The competition continued to be at its unpredictable best in Round Twenty-Three of the Football New South Wales League Two Men’s season.
The Match of the Round this week saw Nepean FC pick up a crucial win at home over Inner West Hawks FC thanks to two strikes from a new signing.
Elsewhere, Hawkesbury City FC won a third match in a row, at home to Fraser Park FC, before Parramatta FC ended their six-match losing streak against Sydney University SFC, while league-leaders UNSW FC fell to Prospect United SC as the title race took another turn.
Meanwhile, Bankstown United FC picked up a crucial win over Gladesville Ryde Magic in a top-half clash, Camden Tigers FC piled more misery on South Coast Flame FC, before the Newcastle Jets were held at home by the Western Rage.
Hurstville FC had a bye this round.
Friday, 7th July 2023
Match of the Round: Nepean FC 2-0 Inner West Hawks FC
Nepean FC moved within three points of league-leaders UNSW FC after two strikes from Lachlan Sepping led them to a 2-0 win over Inner West Hawks FC at Wanderers Football Park.
The hosts had the first corner of the match, which resulted in a free header that went wide from Nepean captain Edward Stewart.
However, in his landing from the leaping header, Stewart picked up a leg injury and was substituted after just seven minutes; Nepean readjusted at the back as Tommy Mandarano came on.
The Hawks, meanwhile, held the ball well early and look to hit Nepean with pace in behind.
Peter Phillips was fouled just outside the box for the Hawks in the 12th minute on the left, nineteen yards from goal; Hesan Soufi took the free kick, which was bent around the wall and just fizzed past the right-hand post.
Both teams had mistakes in them early in defence, especially when playing out from the back under the press from the other team.
Nepean had the next few chances in the match all within one minute; Kye Soares fired a shot wide from 20 yards and Leonard Abdo evaded the Hawks’ defence and fired a shot over the crossbar from 20 metres following a counter.
The Hawks fired back a minute later in the 17th minute; Lony Lo struck an effort wide from 30 yards as the Hawks continued to threaten down their left flank and worked their way into the box for low crosses.
However, in a case of Déjà vu for Nepean, they hit the lead with an almost-identical goal to one of their goals last week.
In the 20th minute, Lachlan Sepping worked his way into space outside the Hawks’ box; he fired a left-footed shot from 30 yards in front of goal right into the top-left corner of the net with a stunning strike to put Nepean 1-0 up.
He had noticed the space left by Hawks’ goalkeeper, Shunsuke Sugiura, at his near post and capitalised to give Nepean the lead they wanted in the match.
In the 26th minute, following good one-twos and quick passing down the right for Nepean, Luka Zepina got in behind and drove into the box down the right flank.
He worked his way towards goal and fired a shot towards the far left-hand corner but his effort rolled just wide of the post.
Two minutes later, Richard Stewart launced a good ball into the box from down the field; it just evaded the Nepean attackers and went out for a goal kick.
Nepean got back in numbers and defended well; they closed the gaps between the lines to swarm the Hawks.
Nepean won the midfield battle and made it hard for the Hawks to play between the lines.
The Hawks, therefore, resulted to try to play around Nepean or launch long balls; they created a chance through Tony Lo but his long shot went over the crossbar.
Nepean defended well to stop the Hawks on their counters; one of those chances was snuffed out for Nepean by Soares, who tracked well to deny the Hawks a counter chance late.
The hosts were strong down their right in attack and Richard Stweart was a rock at right-back for Nepean in the first half.
After two minutes of stoppage time, the referee blew the whistle to signal half-time, Nepean 1-0 up at the break.
Zepina had the first chance of the second half for Nepean after he broke in behind down the left; he fired a low cross into the Hawks’ box but was unable to find any waiting Nepean players as the ball was cleared.
The Hawks pressed well and forced Nepean into a few mistakes early in the second half.
The hosts, meanwhile, were a bit indecisive with their ball movement despite their possession.
In the 60th minute, Sepping got the ball on the edge of the box following good play down the right flank; he settled himself for a left-footed shot but was off balance as his effort flew wide of the target.
Marcus Apostolakis stopped a quick Nepean counter in the second half and was given a yellow card for denying them from getting in behind.
