TOP plays bottom this weekend in Round 8, but that is only half the story.
Sydney United 58 FC travel to the Ilinden Sports Centre to take on Rockdale City, whose woeful start to the season has seen head coach Branko Culina pay the price of his job.
Elsewhere, second placed Sydney Olympic play Blacktown Spartans, and third placed APIA Leichahrdt take on South Coast Wolves.
MATCH OF THE ROUND
Sydney United 58 FC v Rockdale City Suns, 3pm Sunday at Ilinden Sports Centre
Usually billed as the master, Branko Culina, against the apprentice, Mark Rudan, it will not be the case this weekend after Culina was relieved of his duties earlier in the week.
It means Rockdale City come into the Match of the Round on the back of two draws and four losses this season. After a period of sustained success under Culina, including a grand final appearance in 2013, this was a shock, and the Suns have some serious rebuilding to do this season.
The 6-2 loss to Sutherland Sharks was the last straw, but it is not too late to string a run together, the only winless team remaining in the competition has to start moving up the table now to avoid this season being a write off.
Untied 58 meanwhile are going about their business, sitting two points above Sydney Olympic, but having played a game extra.
Rudan’s side has overcome the loss of Nick Stavroulakis, thanks largely to the returns to fitness of Panni Nikas and Chris Triantis, who are both in good goal scoring form.
The signing of Richard Cardozo, who scored 17 goals for Rockdale in that stellar 2013 season, is a massive coup for United too, and he scored on his debut a fortnight ago against Bonnyrigg White Eagles.
ROUND 8 PREVIEW
Bonnyrigg White Eagles v Parramatta FC, 7.30pm Saturday at Bonnyrigg Sports Centre
Bonnyrigg White Eagles are in fifth place heading into this week’s fixture against Parramatta FC.
Three wins, one draw and two losses is a mixed bag for Brian Brown’s side, and they have conceded nine goals in six games, which is an unusual ratio for them.
They suffered a surprise loss to South Coast Wolves in Wollongong last week, but on the flipside Robbie Younis seems to be in decent goal scoring form again, and Bonnyrigg will be keen for him to spearhead them to victory against Parramatta FC.
Third-from-bottom Parramatta FC is coming off a 1-0 loss to Blacktown Spartans last time out, and have still only recorded the one win so far this season.
Coach Franco Cosentino is under no illusions as to the size of the task for his squad, but if they caused an upset here it would be a big step forward in 2015.
Marconi Stallions v Blacktown City, 7.30pm Saturday at Valentine Sports Park
The once proud Stallions won a grand final as recently as 2012, but their decline has been sharp and they sit second last with one win and six losses.
Admittedly the scoreline was harsh against a red-hot Sydney Olympic, when they went down 5-1 at Valentine Sports Park last Sunday night, but the results haven’t been close to good enough.
Things need to change fast if the Stallions are to emerge from this season with any credibility, but the task doesn’t get any easier as they face a Blacktown City side chastened from their thrashing by Manly United.
Blacktown City was 3-0 down at the break in last week’s Match of the Round and despite a late rally, the fact is they were monstered in midfield by Bastien Beauchat and Daniel Bragg.
Sasa Macura and Connor Evans will need to step up again this week in the middle of the park, and Travis Major will hope for a more productive match after missing a sitter and a penalty as a substitute last weekend. His class is without doubt though, and he will bounce back strongly.
APIA Leichhardt Tigers v South Coast Wolves, 7.45pm Saturday, at Lambert Park
South Coast travel to Leichhardt on a high after their stunning 3-2 win against competition heavyweights Bonnyrigg White Eagles at WIN Stadium last week.
Nahuel Arrate performed a miracle last season after taking over, but this season has proven altogether more difficult. The signs are there however, that Wolves are starting to gel and play the type of football that saw such emphatic improvement last year.
APIA’s 1-1 draw with Sydney United 58 last week was an indication they have worked out how to play in the big games, after conceding plenty of goals in the opening few weeks.
Coach Billy McColl and assistant coach Rod Williams seem to have settled on Ryan Norval in goal, and a partnership of skipper Michael West and Brett Studman in the centre of defence. Add Adrian Ucchino in front of them, and Franco Parisi and Blake Powell in attack, and the APIA spine looks strong.
Finally having a settled line up looks to have made the difference for the Tigers and they will be ready for the challenge of Wolves.
Sydney Olympic v Blacktown Spartans, 3pm Sunday, at Blacktown Football Park
Sydney Olympic is flying at the moment and their 5-1 win against Marconi Stallions showed they will take no prisoners.
Taiga Soeda, Go Shirai, Dimitri Hatzimouratis and Harris Gaitatzis are the key attacking weapons of the side and in their current form you wouldn’t bet against them going one further than last season, even if there is a long way to go.
Blacktown Spartans are on a mini-unbeaten run, one which stretched to three games with their 1-0 win over Parramatta FC last weekend.
Shu Sasaki has proven a hit over the early part of the season, and the presence of veteran forward Mitch Long up front has given Spartans someone to aim at if needed.
Carlos Saliadarre has, as usual, been in peak form between the sticks, and he will need to be again this weekend against a rampant Sydney Olympic.
Manly United v Sutherland Sharks, 3pm Sunday, at Cromer Park
If Manly’s bubble was burst a fortnight ago when they lost to Sydney Olympic at home, it was definitely revived with their thrilling 4-1 win against Blacktown City last weekend.
Manly ended Blacktown City’s unbeaten run and registered their own third win of the season. Livewire forward Brendan Cholakian scored twice, the ever-reliable Chris Payne once, and Travis Oughtred scored a rare goal as United ran away with it.
There will be a few selection headaches for Paul Dee with the return to fitness of club captain Graeme Forbes, and goalkeeper Dylan Mitchell, both who were on the bench for the massive win.
Sutherland thrashed local rivals Rockdale City 6-2 last weekend, to claim only their second win of the season. It was much deserved but also much needed.
Steve Hayes’ fitness and form is a real bright spot for the Sharks though and his creativity and eye for goal could be the boost Sutherland need as they try to climb the table.
– By Matthew Lopez, PS4 National Premier Leagues NSW Men’s 1 Editor