It’s round 17 of the National Premier Leagues NSW Men’s competition and with only six weeks to go until the end of the regular season the pressure is mounting with the battle for the Premiership and finals set to go down to the wire.
This week’s fixtures get underway on Saturday night as first placed Wollongong Wolves travel north to take on a resurgent Mt Druitt Town Rangers at Popondetta Park.
Sunday will feature five matches starting at Cromer Park as Manly United take on Sutherland Sharks,
Round 17 will also feature two big derby matches as Sydney Olympic take on Rockdale City Suns, while Sydney United 58 host Marconi Stallions in the final match of the weekend at Sydney United Sports Centre.
Mt Druitt Town Rangers v Wollongong Wolves, 7pm Saturday at Popondetta Park
A resurgent Mt Druitt Town Rangers will be hoping to make it four wins on the trot with an upset victory against competition front runners Wollongong Wolves at Popondetta Park on Saturday night.
They’ve been one of the form side’s of the competition and one not too many of the top five teams would want to face come the latter stages of the competition.
The Rangers have been in inspired form in June with three wins and a draw from their past four matches to move only three points outside of the top five.
However, the Aidan Desmond coached side will face a major test against the Wolves who have lost only two games this season and hold a five point lead over second place.
A mid-season reshuffle has been a big part of Mt Druitt’s recent success with the acquisition of strikers Mirijan Pavlovic and John Roberts helping kick start the Rangers late season run.
The form of Uruguayan Fabricio Fernandez has also played a major role and his hat-trick last week against Sydney FC was his best performance of the season.
Expect Desmond to give the trio of Pavlovic, Roberts and Fernandez plenty of opportunities to take over the match and challenge a disciplined Wollongong defence.
The Wolves come into the match after defeating Sydney Olympic 2-0 to notch their 11th win of the season
After years of failing to live up to their potential, Wollongong has finally delivered and it’s taken a rebuild from former Socceroos defender Luke Wilkshire to achieve the highs their fans have been craving for years.
The goalscoring of English striker Thomas James has been a big part of their success this season, but last week former Wanderers striker Lachlan Scott chipped in with a brace to prove the Wolves attack is far from one dimensional.
Wollongong’s defence shouldn’t go unnoticed either with the unit led by Nick Littler and Nikola Djordjevic along with Taylor McDonald helping their side concede less than a goal a game so far this campaign.
The two defeats suffered by the Wolves this season have been at home with the side maintaining a perfect record on the road.
Saturday’s match against a very much in-form Mt Druitt team could end that record if Wilkshire’s Wolves outfit don’t come prepared for a battle.
Wollongong will be the favourites but if the Rangers last three matches are any to go by, their new attacking trio could prove game changers yet again.
Manly United v Sutherland Sharks, 3pm Sunday at Cromer Park
It’s been a roller-coaster season for Manly United and the Northern Beaches based side will be looking to bounce back yet again when they host Sutherland Sharks on Sunday at Cromer Park.
Inconsistency has plagued Manly in 2019 with the only constant in their season being their ability to follow a big win with a defeat.
The Paul Dee coached side has struggled to string together back to back wins and it has hampered their finals chances.
Manly clung onto their spot in the top five despite A 1-0 loss on the road against Blacktown City last round.
Dee has stayed strong with a familiar line-up for most of the season only rotating his attacking weapons in Dejan Pandurevic, Adam Parkhouse, Scott Balderson, Brad McDonald and Charles Mendy.
Expect more of the same against the Sharks.
Sutherland come into this match on the back of a heartbreaking draw against Sydney United 58 where they conceded in the dying seconds to miss out on a valuable three points.
Nevertheless it has been a Herculean fightback from Terry Palapanis’s team this season as they have lifted themselves off the bottom of the ladder and 10 straight matches without a win to now be on a nine game undefeated streak.
The Sharks are a dark horse for finals football if they can keep the streak alive and have new signings Bai Antoniou, Jerry Skotadis and Liam McGing to thank.
The former Sydney FC teammates have hit the ground running at Seymour Shaw Park to give Sutherland a new spine which has transformed them into unlikely contenders.
Expect Palapanis to utilise the foursome to full effect on Sunday but will need to do it without the in-form Charles Lokolingoy who was given his marching orders at Edensor Park last Sunday.
Sutherland’s recent form makes them a very tough competitor but Manly are strong at their Cromer Park home ground.
It’s set to be a thrilling match-up.
Blacktown City FC v Sydney FC, 3pm Sunday at Lily Homes Stadium
Third placed Blacktown City will be hoping to further cement their spot at the top end of the table with a win against a struggling Sydney FC team at Lily Homes Stadium on Sunday.
Mark Crittenden’s men have gone quietly with their own business making a surge into the current top five placings.
Blacktown ground out a hard-fought 1-0 win against Manly last round to claim their first victory in three games and will look to this match as a valuable opportunity for another three points.
