Round 7 of the PlayStation 4 National Premier Leagues' 2 NSW Men's competition will get underway this weekend, with Macarthur Rams taking on Central Coast Mariners at Lynwood Park in the match of the round.
Although it's early days yet, this season's competition has so far been very competitive, with several teams currently in the mix to challenge for places in the big games at the end of the season.
In other matches, league leaders Western Sydney Wanderers host Northern Tigers at Edensor Park; North Shore Mariners entertain Hills Brumbies at Northbridge; Bankstown City Lions travel to Marconi; Mt Druitt Town Rangers host Blacktown Spartans at Popondetta Park; Bankstown Berries tackle St George at The Crest, while in the only Sunday game of the round, Mounties Wanderers and Spirit FC will clash at Valentine Sports Park.
Match of the Round
Macarthur Rams v Central Coast Mariners, Saturday 15 April, 7pm, Lynwood Park
Macarthur Rams will host Central Coast Mariners in the match of the round at Lynwood Park on Saturday night.
The Rams broke through for their maiden competition win last week with an upset 3-1 victory over St George; while the Mariners returned to the winners' circle with a 2-1 result over Mounties Wanderers.
After a difficult start to the season, Rams coach Eddie Briscoe was wondering when his side would finally win a game. Apart from earning a measly point from a possible 15 in the first five rounds of PS4 NPL 2, they stumbled against South Coast outfit Bulli United in the FFA Cup, leaving them as rank outsiders to beat the Saints a few days later at St George Stadium. But somehow they found a way. Somehow they did the unthinkable to grind out a 3-1 victory.
"The boys worked hard, they really did," a delighted Briscoe told Football NSW. "They really fought for the win in tough conditions. They grinded it out and that's all I can ask for. They did really well."
Central Coast will be a tough assignment for the Rams. The team is young. They're energetic and they possess the legs to run all day. They're structured and technical and they play a good brand of football.
So what does Briscoe make of the young Coasties?
"From what I've read they're a very good young team," Briscoe said. "I'm expecting a really, really tough game. It's going to be a big test for us."
Meanwhile, Mariners coach Ben Cahn was pleased with his side's come-from-behind 2-1 win over Mounties Wanderers in hot and steamy conditions last Sunday afternoon, but he's expecting a tough assignment at Macarthur.
"It's a notoriously tough place to go," Cahn said of Macarthur's Lynwood Park home. "We beat them twice last season but both games were incredibly difficult. I don't expect it to be any different this year."
On the injury front, Macarthur has lost George Codrea indefinitely due to work commitments, while a few players are carrying niggling injuries. The Mariners on the other hand, are injury free but at the time of writing, Cahn was unsure whether Lachlan Wales and Steve White would be involved in the Mariners' A-League clash against Melbourne Victory on Friday.
North Shore Mariners vs Hills Brumbies, Saturday 15 April, 3pm, Northbridge Oval
North Shore Mariners will host Hills Brumbies at Northbridge Oval on Saturday afternoon.
In a clash between two sides who are equal fourth on the table, the Mariners will be seeking to get back to their winning ways after last Sunday's one-all draw against high-flying Blacktown Spartans. North Shore threw everything but the kitchen sink at the visitors, who were quite content to sit back and wait for the opportunity to counter-attack.
"I was disappointed we didn't get more out of the game (against Spartans)," Mariners coach Joe Haywood told Football NSW. "We created lots of opportunities and hit the post twice. We did well but could have come away with a win."
When asked what he expected of the Brumbies, Haywood replied: "I'm expecting them to be a good team to be honest. I know we played against them in state league a few years ago but I think it's going to be a competitive game. They're a good football team, they've got people who can play football in the middle of the park, and they've got people who can score goals. They're going to be a threat to us and we're expecting a good game."
Meanwhile, despite going down 3-1 to Western Sydney Wanderers last Sunday night, Hills Brumbies coach Dan Sheppard was proud of his boys' effort and rued what might have been had Greg Giovenali not been dismissed from the field in the 46th minute.
"We were a man down so to keep the scoreline to 3-1 and to prevent the Wanderers from scoring (their third goal) until relatively late, we've got to be happy with that," Sheppard told Football NSW.