Paulo Laxamana left the field injured for Nepean in the 69th minute as they looked to find the match-sealing goal.
A few minutes later, Richard Stewart was involved again as he worked his way down the left flank this time and crossed a ball into the box.
Hawks goalkeeper Sugiura got a crucial hand to the ball to stop it from reaching a Nepean attacker.
The Hawks tried to use their width and pace in the counter to hurt Nepean, who flooded the midfield and closed gaps well to deny the Hawks chances.
Nepean tried to overload and hurt the Hawks with clever passing in attack at the other end.
For the Hawks, the final ball was missing the whole night, which meant they could not capitalise on their counterattacking opportunities; without Peter Yannopoulos, they were missing his pace and experience in attack.
The Hawks had a flurry of chances with ten minutes of regulation time to go, however, but were unable to find the back of the net.
Then, late on following a double Nepean change, the hosts picked up the all-important second goal, which saw them claim victory over the Hawks.
Nepean pressed well and won the ball through Zepina, who passed the ball back across the edge of the box to Sepping.
He settled himself and struck the ball sweetly with his left foot from 20 yards with a laces shot from in front of goal; the ball found the top-left corner again in another wonder strike.
It was Sepping’s second goal of the night and was near identical to his first as Nepean picked up the crucial late goal to lead 2-0 with a few minutes to go.
Nepean substitute, recent signing Bruno Amaral was played in behind in the fourth minute of stoppage time and worked his way to the byline down the left flank.
He put an accurate cross into the box for Richard Stewart, who had worked his way up from the back into attack; he struck the ball sweetly as it cannoned off the crossbar which denied him a goal by inches.
Nepean had ten shots in the match to the Hawks six, but the hosts only managed the two shots on target for the night; the away side had one shot on target while possession remained even.
Amaral headed wide from a free kick with the last action of the match and after eight minutes of stoppage time, the referee blew the whistle to signal full-time.
Nepean had picked up a crucial three points in the battle at the top of the ladder after a 2-0 win over the Hawks, who could not climb away from the lower reaches of the ladder.
Speaking post-match, Nepean FC head coach Stephen Appleby had praised for the Hawks and how they played in the match.
“Fair play to them, I can see why they were unbeaten in six matches with their movement, especially the 19 (Tony Lo) and the 23 (Hesan Soufi), I thought he was quite a dangerous lad.”
Speaking on Kye Soares and Lachlan Sepping, Appleby spoke on how they have connected straight away given they both came from the Marconi Stallions setup.
“They have fitted in really well with the boys, which is great, and you can see the ability the boys have got… so hopefully that keeps us knocking on the door and we will see how we go.”
Nepean host Camden Tigers FC next week in a tough Western Sydney battle and Appleby is expecting a tough match.
“I think, any game if you are not switched on, you can get punished.”
Inner West Hawks FC head coach Bill Condoleon said it was disappointing to lose after his side had gone six matches unbeaten, despite injuries.
“[The young guys] did a good job against a good team going for promotion in Nepean.”
The Hawks were unable to find the cutting edge in the final third.
“In the attacking third, it was disjointed… we had to move players around, but it is what it is, that is football.”
Despite the result, Condoleon was proud of the way some of the younger players stepped up and had praise for one player, particularly.
“Matthew Morris, when he has been asked to step up, he steps up, he does a really good job.”
The win moved Nepean into 2nd place, three points behind UNSW FC after their loss and one point ahead of the Newcastle Jets following their draw, while Inner West Hawks FC dropped two places to 14th on the ladder after the loss, two points ahead of the Western Rage.
Nepean FC will hope to continue their promotion charge as they host Camden Tigers FC next week, while Inner West Hawks FC host Parramatta FC in an important match near the bottom of the league.
Hawkesbury City FC 1-0 Fraser Park FC
Hawkesbury City FC picked up their third win in a row and are in their best form this season after a 1-0 home win over Fraser Park FC, who fell to back-to-back defeats.
Fraser Park controlled 60% of the possession in the match but could not break down the resolute Hawks defence at David Bertenshaw Field.
In the first half, Fraser Park held the ball and the Hawks tried to disrupt their passes and pinch the ball back with their press.
Clear cut chances in the half were hard to come by for both sides; Fraser Park threatened from dangerous corners, but the hosts held out.