Joey Gibbs found the back of the net for only his fifth goal of the season as the former Newcastle Jets and Sydney FC front man struggles to reach his usual high scoring output without his previous teammmates in the form of Mitch Mallia and Danny Choi.
Emmanuel Gonzalez and Leroy Jennings are slowly building a chemistry with the veteran striker and it could prove dangerous for opposition teams once it all clicks.
Looking to stop them is a Sydney FC team which last week slumped to their fourth straight defeat.
The Young Sky Blues have been doing it tough with a new intake of youth stars trying to adapt to the hustle and bustle of NSW’s premier football competition.
However, it’s not all bad news for coach Jimmy van Weeren with his squad bristling with quality across the park and the ability to test the competitions top teams for stretches.
Marco Tilio is one player who can break open a game in an instant and is sure to create headaches for the Blacktown City defence while the return of Jordi Swibel could once again propel the Sky Blues to victories. That and the recent run of good form of Ryan Teague, expect goals and excitement from van Weeren’s men.
Blacktown will be favourites for this match but they could be forced to save face if they don’t give Sydney’s up and coming stars the respect they deserve.
APIA Leichhardt Tigers v Hakoah Sydney City East, 3.30pm at Lambert Park
Nothing short of victory will be enough for APIA Leichhardt Tigers as they host bottom of the ladder Hakoah Sydney City East on Sunday.
APIA flexed their muscles against Rockdale City Suns last week to record a 5-1 win with veteran star Franco Parisi delivering a throwback performance as he claimed a brace in the victory.
It sets up a scary prospect for the visiting Hakoah as they prepare to take on a Tigers side near the peak of their powers.
Injury and squad depth has concern for the Tigers this season so don’t be surprised if coach John Calleja uses this match to rest some of his veteran players.
One player that has to be signaled out from the Tigers back-line has been that of the hard hitting form of defender Paul Galimi. He, along side Josh Symons have really formed a great combination and along with the return of suspension of Themba Muata-Marlow, the team will certainly go from strength to strength.
Another player from the APIA camp that has also lifted up a gear has been the form of Michael Kouta – expect a big game from him against his former club.
Hakoah come into this game on the back of their first win since round four and will be filled with confidence.
Adrian Vranic has given a new dimension to their attack since arriving a fortnight ago which played a big part in last weeks victory.
Expect Hakoah boss Gavin Rae with stick with the same team from last week as they set out to snag another big upset.
APIA will be firm favourites at home and if they can deliver a solid performance should be able to get the job done.
Sydney Olympic FC v Rockdale City Suns, 4pm Sunday at Belmore Sports Ground
Fierce rivals Sydney Olympic face off against Rockdale City Suns at Belmore Sports on Sunday with both sides battling to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.
Olympic suffered a 2-0 loss to Wollongong Wolves last week and have only won one match of their past five.
Coach Abbas Saad will hope the return to Belmore Sports Ground could inspire his side to a much improved performance than they delivered seven days ago.
Look to the usual suspects of Alex Sanchez and Jason Madonis to lead the charge for Olympic who are in desperate need of the points in stopping the rut of losses for 2019.
Rockdale come into this match at one of their lowest points of the season after copping a 5-1 flogging at the hands of APIA Leichhardt Tigers.
They have lost four of their past five matches conceding a total of 15 goals during that period.
The Suns have slumped back into the same mistakes which cost former coach Paul Reid his job earlier this season.
Coach Nick Porecca will be desperately searching for answers in an attempt to salvage their campaign and will hope that his back-line tighten their grip against the Blues.
Trent McClenahan played important minutes in the club’s 20’s side and they will need him to come back into the squad in further strengthening the club’s defence.
Sydney United 58 v Marconi Stallions, 5pm Sunday at Sydney United Sports Centre
Nothing less than a win will be good enough for Sydney United 58 on Sunday as they play host to local rivals Marconi Stallions at Sydney United Sports Centre on Sunday in the competition’s final match of round 17.
Not a bad way to end the round right?
Inconsistency and basic errors have crept into United 58’s game in recent weeks with the club determined to iron out any issues sooner rather than later.
Peter Simonoski helped snatch a last gasp draw against Sutherland Sharks in round 16 to avoid the side slumping to a second straight loss.
With the pressure building on the mid-table teams to secure their place in the top five, United 58 will be desperate to take home all three points.
After a second straight loss, their opponents Marconi will be just as desperate to turn their season on its head.
Defeat at the hands of bottom side Hakoah was a cruel reality check for the Stallions star studded squad and with only six games left the pressure will be on them to perform.
Marconi put five past United 58 when the two clubs faced off in this derby clash in Round 5 and are sure to be using that match as inspiration.
That defeat is sure to be in the back of the minds of United 58 coming into this clash.
Expect plenty of feeling from both sides in this match which should make for an exciting clash.