Round 26 of the National Premier Leagues NSW Men’s presents a crunch set of fixtures in the battle for the title and relegation.
There are several key matches to keep a watch for, making it one of the rounds of the season so far.
Here’s what’s coming up.
Sydney FC v NWS Spirit FC
7:30 pm, Friday 28 July, Valentine Sports Park
Sydney FC take on NWS Spirit on Friday night at Valentine Sports Park, with both sides reeling from a big defeat over the weekend.
The A-League Academy side went down 6-2 to Wollongong Wolves on Sunday, having conceded five goals in the first half.
It sees the team drop down to sixth on the table with the sides in the middle drawing much closer as well.
The result also highlights Sydney’s defensive woes this season, having conceded the fifth-highest of any team in the competition.
NWS Spirit will look to pick themselves up this weekend hoping to end a three-game winless run.
David Perkovic’s men lost their second game in a row as they were blasted away 5-1 by Marconi Stallions in round 25.
While they are a comfortable distance from the drop zone, they will want to make it a strong finish to the campaign with a top-half finish still on the cards.
Spirit have similarly struggled at the back in 2023 conceding one more goal than Sydney so far.
These teams are showcasing some defensive frailties, but they haven’t been shy of goals at times setting up a potential thriller to start the round.
Sydney Olympic FC v Central Coast Mariners FC
3:00 pm, Saturday 29 July, Belmore Sports Ground
Sydney Olympic play Central Coast Mariners at Belmore Sports Ground on Saturday having added to their better form over the weekend.
Olympic grabbed a last-minute equaliser against Mount Druitt Town Rangers to draw 3-3.
Roy O’Donovan and Darcy Burgess both scored first-half goals before the experienced Fabio Ferreira buried that late goal to snatch a point.
The point took Olympic 11 points clear of the relegation zone and within touching distance of plenty of the teams above them.
Victory on Saturday could see them up into the mid-table and represent a marked improvement on their position over the course of this season.
After an outstanding run in the competition, the Mariners have hit a rough patch, failing to win any of their last three fixtures.
The side failed to score for the second game running in their 2-0 loss to St George City in round 25.
After getting into the sheds 0-0, the side conceded at both ends of the second half to go down.
It’s seen Abbas Saad’s team slip to eighth on the table and another defeat could spell a further fall into the bottom half of the competition.
There were plenty of goals when the teams met in round 11 as they played out a 2-2 draw at Central Coast Stadium.
Bulls FC Academy v Western Sydney Wanderers FC
3:00 pm, Saturday 29 July, Sydney United Sports Centre
Bulls FC Academy and Western Sydney Wanderers go head-to-head at Sydney United Sports Centre on Saturday in the defining match for the 2023 relegation battle.
Currently eight points ahead, a win for the Wanderers would all but ensure their safety from the automatic relegation spot the Bulls occupy now.
The Wanderers were edged out by Sutherland Sharks last weekend in a 2-0 defeat.
A goal on either side of halftime proved too much for the team to overcome as they slumped to their 15th loss of the year.
The Bulls were also downed 2-0 in round 25 as two goals before halftime confirmed their seventeenth loss of 2023.
This is a must-win for Zeljko Kalac’s team as they risk falling potentially 11 points away from the chance of safety with just 15 points still to play for.
There is added tenseness as former Wanderers’ Frans Deli and Ariath Piol will line up against their former side on Saturday having made the move across earlier this season.
This is a must-watch encounter in round 26 as the pressure couldn’t be higher on these teams to avoid dropping into the FNSW League One Men’s.
APIA Leichhardt FC v Blacktown City FC
5:45 pm, Saturday 29 July, Lambert Park
Attention should be on the top of the table as well with the first of two key clashes seeing league-leaders APIA Leichhardt lock horns with high-flying Blacktown City.
APIA stumbled in round 25 being blown away by mid-table Manly United 4-0.
It was a disastrous second half where the usually consistent table-toppers conceded three goals.
It’s not been the start that Jason Romero would have wanted back in APIA colours either.
The former Macarthur FC forward has failed to score in any of his six games back at the club but there would be no better time than Saturday to break his duck.
Blacktown City’s late-season form has seen the team shove their way into a late title charge now only 10 points off their opponents.
It was another strong showing from the reigning champions last Sunday as they completed a late turnaround to defeat Sydney United 58 3-1.
