring twice within the space of 2 minutes midway through the second half put the game to bed.
They topped off their strong performance in front of goal by scoring number 6 late in the game.
Parramatta FC 1 vs. Macarthur Rams 1
It is a battle.
That is exactly what was played out at Melita Stadium on Sunday evening.
With both sides taking the extra step of caution, chances were few and far between, neither side venturing too far to risk the chance of conceding.
Parramatta looked at one point to have gained the upper hand and actually had the ball in the back of the net only for the referee to overrule the decision and give the visitors a free kick.
As the game wore on, it became obvious that only 1 goal would make the difference.
Finally with 10 minutes left the game got its goal.
Macarthur giving away a penalty and going down to 10 men, it seemed Parramatta had been given a lifeline. Abou Serhal kept his head from the spot, sending the keeper the wrong way and tucking it into the bottom corner.
Macarthur though, not willing to give up that easily, did not relent and piled on the pressure in the battle for the wooden spoon and relegation.
In a time of dire need Zahra saved the visitors with a peach of a free kick.
2 minutes from time, he stepped up and curled his shot around the wall and past the outstretched arms of the keeper levelling it up and ending the game in stalemate.