When asked what he expected of the Mariners, Sheppard replied: "We've got a history of playing against them when they were Northbridge in state league. They were an extremely good football side who beat us more than we beat them. They've picked up some points recently so they're on a high. It's a matter of picking ourselves up (after the 3-1 loss to Western Sydney) and going again."
Marconi Stallions vs Bankstown City, Saturday 15 April, 7pm, Marconi Stadium
Premiership contenders Marconi Stallions will host bottom-placed Bankstown City Lions at Marconi Stadium on Saturday night.
In a tale of two halves, the Stallions last week returned to their winning ways with a come-from-behind 5-1 demolition of Mt Druitt Town Rangers. Rangers led 1-0 at the break but Marconi turned on the afterburners in the second spell to run away with the spoils.
Coach Tony Candy was very pleased with his side's second half performance and he wil be confident going into this weekend's clash against a Bankstown side, that, despite it's place on the league table, is beginning to show signs of improvement under new coach Mile Todoroski.
After a wretched start to the season, not to mention an off-field circus that made life at Jensen Park uncertain and confusing, Bankstown have in their last two matches drawn with Mounties Wanderers and beaten Spirit FC, suggesting that finally, things are turning for the better.
But despite their progress, Todoroski isn't getting ahead of himself.
"Speaking honestly we did not play the way I wanted to play (in the win against Spirit) but (at the) end of the day (the) result is here and (it) is very nice," Todoroski told Football NSW. "But we are still too far from the form, the shape which I want to see my team play."
Todoroski added that while his side beat Spirit, they played better in the draw with Mounties a fortnight ago.
"Week before when we drew (with Mounties) we played better than when we won (against Spirit). But I'm happy for the points.
"Every game is tough for us. We are last and everyone is better than us and it's hard to move from this last position. We want to get respect from Marconi, respect from everyone and more important, respect for ourselves too."
Mt Druitt Town Rangers vs Blacktown Spartans, Saturday 15 April, 7pm, Popondetta Park
Mt Druitt Town Rangers coach Aidan Desmond will be hoping his side can recover from last week's 5-1 thumping at Marconi when they host high flying Blacktown Spartans at Popondetta Park this Saturday.
Rangers played exceedingly well in the first half against the Stallions and led 1-0 at halftime. But while they dominated the first 45, they fell apart badly in the second, allowing a rampant Marconi to pump five goals past hapless goalkeeper Carlos Saliadarre.
Interestingly, Saliadarre will play against his old club this weekend, the custodian just one of an entire squad that departed Blacktown Football Park in the offseason.
Spartans last week visited Northbridge Oval and secured a point from a tough one-all draw against the in-form North Shore Mariners. Confronted by a side that continues to hone its aggressive, physical style of football, Spartans did well to hold off an outfit that only two week's ago humbled Marconi 4-0.
Both Mt Druitt and Blacktown will be keen to get full points this weekend. Mt Druitt are desperate to avoid a third successive defeat, while Spartans will want to maintain their place alongside premiership favourites Western Sydney and Marconi Stallions
Spartans coach Luis Contigiani said he had a lot of respect for Mt Druitt, a side that has in recent weeks struggled for form.
"From what I've heard they're a very good team and they've got a lot of speed in wide areas," Contigiani told Football NSW. "I also believe they're very good at setpieces and I expect them to fight for everything. This is probably their hardest game to date."
Contigiani was impressed with his side's 1-1 result at Northbridge last Sunday but he'd still like his side to be more fluid in attack.
"I think we scrambled well and fought well in defence and kept our discipline against North Shore Mariners," he said. "In general play they couldn't hurt us. I was happy with the discipline and the defensive structure. It's just that our transition into attack wasn't as fluid as usual. If we can get some composure and confidence going forward we may be able to hurt Mt Druitt this Saturday."
On the injury front, Mt Druitt's ace striker Kuag Reec remains sidelined and may not be available for the rest of the season, a serious blow to the club's ambitions for 2017; while for the Spartans, Contigiani said a couple of players needed to be monitored over the next few days.