However, in the 17th minute, it was the hosts who scored the early breakthrough.
Following a Hawks corner that was knocked down, the ball fell to Ryan Faulkner on the volley, who struck the ball sweetly from 20 yards and found the back of the net to give Hawkesbury a 1-0 lead.
Shu Torihara had a good chance for Fraser Park with a volley from a cross but was unable to get the right contact on it, while Anthony Pedavoli had a similar opportunity for the Hawks at the other end but was unable to find the target; Hawkesbury took a 1-0 lead into the break.
In the second half, Fraser Park threw everything in attack at the hosts but were unable to score, while the Hawks hit Fraser Park on the break.
The Hawks had one-on-one chances from Brad Gibson and Vincent D’Ermilio saved by Fraser Park goalkeeper and captain, Patrick Ferrara.
Fraser Park pushed for the equaliser at the end which opened them up at the back, but neither side was able to find another goal in the match as the Hawks picked up an important 1-0 win.
The win moved the Hawks from 13th up into 12th place, while the loss dropped Fraser Park further behind 6th-placed Prospect with the gap extended to five points.
Hawkesbury City FC will hope to continue their good form as they travel to face Prospect United SC, while Fraser Park will hope to wrestle back momentum as they travel to face Sydney University SFC.
Saturday, 8th July 2023
Parramatta FC 1-0 Sydney University SFC
Parramatta FC ended their six-match losing streak and did the league double over their opponents with a 1-0 win over Sydney University SFC at Melita Stadium.
Parramatta were dealt another injury blow after Mouhamed Hamdache dislocated his shoulder last week and with so many new players in the side, they are learning their system of play.
The hosts settled in the first half and had a one-on-one chance through their top scorer, Youssef Badr, but he fired his shot well over the goal.
Moments later, new signing from Brighton Heat FC, Italo Wanderley, got in behind on a one-on-one, but his first touch put him wide before he shot his effort wide of the goal.
Badr had another chance for Parramatta in a one-on-one, but Sydney University goalkeeper Jasper Sarkies pulled off a good save to deny him.
The breakthrough in the match came in the 23rd minute through a familiar name for the hosts.
Badr got on the end of a long ball over the top of the Uni defence from Blake Steward and placed the ball into the bottom-left corner with his right foot to give the hosts the 1-0 advantage in the contest, which they took into half-time.
In the second half, Parramatta continued to attack, and Badr played the ball into Taylor Saghabi; he had a one-on-one chance but put too much power into his shot and missed the target.
Following that, Gabriel Contigiani had a header from a corner which was headed towards goal, but Sarkies pulled off a spectacular save in the Uni goal to keep the deficit to one.
Contigiani had an effort from a free kick which was saved well by Sarkies, too, while Uni threatened from corners and throw-ins; Parramatta’s goalkeeper, Jameson Hinwood, had a good match as he commanded his box.
Late in the match, there was red card drama; Brett Wilson was sent off for Uni two minutes into stoppage time after he denied Badr a run in behind the last man with a tackle from behind, while Danial Hussain was sent off for Uni after he ran across the field and retaliated to a challenge from Parramatta’s Zachary Newham.
University finished with nine men as Parramatta picked up an important three points with a 1-0 home win.
The win moved Parramatta into 13th, while the loss kept Uni in 11th, four points behind Hurstville FC.
Parramatta FC are trying to keep improving and have pride in where they finish this season; they will hope to win back-to-back matches as they travel to face Inner West Hawks FC in a crucial clash near the bottom, while Sydney University SFC will hope to bounce back at home against Fraser Park FC in Round Twenty-Four.
UNSW FC 1-2 Prospect United SC
Prospect United SC shook up the title race once again after they came away with a come-from-behind victory over UNSW FC at The Village Green.
In windy conditions, UNSW’s Kevin Lopes tried to lob Prospect goalkeeper Archie Cerasoli after five minutes but missed.
Jack Fulton missed a header early, while Prospect worked their way into the match at the other end as Marco Turpeinen had two shots saved by UNSW goalkeeper, Luke Del Vecchio.
James Pelletier and Cristian Leiva also had chances for Prospect but lacked in their finishing as they match was scoreless at half-time.
