It’s the second week of the National Premier Leagues NSW Men’s finals series and only four teams remain in the battle for grand final glory.
This week features Wollongong Wolves first finals match after earning the first week off and they have a chance of booking their ticket for the season’s decided when they take on APIA Leichhardt Tigers at WIN Stadium in the major semi-final on Wednesday night.
The action also heads to Lily Homes Stadium this Wednesday as Blacktown City host Sydney United 58 with the winner moving on to the preliminary semi-final against the loser of APIA and Wollongong.
If week one of the finals is anything to go by, it’s set to be another massive two games which can’t be missed.
Wollongong Wolves v APIA Leichhardt Tigers, 7.30pm Wednesday at WIN Stadium
A place in this season’s grand final goes on the line at WIN Stadium on Wednesday as the newly crowned premiers Wollongong Wolves host APIA Leichhardt in the major semi-final.
It is the Wolves first finals appearance in four years and after dominating the regular season they will be determined to secure a historic grand final berth.
APIA come into the game after going the distance against Blacktown City with a heart-wrenching 5-3 penalty shootout in the preliminary semi-final at Lambert Park on Saturday.
That win has set up Wednesday’s grueling trip down the South Coast for the Tigers as they set out to end their horror form against this season’s premiers.
Wollongong and APIA have played twice this season and the results don’t look good for fans of the Leichhardt based side with Wolves claiming 3-0 and 4-0 wins.
The fact APIA is yet to score a goal against Wollongong, while also conceding seven goals in two matches, is set to be a major point of concern for Tigers coach John Calleja.
The Wolves will be determined to continue their incredible results and expect coach Luke Wilkshire to name a full straighten line-up with his side refreshed and ready to go after having last week off.
Golden Boot winning striker Thomas James had his first breakout game of the season in Round 2 against APIA scoring a hat-trick. He also scored in Wollongong’s 4-0 win in round 14 so he will be brimming with confidence that he can score again.
Central defenders Nick Littler and Nikola Djordjevic have played some of their best games this season against APIA so they too will be confident of a huge performance.
Rest and a fully fit squad is something APIA does not have the luxury of coming into this fixture.
Josh Symons re-injured his hamstring on Saturday night and will be unavailable while the rest of the team will be doing their best to recover after playing more than 120 minutes only three days earlier.
Expect Michael Kouta to return to the starting line-up at left back and Paul Galimi to move into central defence to partner Themba Muata-Marlow.
Tynan Diaz has been a revelation for the squad and his experience especially at finals football will certainly be looked at.
Striker Chris Payne narrowly missed out on the Golden Boot with his 21 strikes only one short of the 22 goal haul of Wollongong frontman James.
He will be out to prove a point and with the mercurial Franco Parisi feeding him the ball expect the former A-League player to find the back of the net.
Despite the short turn around APIA will be giving nothing short of their best as they set out to breakdown the Wolves dominance over them so far this season.
It will be an exciting match with both teams able to play fast paced attacking football.
Wollongong will be firm favourites for this match but the prospect of a week off to recover and a grand final place will give APIA even more inspiration to cause an upset.
Blacktown CIty v Sydney United 58, 7.30pm Wednesday at Lily Homes Stadium
The grand final hopes of Blacktown City and Sydney United 58 go on the line this Wednesday as the two sides fight for finals survival in the minor semi-final at Lily Homes Stadium.
Blacktown City and Sydney United 58 have plenty of recent history with the two sides facing off in some massive fixtures over the past five seasons.
This year Blacktown City’s third place finish was one spot higher than Sydney United, but head-to-head it has been the Miro Vlastelica United 58 who have had the advantage.
The two sides have faced each other three times this campaign with United 58 winning two.
However, The last meeting was a 4-2 win for Blacktown City at Sydney United Sports Centre in June.
Blacktown City went down to APIA Leichhardt Tigers 5-3 on penalties during Saturday night’s preliminary semi-final after the match ended 1-1 at the end of extra-time.
City performed well in the match which made the defeat sting that little bit more – a lack of firepower has been the issue for Blacktown but they are hoping that good fortune will smile on them at home.
The short turnaround may force a few changes from Mark Crittenden but one thing which should stay the same is the defence.
Grant Lynch was a stand out performer from Crittenden’s side and will once again be a big part, while inspirational captain Matt Lewis’s experience and speed will also be a big part of the game plan.
Joey Gibbs may have missed a penalty in the shootout against APIA, but it was his poacher’s finish in the dying seconds of the game which got them to penalties in the first place.
His goal scoring will be vital.
He will be coming up against a Sydney United 58 defence featuring a player he knows all to well in Yianni Fragogiannis from the defenders time at Lily Homes Stadium.
Now he will partner Tomislav Uskok at the heart of the United 58 back line which kept a high powered Marconi attack scoreless in Saturday’s 2-0 elimination final win.
Another former Blacktown player who could comeback to haunt the City faithful is Patrick Antelmi.
The striker came off the bench to score the winning goals in extra-time last week and has a knack for big goals in big games.
Tarik Maia should retain his place in the starting line-up with Glen Trifiro unlikely to return for the season after sustaining an injury in the final game of the regular season.
With so much riding on this match both sides will leave nothing in the tank to avoid finals elimination.
Blacktown City will be the favourites but only in account of the fact they are the home side.
Both teams have an innate ability to find the back of the net in the dying seconds so expect this thrilling contest to go right down to the wire.