We’ve reached the knockout stage of the National Premier Leagues 2 NSW Men’s season! There are two fascinating clashes on Sunday, hopefully they’ll whet your appetite as much as the Father’s Day roast many of you will be having.
North Shore Mariners and Hills United have a deserved weekend off, but for the remaining sides, there are no more second chances.
Elimination Final 1: Mounties Wanderers v GHFA Spirit FC, 2:00pm Sunday 1 September, Lily Homes Stadium
Didn’t we just watch these two sides play? The Match of the Round from two weeks ago has an encore, and this time one club’s campaign will be ended. We can expect the game to be close: both teams have won 13, drawn 4 and lost 9 matches this season, and they conceded the same amount of goals (44). The head to head record offers no further clues as to who might be victorious: Mounties won 2-0 in May at Sydney United Sports Centre, Spirit gaining revenge thanks to a 2-1 triumph at Christie Park.
Mounties earned a much needed result on Sunday, victory against Western Sydney Wanderers ending a three week winless run. They have a collection of attacking talent that is capable of winning any big game. Sean Rooney is their top scorer with nine goals, but he’s far from alone: Matthew West, Tai Smith, Theo Kofinas and Noah Chianese have all scored at least six times in 2019.
At the other end, Blake Tuxford has put in some solid goalkeeping displays since his since midseason move from APIA Leichhardt. There’s plenty of experience in front of him: centre backs Jacob Poscoliero and Benjamin Spruce will be vital in their attempt to keep the Spirit frontline quiet, while further forward Kofinas and Peter Triantis will look to control the centre of the park. Coach Brian Brown can also call on some promising young talent: Michael Jeffrey has impressed on the wing since being promoted to the 1st Grade side, and the young flyer grabbed the winning goal last weekend.
Spirit haven’t kept a clean sheet since June, making Tomislav Romic’s role even more important – he’ll be needed to protect the goal and marshal a relatively young backline – however the return of Louie Zacharopoulos does help matters.
Up front, Duncan Stewart has scored over a third of Spirit’s goals (18 out of 48), leading the team to victory on several occasions this year. Ahmed Sweedan is always a tricky proposition for opposing defences, and Travis Cooper can be relied upon to make an impact off the bench.
Behind those attackers, Futoshi Kondo and Dominic Furness were excellent against Mounties in Round 25, and a repeat performance from those two would take Spirit a long way towards victory. Wing backs Dylan Whitlock and Jason Perez might not get a lot of attention, but they will play a crucial role on Sunday, both in protecting the flanks and adding width to Spirit’s attack.
Elimination Final 2: Bonnyrigg White Eagles v Northern Tigers, 2:30pm Sunday 1 September, Marconi Stadium
The league’s stingiest defence (Bonnyrigg) meets the third stingiest defence (Northern Tigers) at Marconi Stadium, and we look set for another tight affair.
There’s no doubt that Bonnyrigg are the competition’s form side. They’ve earned the most points in the second half of the season (31 out of a possible 39 in 13 matches), moving them up from eighth at the midway point to a final position of third. The White Eagles have also kept five clean sheets in their last seven games – skipper Sam Gallaway, shotstopper James Chronopoulos and centre back Nikola Zonjic are all big reasons for their impressive defensive record.
However defence isn’t the only reason for Bonnyrigg’s improvement at the back end of the campaign, and Wayne O’Sullivan’s side possess the second most prolific attack in the division, with 24 goals in the last six rounds. The dynamic duo of Asmir Kadric and Aaron Peterson keep finding the net – Kadric has scored in his each of his last eight appearances – while midfielders Ray Miller and David Vrankovic are proven match winners.
Northern Tigers will want to show that the 6-0 drubbing at Bonnyrigg Sports Club in Round 21 was merely a glitch. Following that game, Adam Hett’s side responded brilliantly with four wins and a draw in the five games since then, only conceding twice in that run. They have also scored 13 goals in the 75th minute or later this year, so don’t be surprised if there’s late action.
At the back, Jamie Lobb (whether he plays in the centre of defence or at left back) has proven to be an excellent signing after joining the Tigers from Manly United. Jordan Ferrier and Nicholas Kalogerou have also been reliable defensive performers, while William Foristal could be a wildcard – he has played in defence and attack over the course of the season, and been effective at both.
Tigers captain Lucas Dawson leads an industrious midfield, ably supported by John Bachelard and Lachlan Lloyd, and their attack is coming into form. Rory Spiers has been amongst the goals recently, Ollie Wiggin netted the deciding goal on Sunday against Central Coast, and Alexander Brown always delivers threatening crosses.
By Eric Subijano – Twitter – @eric_subijano