UNSW had the first chance of the second half as a rebound was cleared off the line for a corner, while half-time substitute Domenic Abruzzese missed a header from six yards.
However, in the 66th minute, the hosts took the lead they wanted in the contest; Fulton put in a cross-field cross to captain Luke Burke, who scored with a header to give UNSW a 1-0 lead.
However, Prospect had a penalty awarded eight minutes later when Leiva was brought down in the box; David Muller stepped up and sent UNSW goalkeeper Luke Del Vecchio the wrong way to restore parity in the match at 1-1.
Three minutes later, Muller played a pass up the field to Marco Turpeinen who backheeled a pass in behind for their new signing from Mount Druitt Town Rangers’ under-20’s, Jahnbek Bulut.
Bulut took on Del Vecchio and slotted the ball home to give Prospect the lead following an eleven-minute period with three goals.
Thomas Powell volleyed an effort over the bar for UNSW following that goal, Fulton went close to equalising from a free kick, while Lopes headed the ball wide from a corner in a late flurry of chances for UNSW.
In the end, UNSW were unable to take their chances and their defensive lapse cost them in the match, while Prospect were clinical with their chances late in a 2-1 away win.
The loss meant UNSW’s lead at the top of the table over the 2nd-placed Nepean FC was cut to three points, while they remained four points ahead of the Newcastle Jets; for Prospect, the win kept them in 6th but built a five-point gap back to Fraser Park FC in 7th.
UNSW FC will hope to put in a complete performance next week in a 1st versus last battle against the Western Rage, while Prospect United SC host the in-form Hawkesbury City FC in Round Twenty-Four.
Bankstown United FC 2-0 Gladesville Ryde Magic
Bankstown United FC are the form team of the competition and picked up a fifth win from their last six matches with a strong 2-0 win over Gladesville Ryde Magic at Padstow Park in a crucial battle of 5th vs 4th.
The first half was devoid of much action; the Bankstown players who were on the bench or travelled that were injured said as much.
The Magic had a chance through Adrian Johnathan, who headed wide, while Christopher Guyot struck an effort which whizzed past the Bankstown post.
Josh Gersbach had a chance for Bankstown after he got between defenders and pushed his effort around Magic goalkeeper Joshua Sarina, but the ball was cleared by the outstretched leg of centre-half Sergio Tarazona.
Both teams focused their attacks down the right in the first half, but strong defence from both sides stopped attacking movements.
At the end of the first half, David Ustimenko had a looping cross partially cleared; it fell to Johnathan, whose effort swerved clipped the outside of the post, the match scoreless at half-time.
The match opened up in the second half as Chris Thomas had a long-range shot for Bankstown, which was saved by the diving Sarina.
Bankstown pressured the Magic, though, and found the breakthrough in the 64th minute through a familiar source.
From a corner, Mitchell Cross rose above everyone else and headed the ball into the back of the net for the 18th time this season – that goal moved him to be the outright goal scorer so far this season.
The Magic’s two central defender, Tarazona and Benjamin Ansah, man-marked and limited Cross throughout the match as Cross scored with his first real chance to give the hosts the 1-0 lead.
The Magic moved Ustimenko to striker and brought on Oscar Felipe Neto Rava on the right wing as they searched for a goal back late.
However, the result was sealed in the 86th minute for the hosts.
New signing from Moorebank Sports Soccer Club, Hayden Battistel, got the ball on the edge of the 18-yard-box in second-phase play from a corner; he fired a shot through a forest of legs and found the back of the net to score his first goal for the club to give Bankstown a 2-0 lead.
That was the final chance of the match as Bankstown continued their winning ways with a 2-0 home win over the Magic.
The result was crucial for both sides as it moved Bankstown to within a point of the Magic in 5th, while the Magic stayed 4th but moved to five points behind the 3rd-placed Newcastle Jets.
Bankstown United FC go into the bye next week with plenty of confidence and will look to welcome back two or three players from injury following their week off, while Gladesville Ryde Magic will hope to bounce back at home to Hurstville FC, who will be refreshed after their bye.
Camden Tigers FC 1-0 South Coast Flame FC
Camden Tigers FC picked up the three points over a freefalling South Coast Flame FC side at a windy Ron Dime Memorial Reserve – Carbiz Stadium.
