Round 12 of the PlayStation 4 National Premier Leagues' 2 NSW Men's competition kicks off this weekend and given the unpredictable nature of the season so far, there are sure to be more surprises to mull over late on Saturday night.
St George and Spirit clash at Seymour Shaw Park in the match of the round; while in other matches, Central Coast Mariners host Bankstown City, Northern Tigers entertain Marconi Stallions, Mt Druitt Town Rangers travel to Macarthur, Western Sydney clash with Mounties, Bankstown Berries host North Shore Mariners and Blacktown Spartans journey down the road to Hills Brumbies.
St George vs Spirit FC, 7pm, Saturday 20 May, Seymour Shaw Park
St George and Spirit FC will be hoping to continue on with their winning ways when they clash in the PS4 NPL 2 NSW Men's match of the round at Seymour Shaw Park on Saturday.
Saints last week came back from a two-goal deficit to beat Bankstown City Lions 3-2; while Spirit rejuvenated their campaign with a 3-1 victory over the fancied Northern Tigers.
St George may be one of the unfashionable clubs in the league, but, courtesy of their fighting spirit and ability to sniff out a goal, they sit in outright third on the competition table.
"We're confident we can score goals against anyone," St George coach Terry Palapanis told Football NSW. "We know we've got goals in us. I think that belief is what makes us tick."
Indeed, with Spanish import Juan Carlos Romero's seven goals and another four to Stevan Ilic - who hasn't been a regular starter for most of this season - Saints are the envy of many sides in the competition who have the ability to create opportunities but struggle to finish.
Saints have amassed 22 goals this season but their Achilles heel is their defence, where they've conceded a whopping 24 goals, an issue that could come back to bite them as the season progresses.
"We've conceded some silly goals, goals that wouldn't be out of place on the comedy channel," Palapanis added. "It's individual mistakes in moments, a lack of concentration or something clumsy that's been hurting us."
Palapanis was pleased with last week's result against Bankstown but he was far from impressed with the performance.
"We couldn't string together two passes and for whatever reason our midfield couldn't get it together," he said. "So I changed tactics and played direct, taking advantage of the weapons we have up front. That worked."
When asked what he expected of Spirit this weekend, Palapanis replied: "Spirit coach David Perkovic is a mate of mine, he coached at St George. It's going to be a tricky game. It's going to be a tactical game. I expect it to be a very tight game. I've got a lot of respect for David, he's a good coach."
Meanwhile, Perkovic told Football NSW that the Round 12 clash was a crucial one for his side.
"This week is a crucial game and if we manage to get the three points then we'll definitely climb up a few spots," he said.
"Knowing that we're only three points off the top six, we have to try and remain optimistic. Having said that we're going to be tested in terms of player availability this week, which will make things more difficult against St George. But I'm sure the team will be up for it and continue the good work they put in last weekend."
When asked what he expected of St George, Perkovic replied: "I know (St George coach) Terry Palapanis very well and they've got quality in the front. They can hurt you if you're not on your guard.
"They're third in the league at the moment but they've been inconsistent in terms of performance. But they are where they are and we have to make sure we turn up and put on a great performance."
Central Coast Mariners vs Bankstown City, 6pm, Saturday 20 May, Pluim Park
Central Coast Mariners have the opportunity to increase the gap at the foot of the table between them and Bankstown City Lions when the two sides meet at Pluim Park on Saturday.
The young Coasters stunned Mt Druitt Town Rangers 3-0 last weekend and confidence will be high when they host a Bankstown team anchored to the foot of the table.
The Mariners played most of the Mt Druitt game with 10 men after the dismissal of Reece Papadimitrios and the youngsters were still feeling the physical effects of the effort early in the week.
"There's some physical tiredness given that they played with 10 men for three quarters of the game," Mariners coach Ben Cahn told Football NSW. "But they're level headed and they're quite a positive group so the belief has never dwindled.
"The way the players are working at training and the way they're coming together trying to improve themselves, you'd think we were unbeaten this season and not languishing near the bottom of the table. I'm sure we'll only improve more as the season progresses."
Cahn added that while he was confident his side could do the damage against Bankstown, he was wary of a wounded Lions team and believed their league position was deceptive.
"We had two really tough games against them last year, they have some really good players and they're a difficult club to play against," Cahn said. "It'll be like any other game in this league. It'll be tough, it'll be physical, it'll be competitive. I'm sure we'll create chances and if we can take them I'm sure we'll have a good chance of winning the game. Obviously we need to build on the clean sheet against Mt Druitt and score some goals at the other end."
Meanwhile, Bankstown City would have been gutted by their 3-2 loss to St George last week. They led 2-0 through goals to Huseyin Jasli and Aaron D'Mello and completely dominated the first half. But somehow they allowed Saints to grind their way back into the game and to steal the spoils.