Western Sydney Wanderers vs Northern Tigers, Saturday 15 April, 7pm, Sydney United Sports Centre
Western Sydney Wanderers host Northern Tigers on Saturday in what is an interesting matchup between the competition's most outstanding team and one that consistently performs without fuss week-in, week-out.
The young Wanderers last week beat Hills Brumbies 3-1 to move to the top of the table, but given the number of opportunities they created in the front third, not to mention the fact that the Brumbies had a player dismissed in the 46th minute, the margin should have been far greater than two goals. To their credit, Hills showed tremendous courage under fire, but Western Sydney coach Trevor Morgan would have rued his side's inability to cash in on a multitude of chances.
The Tigers meanwhile, last week played a man short for much of their clash against Bankstown Berries, but were unlucky to concede a late goal that allowed the home side to escape with a fortuitous one-all draw.
Wanderers coach Trevor Morgan is wary of a Tigers side currently hovering inside the top four.
"We had tough matches against the Tigers last year, they're always very well prepared physically and they have a real sense of purpose about the way they play," Morgan told Football NSW. "They're very positive. So I expect them to try to match the tempo of the game with us."
Meanwhile, Northern Tigers coach Mark McCormick had nothing but praise for the young Wanderers.
"They're the best team in the competition. They're the best young players in the country so it's going to be a tough test," the Glaswegian told Football NSW. "That's the great part of football, we can test ourselves against the best players going around and that's what you want to do when you're playing the game. You want to go and test yourself against the best. I'm really looking forward to it."
When asked how his side intends to stop the competition leaders, McCormick replied: "We'll just do more of what we've been doing. We've been going okay lately and for us it's just about being confident and making sure that we get on the ball and try and be brave in the correct areas and just stick to our gameplan."
Both sides announced they were injury-free going into Saturday's encounter.
Bankstown Berries vs St George, Saturday 15 April, 7pm, The Crest Athletic Centre
A resurgent Bankstown Berries host St George at The Crest Athletic Centre on Saturday night, with Berries player coach Perry Moustakas adamant that his young side needs to step up if they're serious about achieving their full potential.
"We haven't played anywhere near our full potential but at the same time I've got to be really proud of the boys," Moustakas said after his side had last week stolen a late equaliser to draw 1-1 with Northern Tigers.
"To come from behind to get a point was a positive," Moustakas said. "But I put a lot of extra pressure on the boys because I think they have so much potential. I expect more and I'm always going to expect better. Good on them for showing character again but we've got to do better."
St George meanwhile, continued on their inconsistent way, suffering a shock 3-1 defeat to Macarthur Rams, and handing their opponents their maiden win of the season.
Coach Terry Palapanis has been disappointed with his team's inconsistency and while the season's still young, it's an area he needs to address if the Saints hope to make an impression.
The Crest is always a difficult challenge for visiting teams and there's no doubt this matchup will be uncompromising and physical.
Mounties Wanderers vs Spirit FC, Sunday 16 April, 3pm, Valentine Sports Park
Mounties Wanderers and Spirit FC will be hoping to get their respective seasons back on track when they clash at Valentine Sports Park on Sunday.
Mounties' inability to capitalise on opportunities again hampered them in their 2-1 defeat to Central Coast Mariners last weekend, while Spirit FC slumped to a shock 2-0 defeat to bottom-placed Bankstown City Lions.
"The Mariners game was even but the gilt-edged goal-scoring chances were all ours," Mounties coach Lee Sterrey told Football NSW. "You don't need 10 chances to win a match, you need to take the crucial ones that you get. It's just disappointing.
"Don't get me wrong, we played some good football but our execution at times could've been better. In my opinion we should have won the game."
Meanwhile, Spirit FC coach David Perkovic was also disappointed with his side's inability to convert opportunities in their shock defeat to Bankstown City.
"We had 16 shots and to get no reward for that is obviously not good enough," Perkovic said. "We also had 62 per cent possession as well, so the quality of our finishing in the front third was quite disappointing. It was one of those games I suppose."
Mounties and Spirit are level on seven points on the PS4 NPL 2 table, and even at this early stage of the season a win is essential for momentum as the all-important halfway point of the season looms large on the horizon.
-By Derek Royal, Football NSW Reporter