Blacktown Spartans will host Bankstown City FC in the PlayStation 4 National Premier Leagues 2 NSW Men's competition match of the round at Blacktown Football Park this Saturday.
And regardless of their respective positions on the table, both sides will be desperate for points in what is sure to be a fearsome battle.
In other matches, Central Coast Mariners will be hoping to avenge their shock loss to Macarthur Rams when they host Bankstown Berries; Northern Tigers entertain North Shore Mariners at their new home ground in Turramurra; Macarthur Rams welcome former coach Lee Sterrey back to Lynwood Park when they face Mounties Wanderers; Western Sydney visit St George after suffering a shock 2-1 defeat to Northern Tigers; Spirit FC host Marconi Stallions; and in the only Sunday match of the round, Hills Brumbies face Mt Druitt Town Rangers at Lilys Football Centre.
Match of the Round
Blacktown Spartans vs Bankstown City, 7pm, Saturday 22 April, Blacktown Football Park
The match of the round between Blacktown Spartans and Bankstown City Lions at Blacktown Football Park on Saturday night will pit two former teammates against one another in coaches Luis Contigiani (Spartans) and Mile Todoroski (Lions).
The duo played together at Bankstown City back in the day and while their friendship will be put aside for 90 minutes on Saturday night, they both have a healthy respect for one another.
"I've played with Mile (Todoroski), we were teammates at Bankstown City for many years," Contigiani told Football NSW. "Mile's a winner. He's a no nonsense (kind of) guy and I respect him tremendously as a person and as a coach. I learnt a lot off him when I was young. One thing I know about Mile is he doesn't give anything away. He fights for everything. I'm sure he's instilling that attitude into his players."
When asked what he was expecting of the Lions, Contigiani replied: "They're like a wounded bull, they're going to come at us. They're at the bottom of the table and they're desperate. They'll go for broke. It's going to be a tough game.
"We've got to keep our game model, just be more consistent. Against Mt Druitt last week if we took all of our chances in the first half it would've been a flogging. Like 5-0. But I don't know what happened in the second half. Our shape was a bit too deep. But that's (due to) lack of experience.
"We're going to do what we do best against Bankstown. Our game model will not change and I'm confident that as tough as Bankstown will be, if we go out there and play our game I believe we can beat any team. This Saturday will answer a lot of questions. We've got a good record and so far we've done okay."
Meanwhile, Lions' coach Mile Todoroski acknowledged his friendship with Contigiani but said that while they'll shake hands before and after the game, their friendship will be forgotten during the 90 minutes of action.
"Luis is my friend, he was playing with me at Bankstown many, many years ago," Todoroski told Football NSW. "We will shake the hands but who (will) win, (will) win.
Despite their position on the table, Bankstown has shown a lot of improvement in the past three weeks. A draw against Mounties, a win over Spirit FC and an unlucky 1-0 loss to competition heavyweights Marconi last week should give them plenty of confidence going into the clash against the second-placed Spartans.
But as always, Todoroski refuses to get ahead of himself.
"Defensively we're starting to look good but football isn't just about defence," Todoroski said. "It's about defence and attack. You can't just defend and hope to win a game. We need to score goals. We're still on the bottom (of the table). But we'll try the best we can and we'll see (what happens)."
On the injury front, Blacktown will go into the match with a full squad to select from; while Todoroski said that given the small size of his squad, they won't be doing anything strenuous on the training paddock this week.
Central Coast Mariners vs Bankstown Berries, 6pm, Saturday 22 April, Pluim Park
Central Coast Mariners host Bankstown Berries at Pluim Park this Saturday and both sides will be looking to get their respective season's back on track after losses last weekend.
Central Coast were stunned 4-2 at Macarthur Rams on Saturday night, while the Berries lost 2-1 to St George.
Mariners coach Ben Cahn still can't believe his side lost to Macarthur.
"I thought we played exceptionally well against Macarthur," Cahn told Football NSW. "We were the only team that took a positive, proactive approach to the game. In terms of chances created I think they came in our half five times and scored four goals. It reflects on a serious problem of ours, our defending. But from a bigger picture point of view there were some exceptional individual performances from us against a very deep, negative team."
When asked what he expected of the Berries this weekend, Cahn replied: "I think they'll be similar to most mid-table NPL 2 teams really. They'll have three or four top players; some other experience around them and they'll work hard. They'll be fighting for their lives, they'll be difficult to beat, and they'll be a threat going forward. I think it'll be a pretty standard and consistent game like the last few we've played. I know if we get it right on the park, we can beat teams by three or four. But if we get it wrong, that can be reversed."
Meanwhile, despite going down to St George last weekend, Berries player coach Perry Moustakas praised his side for their performance.
"I could probably say it was our best 90 minutes of the season to be honest," Moustakas told Football NSW. "We had chances in the first half but St George scored two quick goals late (in the half) to lead 2-0 at the break. The second half was all one way traffic, we completely dominated them. But it's like I've been saying all season, we didn't take our chances. We hit the post two or three times, we missed a one-on-one and a few other opportunities. We can't do much about it now. That's how football goes sometimes."