Finding themselves 1-0 down heading into the 70th minute, goals to Lachlan Campbell, Carlos De Oliveira and Ignacio Corral helped City to victory.
There is a lot on the line for this game as a win Blacktown would send the title race into a four-way sprint for glory.
St George City FA v Mount Druitt Town Rangers FC
7:00 pm, Saturday 29 July, Penshurst Park
Mount Druitt Town Rangers travel to St George City with three points a must as they seek to stay out of the relegation zone.
The Rangers ended their losing streak with an enthralling 3-3 draw against Sydney Olympic in round 25.
With the Rangers leading into stoppage time, a heart-breaking equaliser from their opponents saw the points shared.
Mount Druitt are two points above Western Sydney Wanderers in the relegation playoff place.
The Wanderers face last place this weekend and if they win and Mount Druitt fail to do so, Stewart Montgomery’s team will fall into the danger zone.
St George City made it three wins in their last four getting past Central Coast Mariners 2-0 last Sunday.
Franco Maya and Marley Peterson scored in the second half to secure the result that pushed the team up to fifth.
City’s good form also means the side are only eight points off second place giving Mirko Jurilj’s men a chance to add further gloss to an outstanding first season in the NPL NSW Men’s.
The pressure is on Mount Druitt to win this one, but St George have lost the equal second-fewest games of any team in the 2023 competition.
Manly United FC v Sutherland Sharks FC
7:15 pm, Saturday 29 July, Cromer Park
Manly United host Sutherland Sharks at Cromer Park on Saturday night in a battle for a spot in the middle of the table.
United stunned league-leaders APIA Leichhardt with an emphatic 4-0 victory last weekend.
Harry McCarthy continued his sparkling late-season form bagging a hat-trick and further demonstrating his value to Manly this season.
Up to ninth, United have higher places in sight and a win on Saturday could see them as high as seventh depending on the margin of victory and other results.
The Sharks ended their poor run in the competition with a 2-0 win against Western Sydney Wanderers in round 25.
Defender Nathan Grimaldi gave the team the lead just before halftime before Jonty Busch added a second early in the second period.
Now 10 points clear of the relegation battle, the Sharks are just a couple of points off Manly.
A run of good results could see them into the top half of the table come season’s end.
This is set to be a tight game on Saturday night which could go either way.
Rockdale Ilinden FC v Marconi Stallions FC
3:00 pm, Sunday 30 July, Rockdale Ilinden Sports Centre
The other crucial title fixture is between Rockdale Ilinden and Marconi Stallions on Sunday at Rockdale Ilinden Sports Centre.
Ilinden moved three points closer to first place with a 2-0 win over Bulls FC Academy last Sunday.
Daniel Collins opened the scoring half an hour in before Alec Urosevski made it two on the stroke of halftime.
Marconi ended their patchy form in the competition with a resounding 5-1 win over NWS Spirit.
The side put their recent goalscoring troubles behind them as Martin Fernandez notched a brace while Jordan Swibel and Domenic Costanzo were among the other scorers.
However, Peter Tsekenis will be without midfielder Aleksander Duricic after he was sent off with only three minutes to play.
These teams are separated by two points with Rockdale in second and Marconi in third.
With APIA in action against Blacktown, there’s a big chance to put some pressure on at the top.
Marconi picked up the points when they faced Rockdale in round 11 with a 3-1 victory courtesy of a blistering first half.
This is a huge game in the fight for top spot making it more essential viewing in round 26.
Sydney United 58 FC v Wollongong Wolves FC
3:00 pm, Sunday 30 July, Sydney United Sports Centre
Sydney United 58 play Wollongong Wolves on Sunday afternoon at Sydney United Sports Centre seeking important points to push back up the table.
United lost 3-1 to Blacktown City last Sunday which was their 11th defeat of 2023.
The team were 1-0 up heading into the latter stages but conceded three quick goals to see the points slip away.
Stuck in 10th, United are still just a win away from the top half of the table making it a vital fixture for them this Sunday.
The Wolves kept their fine form going as they swatted Sydney FC aside 6-2 last Sunday.
Christopher McStay starred for Wollongong in a more advanced role than his usual holding midfield position, scoring a hat-trick.
David Carney’s team have leaped into seventh spot after that which is a testament to only seven points dropped from the last twenty-one available.
The sides played out a 0-0 stalemate in round 11 in a scrappy game at Albert Butler Memorial Park, and it will be close again on Sunday.
Preview by Timothy Gibson, on Twitter @Timg123_