Only the goals scored column separates competition leaders Manly United and second-placed Sutherland Sharks on the PlayStation®4 NPL NSW Men’s U20 ladder and with five games of the regular season remaining the premiership and finals races could not be any tighter.
The leaders Manly will travel to Ilinden Sports Centre looking to avoid what would be a huge upset, while Sutherland face a tricky test at Hakoah Sydney City East. With the top two both in action away from home it could be a big weekend for third-placed Bonnyrigg White Eagles who host Sydney Olympic at Bonnyrigg Sports Club looking to make up a two-point deficit to the tournament frontrunners.
The Match of the Round is at Melita Stadium where Parramatta must win to keep their slim finals chances alive.
Match of the Round
Parramatta v Sydney United 58, 1.00pm at Melita Stadium
A campaign that promised much for Parramatta looks set to end in frustrating underachievement, even if Mark Zecchin’s side defeat Sydney United 58 on Sunday.
The Melita Stadium outfit have underlined their capacity to match the competition heavyweights – even recently with three consecutive draws against Manly United, Blacktown City and Sutherland – but inconsistency has been Parramatta’s downfall leaving the side on course for a mid-table finish in 2016.
Of course, it could all change for Parramatta should results and luck finally swing in their favour, starting against Davor Bajsic’s Sydney United 58 on Sunday. The Reds have won two of their last three including the impressive 4-0 demolition of Wollongong in late June, but old failings returned in Round 17 where United were beaten by an out of form Blacktown Spartans.
Bonnyrigg White Eagles v Sydney Olympic, 5.00pm at Bonnyrigg Sports Centre
After succumbing to a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Sutherland Sharks in Round 17’s match of the round, last weekend’s lack of action would have come as a big frustration for Bonnyrigg who will be eager to get their championship assault back on track against Sydney Olympic this Saturday.
Prior to their loss at Sutherland last fortnight Stephen Sigmund’s side presented one of the most convincing cases for the tag of championship favourites, having won four matches in a row, including the 8-0 slaughter of reigning champions Blacktown City in Round 16.
The White Eagles must regroup against an Olympic outfit fighting to keep their campaign alive. John Theodoropoulos’ side have picked up two points from their last five games after defeating leaders Manly United in early June: a result that promised further improvement from the talent-laden Belmore team, but should another defeat fall at the weekend they look set to be consigned to campaign of huge underachievement.
Hakoah Sydney City East v Sutherland Sharks, 5.00pm at Hensley Athletic Field
Hakoah arrive into the weekend’s action on the back of their 5-2 thrashing of Blacktown City and will be out to maintain their impressive momentum when they welcome Sutherland Sharks to Hensley Athletic Field.
The league newcomers have exceeded all expectations during the 2016 campaign thus far with the likes of Richard Blanco, Emilio Manos and Domenic Cutri sharing the goalscoring responsibility but in tournament benchmarks Sutherland Sharks, Hakoah’s will face one of their toughest tests of the season.
Allan Edmondson’s side boast the strongest defensive record across the competition having conceded just 19 goals this campaign and with lead marksman Jeremy Cox in excellent form following a hattrick against Bonnyrigg a fortnight ago, they will be focussed on remaining alongside Manly United at the top of the ladder.
Blacktown Spartans v APIA Leichhardt Tigers, 1.00pm at Blacktown Football Park
Blacktown Spartans have endured broadly differing campaigns across all three senior grades this season, particularly in the Men’s 20’s where Samuel Jacob’s side have brought themselves back on the brink of the finals position following a positive turnaround in recent weeks.
But their credentials will be put the test when the Spartans host fourth-placed APIA Leichhardt at Blacktown Football Park this Sunday. With the side residing only a point behind sixth-placed Hakoah Sydney City East, and with matches against top-tier opposition in Blacktown City, Manly United and Sutherland Sharks to come in the next three weeks, it’s a must win for the resurgent Spartans.
The visiting APIA Leichhardt side are back to their scintillating best after dispatching Parramatta 5-0 and Rockdale City Suns 6-1 in two catch up fixtures played over the past fortnight with competition top scorer Duncan Stewart netting a hat trick and brace.
Rockdale City Suns v Manly United, 3.00pm at Ilinden Sports Centre
Competition leaders Manly United will look to establish their command at the summit of the table when they take on bottom-placed Rockdale on Sunday.
With Rockdale’s finals hopes all but extinguished, the visitors will sense a genuine opportunity to stake a proper premiership bid with five weeks of the regular season remaining.
And while Manly custodian Andrew Christiansen will be satisfied with consecutive victories together following a run of four weeks without three points, he will be eager to watch his charges tighten up their defence with the finals series approaching.
Wollongong Wolves v Blacktown City, 3.00pm at WIN Stadium
Reigning champions Blacktown City are slipping away from premiership contention in calamitous fashion. Having been dismantled 8-0 by Bonnyrigg in Round 16, Hakoah Sydney City East inflicted another heavy defeat on Ben Wright’s side when they won 5-2 at Lilys Football Centre a fortnight ago.
With just one win in their last eight, Blacktown look ripe for the taking for capable opposition and Alfredo Esteves’ Wollongong side have proven themselves nothing but awkward customers during the course of this season’s campaign.
The South Coast side lie outside the top six on goal difference and will need no further motivation to consign the visitors to yet another miserable day at the office as they look to leapfrog Blacktown into the top six.
-By Jacob Windon