Moustakas also suggested that Central Coast will be desperate to make amends for their their shock defeat to Macarthur Rams.
"It won't be an easy game," he said. "The Mariners are a good young side and they'll be hoping to make the wrong right. Hopefully we can get the job done."
On the injury front, Central Coast are injury free but as of Tuesday, the availability of A-Leaguers Lachlan Wales and Steve Whyte was unknown. The Berries meanwhile, had a few niggly injuries due to the side's heavy schedule, but Moustakas was hopeful of having a full squad available for selection.
Northern Tigers vs North Shore Mariners, 6.30pm, Saturday 22 April, North Turramurra Recreation Area
Northern Tigers host North Shore Mariners at North Turramurra Recreation Area on Saturday night, and they'll be hoping to celebrate their maiden game at their new home ground with a win against a side that hasn't lost in the past six weeks.
"The Mariners are going to be a physical team," Tigers coach Mark McCormick told Football NSW. "They're going to be really well organised. They've got good set pieces and they're going to be dangerous. They're the form team in the league. That's not easy to do so all credit to them. They've worked hard and (Mariner's coach) Joe Haywood's done well with them. We're going to have to be at our best to be able to take something from the game."
When asked how he expected to combat the Mariners' direct, physical style of football, McCormick replied: "Just like anything, you have to match it. That's part of the game of football. If there's anything that's over the top, then hopefully the referees protect us."
The Tigers produced the upset of the last round when they beat previously unbeaten league leaders Western Sydney Wanderers 2-1 at Sydney United Sports Centre. But as satisfying as that win was, McCormick refused to get carried away.
"Obviously the guys are pretty confident after a win like that (over Western Sydney) but they know that they don't get anything for winning that game," the Scotsman said. "It's back to square one against the Mariners."
Meanwhile, North Shore coach Joe Haywood said he expected a lot from the Tigers, an attacking side that tries to play a good brand of football.
"They're an attacking team that tries to play," Haywood told Football NSW. "They can score, they've got a good defence and it'll be another competitive game for us. We'll just see how we go with our system."
When asked for his thoughts on Saturday's one-all draw with Hills Brumbies, Haywood said it was "very frustrating and we should have beaten them comfortably".
"Not being disrespectful to Hills but they had one shot all game and scored (from it) in the 88th minute," Haywood continued. "We created three or four really good chances and they had a man sent off as well. It should've been a comfortable win for us. It (Hills equalising in the 88th minute) was a disappointing end to the day really."
Macarthur Rams vs Mounties Wanderers, 7pm, Saturday 22 April, Lynwood Park
Former Macarthur Rams coach Lee Sterrey returns to his old stomping ground when on Saturday night his Mounties Wanderers side journeys to Lynwood Park to take on the Rams.
Both sides had handsome victories last weekend - Macarthur upset Central Coast Mariners 4-2, while Mounties came from behind to thrash Spirit FC 5-2, so this game could very well be a goal-fest if both sides play to their potential.
When asked how he feels about facing his old club, Mounties coach Lee Sterrey replied: "It's no different to any other game really. I'm disappointed I only had a one year stint there. I think we had a good year in development and building things from within, culminating in a good win against (premiers) Sydney FC. There were lots of things I thought we were doing well there and building for the future, but they decided to go in a different direction. And that's fine, that's football. You know, one door closes and another one opens. And the one that opened at Mounties is a nice one."
Sterrey added that while Macarthur had a lot of early season injuries, he believed the side that beat Central Coast last weekend was close to the club's strongest.
"They'll be brimming with confidence after that win (against the Mariners), which sets it up for a decent game this weekend. Lynwood's always a hard place to go and play and it's always hard getting points there. That's something we prided ourselves on last year.
"But we're looking forward to the challenge and after a good win against solid opposition like Spirit, I expect us to go on with it from here for a few weeks. Certainly, confidence-wise, it was the shot we needed and hopefully we can have a bit of a spring in our step from this week on."
Meanwhile, Macarthur coach Eddie Briscoe said that while he didn't know too much about Mounties, anyone that could beat Spirit FC 5-2 had to be respected, especially in the front third.
"We've got to be wary of them as an attacking force," the Englishman said. "But from our point of view, we need to improve our ball possesion, that's our team goal this week. It's all going to be holding the ball and using the ball properly; finding the right space. We're going to try to capitalise on that sort of thing."
St George vs Western Sydney Wanderers, 7pm, Saturday 22 April, Seymour Shaw Park
St George will host a Western Sydney Wanderers side keen to avenge last week's surprise 2-1 loss to Northern Tigers when the two clubs clash at Seymour Shaw Park on Saturday night.
Saints are expecting to face the wrath of a team that until last week, was unbeaten and on top of the league. But with a few of the Wanderers' guns on A-League duty in Adelaide, perhaps the setback wasn't so surprising.
"I wish the Wanderers won that (game against Northern Tigers)," St George coach Terry Palapanis told Football NSW. "That loss will give them extra motivation to beat us. Obviously they're a good young side. They're mobile and energetic. They have some very good footballers. It'll be a very hard one for us."