Coach Mile Todoroski has used all his experience and know-how to try to steer the team away from the foot of the ladder, and while they've performed well, the results just haven't fallen their way.
Northern Tigers vs Marconi Stallions, 6.30pm, Saturday 20 May, North Turramurra Recreation Area
Northern Tigers will need to be at their very best to compete against a Marconi Stallions side that has scored 10 goals in their last two games and hold a six-point lead at the top of the table.
The Tigers have some serious injury concerns and given the inexperience of their squad, they face an uphill battle against a Stallions outfit that boasts the most talented team in the competition.
Tigers coach Mark McCormick refused to use injuries as an excuse but he admitted that his side needed to play their best football and that Marconi needed to suffer an off-day when the two sides clash at North Turramurra on Saturday.
"We've got a lot of players out but I'm not going to make excuses, we just have to deal with it," McCormick told Football NSW.
"Everyone knows Marconi's quality. Everyone knows where their players have played and the money they've spent. That's the reality. But it's a great challenge for our young team because some of their guys have played at the highest level and we want to be challenging ourselves against those boys.
"We're going to have to be at our best and we're going to have to hope that they have an off day. That's what it's going to be about. They play direct and they like to get the ball in behind early to the players who are the difference-makers for them, so they can do what they get paid to do."
Meanwhile, Marconi coach Tony Candy said that after last Saturday's 5-1 victory over Hills Brumbies, his boys were in high spirits and looking forward to facing the Tigers on Saturday.
"I think the Tigers will be fit, they'll be full of running and they'll be direct," Candy told Football NSW. "I think they'll try to get behind us and it'll be a tough game. They won't stop running for 90 minutes."
Impressed with his side's effort against Hills last Saturday, Candy added that his side's improvement in recent weeks has been due to a tougher mental approach and attitude.
"We're moving the ball forward a bit quicker than we were at the beginning of the season, that's probably the reason we've scored more goals. But the team's playing with a better attitude and mentality."
Macarthur Rams vs Mt Druitt Town Rangers, 7pm, Saturday 20 May, Lynwood Park
Macarthur Rams will be looking to extend their unbeaten run to seven matches when they host Mt Druitt Town Rangers at Lynwood Park on Saturday night.
After a nightmare start to the season, where they couldn't win a match in five rounds - and even lost to Illawarra outfit Bulli in the opening round of the FFA Cup - the Rams have somehow turned their season around to become the form team of the competition.
Coach Eddie Briscoe has wielded his magic and created something special from a small group of players who simply fight tooth and nail for one another and, most importantly, get results.
When asked what he expected of Mt Druitt this weekend, Briscoe replied: "They're going to be tough. Every team's tough in this league and to lose 3-0 (to Central Coast) on the weekend they're going to come out fighting."
Briscoe added that Danny Lazarevski, Kurdvan Abduljabbar and Regan Suters were under injury clouds and unlikely to play this weekend, making life extremely difficult for his small squad of players.
"They know they've got to dig in," Briscoe said of his players. "There's no reserves coming in, only under 20s players that have already played a game. So they know they've got to give it 90 minutes plus and dig in for each other."
Meanwhile, Mt Druitt will be hoping they can replicate last week's monumental FFA Cup effort against PS4 NPL Men's front-runners Blacktown City, a match they were unlucky to lose 2-1 in injury time.
"I was extremely proud of the boys," coach Aidan Desmond told Football NSW. "To compete with the best team in the state the way we did was outstanding. Unfortunately for us though, by the time Saturday came around and we had to play Central Coast, we'd run out of legs. No excuses because Central Coast played some nice football, but we weren't as sharp as usual and were battling fatigue."
Western Sydney Wanderers vs Mounties Wanderers, 7pm, Saturday 20 May, Sydney United Sports Centre
After two shock losses in as many weeks, Western Sydney Wanderers will be hoping to get their season back on track when they host Mounties Wanderers at Sydney United Sports Centre this Saturday.
Regarded by many as the only team that can deny Marconi premiership honours, the Red and Black have been playing some scintillating football, but a lack of ruthlessness in the front and rear thirds has proved costly.
Despite last week's upset loss to Bankstown Berries, Western Sydney coach Trevor Morgan said his side had moved on and they looked forward to facing a tough Mounties side.
"We try to move on from things fairly quickly and try and learn our lessons," Morgan told Football NSW. "Obviously the boys disappointed with the result on the weekend because they felt they played well enough to get more out of it. But that's the way it goes.
"Mounties are a very good side. They've given us tough games every time we've played them. Neftali Gonzalez is in a different class and he's the one player who makes them tick. I'm sure (Mounties coach) Lee (Sterrey) will have them well-drilled and he'll have a game plan to beat us because he's a very experienced coach.
"I expect every game from here to be just as tough as they have been the last few weeks and we've just got to prepare as best we can."
