We’re well into the second half of the season, but it’s still close both at the top and in the race for the finals places.
The picture in the National Premier Leagues 2 NSW Men’s competition will be a little clearer after this week, however with nine rounds left every team still has plenty to play for.
Match of the Round: Hills United v Western Sydney Wanderers, 7:00pm Saturday 29 June, Lily Homes Stadium
This weekend’s Match of the Round features a couple of Premiership contenders, as second placed Hills United host fourth placed Western Sydney Wanderers. These sides had extremely different results in the previous round: Hills conceded late to lose a top of the table clash against North Shore, while the Wanderers grabbed a much needed victory over Macarthur.
Patrick Zwaanswijk’s Hills side are undefeated at Lily Homes Stadium since Round 1, and have kept five consecutive clean sheets at home. They are facing the most prolific attack in the league, so big performances from the defensive pair of Marcus Zarantonello and Jarrod Dodds are required. United are no slouches going forward though, and they’ll be glad that Daniel Fogarty was back amongst the goals on Sunday.
For the Wanderers, last Saturday was another game where Mohamed Adam found the net. His hat trick against the Rams took him to 18 goals for the year, can anyone slow him down? At the other end, the backline put in an improved performance on the weekend – look to Mohamed Al Taay and Noah Pagden to keep things tight for the Red & Black.
Macarthur Rams v GHFA Spirit FC, 7:00pm Saturday 29 June, Lynwood Park
Two teams at opposite ends of the table face off in St Helens Park on Saturday. Macarthur currently sit in 11th, and Spirit FC are third, only three points off the top.
The Rams had another difficult evening last time out, but they’ll be glad to return to Lynwood Park, where the majority of their points have been earned. Macarthur can take heart from their draw with Spirit FC in Round 5 – a repeat performance (or even a victory) would provide much needed points for the Club Championship.
Meanwhile, Spirit FC’s unbeaten run now stands at four matches following last week’s derby against Northern Tigers. However, there was disappointment for David Perkovic’s team as they couldn’t hold on to a two goal lead. Christopher Arditti is starting to find some goal-scoring form, and that will take the pressure off Duncan Stewart, who continues to impress up front.
Mounties Wanderers v St George FC, 7:00pm Saturday 29 June, Sydney United Sports Centre
The previous two meetings between these teams were both memorable. St George FC won a Grand Final classic on penalties in 2018, and Mounties got revenge courtesy of a 5-3 victory over the Saints earlier this year.
However, the sides have gone in opposite directions since then: Mounties are in a strong position to make the finals after five wins in six matches, while the Saints are winless in four rounds.
Brian Brown’s side were in difficulty on the weekend before launching a late comeback, two goals in the final ten minutes ensuring a victory over Blacktown Spartans. Sean Rooney and Mark Bridge appear to be linking well in attack, and this pairing certainly has the talent to threaten any side in NPL 2.
The Saints are usually competitive in games, which is why last Saturday’s heavy defeat to Bonnyrigg was so surprising. There was a positive though, as Aleksandar Lekoski netted his first goal of the campaign. Lekoski combining with the likes of Marcus Beattie and Juan Carlos Romero could be just what the Saints need to climb the ladder.
Canterbury Bankstown FC v Northern Tigers, 7:00pm Saturday 29 June, The Crest Athletic Centre
Although fourteen points separate the sides going into the weekend, this one should be closer than the table suggests, as Canterbury have won two of their previous three matches at The Crest.
After a comeback win in Round 16, Canterbury let a lead slip last week against St George City FA, and Branko Culina’s team know they can’t afford to miss many more opportunities. Zac Elrich scored a brilliant goal to make it five goals in five games for his new club, but the defence needs improvement – Canterbury are the only side yet to keep a clean sheet in 2019.
Northern Tigers are hard to beat, as demonstrated by a record of only one loss in ten rounds. However, more wins are required if they are to make the finals. On Saturday, Liam McConaghy scored his first goal since returning to the Tigers lineup, and if he can start finding the net regularly then Adam Hett’s men have every chance of climbing into the top six.
Rydalmere Lions v Bonnyrigg White Eagles, 7:00pm Saturday 29 June, Valentine Sports Park No. 2
It’s another home fixture for Rydalmere as they seek to find some form. The Lions have a tough test this Saturday against Bonnyrigg, who are back into the top six after three consecutive wins.
For Rydalmere, last week was a similar story to much of the season. Chris Camilleri’s side had good periods, but let the contest get away from them early in the second half. On the plus side, Garang Awac scored his first Rydalmere goal, and his pace will trouble most defences. At the back, Raimond Coletta’s experience is key as the Lions look to tighten a defence that has been leaky in recent times.
Bonnyrigg were dominant on the weekend. However, with only four points separating them from St George City FA in tenth, the White Eagles can’t afford to rest on their laurels. The attack is looking good as both Asmir Kadric and Aaron Peterson scored against St George FC, and Ray Miller can definitely make an impact in midfield.
St George City FA v Blacktown Spartans, 3:00pm Sunday 30 June, Jubilee Oval
This match could be crucial in deciding who makes the finals, as the Spartans enter the weekend a couple of points off the top six, and City are two points further back.
There’s plenty of good news for St George City FA. After five victories in six rounds, City can look forward to five consecutive games at Jubilee Oval, a venue where they have two wins from two in 2019. Leading scorer Steve Kuzmanovski is back, and the goals are also coming from other sources, with Alvaro Malmierca and Matthew Mayora chipping in last week.
The challenge for the Spartans is to recreate their home form on the road, with all but one of this season’s wins coming at Blacktown Football Park. Their finals challenge took a hit against Mounties, however they looked good for 75 minutes, so confidence should still be high. Spartans winger Christian Torrelli scored a nice goal on the weekend, and head coach Paul Hubbard will look to both him and Lachlan Rose to support Connor Eldridge in attack.
Central Coast Mariners v North Shore Mariners, 3:00pm Sunday 30 June, Pluim Park
The league leaders travel north to face their coastal cousins on Sunday afternoon, and games between the two sets of Mariners are usually close affairs.
This weekend is the start of six home matches in eight rounds for Central Coast, so they’ll be looking to use familiar surroundings to help vault themselves up the table. Head coach Nick Montgomery will be happy that his side have ended a poor run of form, and in particular with the firepower shown against Rydalmere, as both Jordan Smylie and Aidan Taouil netted twice.
North Shore also possess plenty of firepower, and they are one of two clubs to have scored in every round this season (Western Sydney Wanderers being the other). Joe Haywood’s team are in a rich vein of form, having lost only once in 13 games. It helps that Mitchell Smith keeps scoring, and Chris Lindsay’s delivery from wide areas continues to catch the eye – the winger recorded another assist last week.
By Eric Subijano
Twitter – @eric_subijano