Saints go into the match on the back of a solid 2-1 victory over Bankstown Berries and Palapanis will be looking for consistency when his side takes on the Wanderers.
"We've got a midweek FFA Cup match and I've heard our opponents are very physical, so we'll take particular care and we'll come up with a gameplan (for the Wanderers) by Thursday. Hopefully we'll execute and deliver to make it a contest."
When asked to name the Wanderers' strengths, Palapanis pinpointed their mobility, their movement off the ball and their decision making, before adding that his side will need to be at their best to compete with one of the competition favourites.
"They're good young footballers and we have to be on our game, especially on defence," Palapanis said. "We'll try to keep the ball as long as possible and try to move them around. I think other teams have fallen into the trap of respecting them too much; but if you don't take the initiative, they'll wear you out, shift you around and score goals against you."
Meanwhile, despite his side's defeat, Wanderers coach Trevor Morgan praised the Northern Tigers for their 2-1 victory over his young charges.
"The result tells the story," Morgan told Football NSW. "All credit to Tigers, they did a good job. Not often does a coach say an opponent's goal was a great goal. I'm going to say one of theirs was defendable as opposed to we didn't get pulled apart by a nine-pass Barcelona movement. But they scored two goals and defended their box extremely well. We were unable to get the win. Credit to them and their preparation; it was also a lesson for us on where we need to be better."
Morgan added that while he hasn't had a chance to see St George play this season, his side will continue to focus on their own form and preparation.
"I think it's important for us to keep trying to improve," Morgan said. "I just find that every week is a very good test for us and we need to improve the areas (in which) the club expects us to do well in the style of football we play and we need to be prepared for what the other team brings. We'll just prepare and fix our own problems and try to improve our own style of play and hope the boys continue to improve."
Morgan revealed an interesting statistic from the clash against the Tigers which showed that while the Wanderers were inside the Tigers' box 28 times they only managed five shots on goal; whereas the Tigers were in the Wanderers' box 11 times for eight shots (on goal).
"That's definitely an area we must improve," Morgan said. "Their keeper didn't have to make many saves in that game and with the amount of time we spent in their box, we need to be better."
Spirit FC vs Marconi Stallions, 7pm, Saturday 22 April, Valentine Sports Park
Spirit FC will be looking to address a two-game losing streak when they host Marconi Stallions at Valentine Sports Park on Saturday night.
Spirit last week copped a comprehensive 5-2 defeat to Mounties Wanderers, and the previous week suffered a shock 2-0 loss to bottom-placed Bankstown City Lions.
Spirit coach David Perkovic said his side started well against Mounties and led 1-0, only to concede two goals before halftime and a further three in a one-sided second half.
Looking ahead to the match against Marconi, Perkovic said he knew what to expect of the Stallions and his side needed to bring their A-game to compete.
"Everybody knows the quality of Marconi and they have particular players in their team who can hurt you at any moment. So it'll be our job to not give those players an inch. We need to be very good and we need to work very hard for each other. If we go in with the right mentality than we'll have a chance to get something out of the game. There are things we need to improve on and hopefully this week we'll improve on enough to put in a good performance."
Meanwhile, Marconi's narrow 1-0 win over Bankstown City Lions may have put them back on top of the table, but the Stallions' inconsistency must be a concern for coach Tony Candy, who said he was happy his side kept a clean sheet and took home the three points.
In their last four games, the Stallions, who have been outright favourites to win the competition since Day 1, have drawn with Western Sydney; copped a 4-0 thrashing at North Shore Mariners; hammered Mt Druitt Town Rangers 5-1 and last week escaped with a 1-0 win over bottom-placed Bankstown City Lions.
While his star-studded lineup can virtually turn on the magic when it suits, consistency is probably the missing ingredient that Candy would love to see from his players.
Hills Brumbies vs Mt Druitt Town Rangers, 7.30pm, Sunday 23 April, Lilys Football Centre
Hills Brumbies and Mt Druitt Town Rangers will clash at Lilys Football Centre in the only Sunday match of the round and with a single point separating them in mid-table, both sides will be desperate to take home the spoils.
The Brumbies last week played a physical draw against North Shore Mariners, with coach Dan Sheppard again having to see one of his players red carded for the second time in as many weeks.
"It was a frustrating day but at least we got something out of it," Sheppard told Football NSW. "It was very physical and very messy, a day we'd all rather forget."
Meanwhile, Mt Druitt Town Rangers shared the points with Blacktown Spartans last Saturday, a game that coach Aidan Desmond said his side should have won.
"They (Spartans) got a cheap goal and tried to counter-attack," Desmond told Football NSW. "We had a lot of possession and lots of chances but couldn't put them away. It was a game we probably should have won."
In their first season in PS4 NPL 2 NSW, Hills have showed that they have the players to be competitive, but coach Sheppard will be hoping to finish the game with a full complement of players; while Mt Druitt will be hoping to make the most of opportunities, an area in which they've struggled so far this season.
"We need to take our chances, that's been our Achilles heel this season," Desmond said. "We're creating enough opportunities but not finishing them."
-By Derek Royal, Football NSW Reporter