On the injury front, Kosta Grozos and Henry Davies have niggles and will be unavailable for selection this weekend.
Meanwhile, Mounties coach Lee Sterrey was pleased with his side's 2-1 victory over Blacktown Spartans last weekend but he'll be hoping his side treat their possession with a bit more respect against a very talented Wanderers side.
"We turned the ball over badly last Saturday and Spartans hit us on the counter and scored," Sterrey said. "We dominated territory and they hadn't even had a shot on goal at that point. But they pounced and led the game."
Western Sydney is also a side that can cause plenty of damage in transition, their mobility and ability to create opportunities in the blink of an eye will be a danger that Mounties will need to cope with for the full 90 minutes.
"Western Sydney are a top shelf side and while they've dropped a few games this year, they're structured well and they've got good young players coming through their system," Sterrey said. "They're always going to be a top two side and from my point of view I just expect a really good young football side that moves the ball well and creates opportunities from doing that. I expect them to be a very tough opponent."
Bankstown Berries vs North Shore Mariners, 7pm, Saturday 20 May, The Crest Athletic Centre
Bankstown Berries host North Shore Mariners at The Crest on Saturday and with both teams equal on 14 points, their matchup is critical as jostling for positions on the league table gathers momentum.
The Berries have provided shock value in recent weeks, defeating contenders Mounties and Western Sydney Wanderers 1-0 in successive games, proving that regardless of positions on the table, any team is capable of winning on a given day.
The unfashionable club from Sydney's southwest press hard and play with a spirit and desire that is difficult to beat. They're also a mobile side and with player coach Perry Moustakas controlling things at the back, the formula is a potent one.
"We've had a strange year (so far) but we've been (competitive) in every game," Moustakas told Football NSW. "We have a great team spirit and the boys have fought hard all season."
Meanwhile, Mariners coach Joe Haywood was far from impressed with his side's loss to Macarthur last week but he expected improvement against the Berries.
"The Berries in recent years have been a good team," Haywood told Football NSW. "They've played some good football and been competitive. But I'm not too sure about them this season because they've had indifferent results. But I know that everyone at the moment can beat anybody. It'll be an interesting game to see who can get the next step up the ladder if you like. We've stuttered a little bit in the last couple of games and we need to get back on track and I'm sure they feel the same."
Haywood added while his side was disappointed with last week's loss to Macarthur, they remained upbeat and in good spirits.
Hills Brumbies vs Blacktown Spartans, 7.30pm, Saturday 20 May, Lilys Football Centre
Hills Brumbies and Blacktown Spartans will be looking to put their respective campaigns back on track after suffering losses last weekend.
The Brumbies copped a 5-1 thumping from Marconi; while the Spartans suffered a narrow 2-1 loss to Mounties Wanderers.
Despite the setback against the Stallions, Hills coach Dan Sheppard said his team was proud of their efforts against the competition heavyweights.
"The scoreboard wasn't a true reflection of the game against Marconi," Sheppard said. "It was an interesting game, a game of two halves. We were disappointed with the result and we were disappointed with how little football Marconi actually played. It was a case of death by a thousand balls in behind. It wasn't pretty but it got them the result."
When asked what he expected of the Spartans, Sheppard replied: "Spartans will be a tough opponent, they don't have that many points and that many wins by luck. Every game is a tough game, everyone's winning and losing to everyone."
Meanwhile, Spartans coach Luis Contigiani was bitterly disappointed with his side's 2-1 defeat to Mounties last weekend.
"We were very competitive, had chances and played well. But individual errors cost us," Contigiani told Football NSW.
"We competed well against Mounties but individual mistakes cost us," Contigiani said. "My midfield turned over too much possession and because of that, changes will have to be made this week. I'm going to have to make some tough decisions."
When asked what he expected of Hills, Contigiani replied: "(Hills coach) Dan Sheppard's a positive coach and he wants to play a good brand of football. They've got a very experienced midfield and they've got speed out wide. They're not a bad team and they can play. I think it's going to be a big challenge for us because we've got a lot of key players out. It's going to be a hard one."
Contigiani said he's expecting the next few weeks to be tough but he was hopeful his side would rise to the challenge.
The affable Spartans coach added that his side has done it tough in recent weeks. The club had six points deducted for playing a suspended player earlier in the season, a penalty that saw them drop from second equal to mid-table, while they suffered consecutive defeats for the first time; firstly a 5-0 thrashing to Marconi; followed by the 2-1 reversal against Mounties. The Spartans have also lost several players to injuries, suspension and unavailability, including Emmanuel Elali, Alessandro Pecora and Garang Awac.
"We're really on skeleton staff but we're just going to do our best, which is all we can do. As they say, you can't cry over spilt milk."
-By Derek Royal, Football NSW Reporter