The Tigers played with short, sharp passing while the Flame tried their luck with long balls down both flanks.
The Flame had a tame header saved early from Adam Voloder, while at the other end Jack Harris forced a strong save from the Flame.
The Tigers hit the lead in the opening 15 minutes when they won the ball in defence and played the ball down the right.
They played Liam Gregory in behind, who squared the ball into the box for Brendan Lane; he slotted the ball home with a first-time finish to give the Tigers the early 1-0 lead.
A minute later, the Flame attacked through Cody Waller, who capitalised on a long ball and chipped the ball towards goal, but it went just wide.
Both teams continued to attack each other as the Tigers forced Flame goalkeeper, Ruon Nakamura into a few saves.
In the 25th minute, Alexander Alston slid a ball to Jay De Gouveia in the box, but he missed the target from a few yards out.
Camden’s Aiden Quigley hit the crossbar from 25 yards out, while at the other end Tigers’ goalkeeper Evan Martin made a strong save from close range to deny the Flame an equaliser through Luke Hoefsloot.
Despite chances at both ends for both teams, there was only one goal scored in the first half as Camden took a 1-0 lead into the break.
In the second half, the match evolved into a midfield battle where chances were hard to come by.
James Baldacchino was unable to get on the end of a Waller cross for the Flame as the Flame threw more players forward.
In the 75th minute, Quigley volleyed a shot from range that was destined for the top corner, but Nakamura produced a save at full stretch to deny Camden the match-sealer.
The Tigers had the next best chance of the half as Lane blasted an effort over the goal late in the match.
In the end, the Tigers pushed and proved strong for their three points at home with a 1-0 win, while for the Flame their troubles worsened.
The win moved the Tigers from 10th place into 9th and level on 27 points with the Flame, who stayed 8th but fell to eleven matches without a win.
Camden Tigers FC will hope to win a third match in four weeks as they travel to take on Nepean FC next week, while the Flame will hope to fire up as they host the promotion-chasing Newcastle Jets.
Sunday, 9th July 2023
Newcastle Jets 0-0 Western Rage
The Newcastle Jets missed their chance to significantly close the gap to league-leaders UNSW, while the Western Rage could have taken all three points on another day in a 0-0 draw at Magic Park.
The Jets had a chance in the first half as one of their strikers headed the ball across Rage goalkeeper, Samuel Bortolazzo, who saved well to put the ball behind for a goal kick.
The Rage then countered down the right through Jacob Carluccio, who whipped a ball into the six-yard-box for Timothy Borg-Williams; however, his vision was impeded as he attempted a side-footed volley and missed the ball in front of an open goal.
The Jets had a one-on-one down the left flank and the shot forced a good save from Bortolazzo.
Both sides had a few half-chances in a tough first half; the Rage’s Welkson Souza was dominant in defenced and did not lose a tackle for the visitors.
The Rage made three changes at half-time and continued to battle strong in a physical game from both sides.
However, following a free-flowing first half, the second half was very stop-start and did not allow either team to get into a rhythm or create chances from open play.
Both sides had shots from outside the box to no effect, compared to the first half where both goalkeepers made good saves.
The Rage created one chance after a ball was in down the right to the Jets’ back post; Jets’ goalkeeper Noah James fumbled the ball and Borg-Williams could not convert as he volleyed the rebound over the crossbar.
The Jets had chances from the edge of the box in the second half, as well as snap shots, but were unable to create any clear-cut chances in the second half.
For the Rage, Christian Brigo played his first 90 minutes of the season on the left side of defence and put in a good shift to hold out the Jets.
In a match with two completely different halves, neither side was able to find the breakthrough as the match finished 0-0.
The draw meant the Jets moved to within four points of UNSW FC with a match in hand, but also meant they dropped to 3rd place behind Nepean FC, who moved one point ahead of them, while the Rage stayed last, two points behind Inner West Hawks FC.
The Newcastle Jets will hope to avoid losing more ground on the top two as they make the long journey to face South Coast Flame FC next week, while the Western Rage will hope to further twist the promotion battle as they host UNSW FC in a first versus last clash in Round Twenty-Four.
By Football New South Wales League Two Men’s Writer, Dylan Costa @_dylancosta