With just five rounds to go in the regular PS4 National Premier Leagues NSW Men’s 1 season, competition for finals is heating up.
Five points is all that separates fifth-placed Sydney United 58 FC – which is hanging in the top five on goal difference alone – from tenth placed South Coast Wolves, ensuring every game this weekend carries significance.
In this weekend’s match of the round, Rockdale City Suns and Sutherland Sharks FC will look to further their own finals ambitions when they square of at Ilinden Sports Centre, after both teams took points of the league’s top-two sides in round 17.
Elsewhere, Blacktown City will be wary of the need to start picking up wins instead of draws as the chasing pack creeps ever closer, with just three points separating Mark Crittenden’s side from the second-placed APIA Leichhardt Tigers.
MATCH OF THE ROUND
Rockdale City Suns v Sutherland Sharks FC, 5.00 pm Sunday at Ilinden Sports Centre
The last month has been a profitable one for the Rockdale City Suns.
Since starting off the winter months with a narrow 1-0 loss to Blacktown Spartans, the Suns’ winter has been anything but bleak thus far, with 10 points from a possible 12 in their last four games.
The last of those came from the most unlikely sources of all as Paul Reid’s side held ladder leaders Blacktown City FC to a 0-0 draw at Lilys Football Centre last Sunday.
The arrival of former A-League target man Dylan Macallister has been a valuable addition for the Suns despite the lack of goals so far, with the big-man’s physical presence proving a wonderful foil for Alec Urosevski who is working wonderfully off his new strike partner.
Ivan Necevski will return to goals in a further boost to the Suns’ hopes in this match, where a win could see the Suns just two points off the top five.
The same can be said for Sutherland Sharks who remain perhaps the competition’s biggest Jekyll and Hyde side.
That was on clear display last weekend when the Sharks recovered from a 2-0 deficit against second-placed APIA Leichardt Tigers FC, where Sharks coach Steve O’Conner watched on as his side conceded its seemingly customary cheap early goal and had its backs to the walls.
The response was emphatic once again, however, with Sean O’Connell and Jordan Figon scoring two goals in the last six minutes of the game to snatch a vital point.
The Sharks are good at their best, but they won’t remain in finals contention long if they can’t put it together for 90 minutes.
ROUND 18 PREVIEW
Bonnyrigg White Eagles FC v South Coast Wolves FC, 7.30 pm Saturday at Bonnyrigg Sports Club
Flying high, metaphorically and literally, after derby delight last week against Sydney United 58 FC, Bonnyrigg White Eagles need to keep the good vibes going if it is to continue to close in on Blacktown City FC at the top of the pile.
The White Eagles are just four points off the summit and as long as Robert Younis keeps banging them in – he scored his 10th of the campaign last weekend – the sky is the limit for this Bonnyrigg side.
On Saturday night they will welcome a South Coast Wolves side on a high after a 4-2 win over Parramatta FC last week.
The win has put the Wolves on track for a surprise challenge at the top-five, but they need to keep winning.
Last week’s goalscorers Peter Simonoski and Jordan Murray will still be wondering how they didn’t manage to score hat-tricks last week and will be keen to get back amongst the goals.
They should expect a much more stubborn resistance at Bonnyrigg Sports Club than they encountered in Wollongong last week.
Marconi Stallions FC v Sydney Olympic FC, 7.30 pm Saturday at Marconi Stadium
Something has got to give on Saturday night when Marconi Stallions welcome Sydney Olympic FC.
These two heavyweights of New South Wales football have endured vastly different seasons, but both remain desperate for the three points and the pride that goes with them.
Olympic remain in fourth position, but after a 5-1 drubbing at the hands of Manly United, Grant Lee’s men will be nervously looking over their collective shoulders.
Lee will have to make do without suspended midfielder Scott Balderson who picked up two yellow cards in the defeat, as well as star recruit Tolgay Ozbey who was cruelly injured on debut last week, while there may be other selection question marks after Lee had this to say to his team after the defeat.
"What we need in these games is a bit of physicality. Teams that are prepared to work hard get results – that’s something we need to work on, clearly,” Lee warned.
Ominous words, which might just be reflected in his team selections on Saturday night.
Marconi, on the other hand, may require a more divine intervention.
It looked like it finally might click last Sunday against Blacktown Spartans FC when Jack Press hammered home to give the Stallion’s a second-half lead, only for the good work to be undone by the concession of two goals shortly after.
Press had numerous opportunities to open the scoring while Milorad Simonovic was also guilty of missing chances and the Stallions cannot afford to be as charitable in front of goal this Saturday.
Parramatta FC v Blacktown Spartans FC, 7.30 pm Saturday at Melita Stadium WASHED OUT
On paper, there is only one winner in this western Sydney derby.
Blacktown Spartans FC has transformed itself into one of the competition’s for teams in recent weeks and is breathing down the neck of the current top five teams.
Another win on Saturday night against a struggling Parramatta FC would potentially see them crash the established order with just four games to play.
The Eagles have proven stiff opposition at Melita Stadium this season, making life difficult for Blacktown City FC and Sydney United 58 FC in recent weeks, but they’ve failed to turn good performances into meaningful results.
The bookends of the side have been strong, with Marco Sama playing brilliantly with little service, while Luke Turnbull has been one of the best goalkeepers in the league this season despite the amount of goals he has conceded.
The rest of the team will need to step up to the plate if the Eagles are to enjoy top-flight status next season with time and games fast running out.
Manly United FC v Blacktown City FC, 3.00 pm Sunday at Cromer Park
After last weekend’s 5-1 demolition of Sydney Olympic, Manly United have joined the band of up-and-coming teams hoping a late charge will be enough to secure finals football.
United will have to be at its best to continue that run, however, with ladder leaders Blacktown City coming to town this Saturday.
Despite being unbeaten in nine games, City has struggled to turn strong performances into wins with three draws from its last three games.
It hasn’t been for a lack of trying with some brilliant performances being turned in by Sasa Macura, Connor Evans and Patrick Antelmi in midfield, as well as Matt Lewis and Zach Cairncross in defence.
Nenad Vekic was huge in goals last week as well, but it is at the other end that City seems to be struggling, as opponents drop deeper and deeper in defence.
Coach Mark Crittenden knows the likes of Travis Major, Mitch Mallia and Danny Choi are going to need to combine more effectively if the goals, and the wins, are going to return.
APIA Leichhardt FC v Sydney United 58 FC, 4.30 pm Sunday at Lambert Park
Both APIA Leichhardt FC and Sydney United 58 FC have plenty to prove at Lambert Park this week.
The Tigers will still be reeling from the concession of two goals in the final six minutes of their stunning 2-2 draw against Sutherland Sharks last Saturday night, while the recently crowned Waratah Cup champions will be smarting after a crushing derby loss at the hands of Bonnyrigg White Eagles FC.
Thankfully, both sides have plenty of talent on the books to inspire a much-needed recovery.
Blake Powell has set the league alight with his goals this season and already has 21 to his name with five games still to play, but his team is struggling after Saturday’s draw made it three games without a win.
Mark Rudan will certainly have his Sydney United side fired up for a response after he was left less-than-impressed with his side’s showing against Bonnyrigg.
The loss was United’s fourth in five games and Rudan will be hopeful that the likes of Ibrahim Haydar, Chris Triantis and Panagiotis Nikas can help turn the club’s fortunes around.