THE chase is on in earnest, both for the premiership and for the remaining places in the top five as we enter round 13.
Blacktown Spartans looked to have sewn up the premiership but back-to-back defeats before their last gasp win over Sutherland has changed the complexion of that race. Meanwhile, Sydney Olympic, Marconi Stallions, and APIA-Leichhardt Tigers are all breathing down the neck of Rockdale City who hold fifth place.
MATCH OF THE ROUND
South Coast Wolves v Sutherland Sharks, 3pm Sunday at WIN Stadium
South Coast Wolves are a different beast under new coach Nahuel Arrarte, who managed to arrest an alarming start to the season when he replaced Richard Lloyd.
Although defeat last weekend, Wolves have been transformed into a hard working, well drilled unit, with a sprinkle of razzle-dazzle in the form of striker Ricky Zucco.
He remains among the league’s best sharp shooters and is capable, quite literally, of scoring from anywhere.
Sutherland meanwhile sit fourth, four points behind third placed Bonnyrigg White Eagles, after their defeat in the final moments against Blacktown Spartans last weekend.
The loss of Adamos Pierettis gives Robbie Stanton something to think about, especially after he showed his quality with two wonderful goals against Sydney United 58 the weekend before last.
Stanton may take the opportunity to try Ethan Galbraith in his more natural centre forward position, but whether the Sutherland coach wants to tinker that much remains to be seen.
Round 13 Preview
Blacktown Spartans v Sydney Olympic, 7:30pm Saturday at Blacktown Football Park
Spartans got back to winning ways with their Biczo-inspired victory over Sutherland last weekend, but they didn’t look at their powerful, muscular best after defeats to APIA-Leichhardt and Blacktown City in consecutive weeks.
Their coach Ben de Haan will be pleased to have arrested their run of losses though, regardless of how it came and will attempt to get his side back to their best against a youthful Sydney Olympic side.
Olympic have shown flashes of their capability this season and came from behind to beat struggling Sydney United 58 last weekend. Evan Kostopoulos was their best player on the day, but they have quality in Harris Gaitatzis, Taiga Soeda and Go Shirai to complement the former Adelaide United midfielder.
So long as their inexperienced defence stays firm in front of veteran goalkeeper Paul Henderson, then Olympic are capable of springing a surprise.
Marconi Stallions v APIA-Leichhardt Tigers, 7:30pm Saturday at Marconi Stadium
The Italian derby has for so long been a fixture in Australian football and this time the two teams meet at Marconi, after their early season meeting to open the new Lambert Park.
Marconi was victorious that night but this is a different APIA that travels to Bossley Park, boosted by the additions of former Sydney FC players Marc Warren, Blake Powell and Joe Gibbs and the acrobatics of Andrew Bazi, who is in rare form between the sticks and often looks unbeatable.
Gibbs scored on debut last week as APIA rallied late to beat St George and score their second win of the season, one which moves them up to eighth on the ladder.
Marconi snuck past Manly United thanks to a penalty from another former Sydney FC player, Matthew Thompson. New coach Paul Carter will want to continue the good work of Darren Iocca, who had gone about shaping this young side into a formidable opponent.
Bonnyrigg White Eagles v Manly United, 7:30pm Saturday at Bonnyrigg Sports Centre
Bonnyrigg have been a force to be reckoned with in the past two months, especially given they had a very slow start to the season.
Brian Brown’s side look back to their formidable best though; they are tight at the back and powerful going forward and in Aaron Peterson and Robbie Younis they are able to choose between two top quality strikers, as well as Mitchell Long.
Chris Tadrosse has led the side well through their rough patch and goalkeeper Matthew Nash, in excellent form, has kept seven clean sheets in the past eight games as Bonnyrigg have surged through mid-table to third position at the half way point of the year.
The story couldn’t be more different for Manly United, who are bottom of the table. Paul Dee took over from Craig Midgley and after a few good results to start, including a sensational smash-and-grab with at Edensor Park, has struggled to get Manly playing with anything like the verve he would have hoped.
Chris Payne and Scott Balderson remain their biggest threats in attack, but their defence is leaking goals, 32 in 12 games at the alarming rate of 2.6 goals per game.
If that doesn’t change, it will be a long second half of the season for the Northern Beaches side.
Blacktown City v St George, 3pm Sunday at Lilys Football Centre
Blacktown City and coach Mark Crittenden are doing a superb job of putting an underwhelming 2013 behind them and are in striking distance of Blacktown Spartans heading into round 13.
Ryuiji Miyazawa and Travis Major are looking potent in attack, while the mid-season addition of Mitchell Mallia certainly adds pace, if nothing else, to their frontline.
St George looked like taking a point at Lambert Park last week but faltered in the final ten minutes. David Talevski has been among the goals lately and along with Juan Chavez looks to be St George’s most likely source of goals.
Manny Spanoudakis has set up his side well but their inexperience at this level sometimes shows, and three wins and two draws has them third from bottom, albeit only one point behind Sydney United 58.
Sydney United 58 v Rockdale City Suns, 3pm at Ilinden Sports Centre
United have struggled this season, that cannot be glossed over. But any team that loses its midfield fulcrum, in this case Glen Trifiro, is always going to have to adjust.
Mark Rudan has shown flexibility this season and seems to have switched to a back three of Ibrahim Haydar, Nathan Sherlock and Mitchell Speer, with Ante Tomic on the left and Anthony Tomelic on the right providing the width.
Mirjan Pavlovic’s return adds some mongrel to a front line that has been much sharper since the addition of the highly-rated Alec Urosevski.
Diego Barcena may be fit to return in goal against his former club, after Anthony Costa deputised last weekend against Olympic, costing United a goal with an ill-advised venture from his line in the second half. Barcena was on the bench for that game though, despite an injured hand.
It is the apprentice hosting the master as Rudan goes head-to-head with Branko Culina, for so long a top coach in this country.
Culina’s Rockdalre are playing good football again, with Askin Oygur, Paul Kohler and Paul Reid forming the spine, but they have missed too many chances this season. Sean Symons has been a great pick up from APIA and has shown his ability at this level and United will have to wary of him, Tadgh Purcell and Nick Taneski in attack.
– by Matthew Lopez, National Premier Leagues NSW Mens 1 Editor