Round 13 of the PlayStation 4 National Premier Leagues' 2 NSW Men's competition kicks off this weekend, with Western Sydney Wanderers' clash with North Shore Mariners headlining what will be yet another interesting round of football.
With so much congestion on the table at the moment and just nine points separating second place from 13th, points have become priceless commodities as the second round of the competition beckons.
In other matches, Mt Druitt Town Rangers host Bankstown Berries; Northern Tigers travel to Blacktown Spartans; Marconi host St George; Central Coast visit Spirit FC; Bankstown City entertain Macarthur Rams, and Hills Brumbies journey to Mounties Wanderers.
Match of the Round
Western Sydney Wanderers vs North Shore Mariners, Sydney United Sports Centre, 7pm, Saturday 27 May
Western Sydney Wanderers host the in-form North Shore Mariners in Saturday night's PS4 NPL 2 NSW Match of the Round at Sydney United Sports Centre.
The Wanderers haven't enjoyed the sweet taste of victory since their 3-1 win over Central Coast in Round 9 but after last week's one-all draw with Mounties, coach Trevor Morgan is confident his young side is on the right track.
"I'm very happy with their effort (against Mounties) because it was an improvement on recent weeks and we're still in second place on the ladder," Morgan told Football NSW. "I was disappointed for the boys but pleased with certain aspects of the performance, which were excellent."
Western Sydney have played some scintillating football this season. In virtually every match they've dominated possession and left teams chasing shadows with their fitness, mobility, and creativity. But the one area in which they could do with some polish is their finishing.
Yes, they've scored a staggering 28 goals in 12 matches, but given the number of chances they've created, that tally could be so much more.
Western Sydney this weekend face a Mariners side that has some similar stats to their own: 28 goals for and 11 against, a goal difference of nine as opposed to the Wanderers' 11. But while the teams may be similar on paper, the difference on the field is vast.
While Western Sydney is technically excellent and play a possession-based game with lots of speed and movement, the Mariners' go-to is a more direct in-your-face approach, a style that is effective and has the potential to damage.
Just ask Marconi, who were on the receiving end of a 4-0 thrashing in Round 5, a result that remains one of the biggest upsets of the season.
North Shore will arrive at Edensor Park fresh from a 5-0 annihilation of Bankstown Berries, so their confidence will be sky high.
But coach Joe Haywood won't make a big fuss about the importance of the Wanderers game, nor will he make any outlandish statements. He'll just take things one step at a time and prepare as best he can.
The same can be said of Trevor Morgan. No fuss, just business as usual.
This is shaping as quite an interesting battle, one of contrasting styles between two teams that have the ability to score a bagful of goals.
Mt Druitt Town Rangers vs Bankstown Berries, Popondetta Park, 3pm, Saturday 27 May
Mt Druitt Town Rangers tackle Bankstown Berries at Popondetta Park on Saturday afternoon and they'll be looking to continue on their winning way after a 1-0 victory over Macarthur Rams last weekend.
Macarthur were on an unbeaten streak of six matches and being at home, had a golden opportunity to extend that run to seven. But in a tight struggle, a Brian Griffin-Colls penalty gave Mt Druitt the spoils, allowing them to leap-frog the vanquished into fifth spot on the ladder.
Mt Druitt coach Aidan Desmond said there was minimal difference between the two teams, just a bit of luck and a goal that saw his side get the better of a tenacious, never-say-die opponent.
Mt Druitt's season has so far been a topsy turvy one. In the past month they've beaten Northern Tigers, St George and Macarthur, strong teams with plenty to offer. Admittedly, they also copped a 3-0 hiding from Central Coast Mariners; but that setback was a few days after they'd turned in what was perhaps their most impressive display of the season, a 2-1 FFA Cup loss to Blacktown City in extra time. Quite a feat given the quality of the opposition.
If Rangers can lift to the same level against Bankstown Berries this Saturday, they'll be a dangerous proposition for a side still coming to terms with an horrific 5-0 defeat to North Shore Mariners, a result that had pundits scratching their heads in confusion.
Until then, Berries' player coach Perry Moustakas had his side humming a winning tune, with consecutive victories over premiership contenders Western Sydney Wanderers and Mounties.
So by the time Moustakas and his merry men arrive at Popondetta Park this Saturday, the inspirational player-coach will be hoping his men are primed for action and that last week's effort was nothing more than an anomaly.
Blacktown Spartans vs Northern Tigers, Blacktown Football Park, 7pm, Saturday 27 May
Blacktown Spartans will need to be at their very best when on Saturday night they host giant-killers Northern Tigers at Blacktown Football Park.
The Spartans are doing it tough at the moment. Winless in their last three matches and battling injuries and the psychological blow of losing six points for playing a suspended player, coach Luis Contigiani will need to be at his nurturing best in the leadup to Saturday.
The affable mentor has done a wonderful job this season. Despite having a limited budget, a complete cleanout of personnel from last year, and a young team with an average age of 20, Contigiani has had everyone sharing his belief that through hard work and passion, good things would happen. And good things did happen.
In the first eight rounds, the Spartans only lost once, a close 2-0 result at Western Sydney. And with their robust counter-attacking style of football, they created havoc with their pace and mobility in transition, not to mention their ability to play with width when required.
But after recent events, Contigiani and his young side know that this weekend's clash against the Tigers is critical and they also know they need to be fired up big time to stop a side that last week romped away to a 5-2 smash and grab over premiership favourites Marconi.
"We've got to be realistic about who we are and where we're at," Contigiani told Football NSW. "We have to focus on being clinical in attack and defence, and if the boys show the same determination and discipline as they have previously, I believe we can give ourselves a shot in the arm. Again it'll just be how well we execute our gameplan on the day. This Saturday will answer a lot of questions."
Meanwhile, Mark McCormick's fledgling side shocked the competition when last week they dominated the Stallions from start to finish. And despite conceding the first goal, showed enough grit and determination to steal the points.
But McCormick won't be resting on his laurels. Despite suffering from an horrendous injury toll, the Scot has never whinged or used injuries as an excuse. Instead, he has simply prepared well and made sure that whatever team he puts on the field goes out there focused and ready to play. He'll expect them to dig deep and to pressure the Spartans from start to finish, just as they did to Marconi.
He'll also be relying on the likes of hat-trick hero Ryan Peterson and inspirational skipper Michael Rolston to lead by example.
While the spotlight has been on others, the fourth-placed Tigers have quietly gone about their business without any fuss, collecting points and developing a strong team culture along the way.
They have a golden opportunity to reinforce their position on Saturday.
Marconi Stallions vs St George, Marconi Stadium, 7pm, Saturday 27 May
Marconi's shock 5-2 loss to Northern Tigers last weekend should be a wakeup call for the premiership favourites when they host a tough St George outfit at Marconi Stadium on Saturday night.
The Stallions crashed and burned at North Turramurra and coach Tony Candy will be hoping his side can bounce back quickly against a confident Saints team that sits in second-equal place on the ladder.
Marconi were completely outplayed by a tenacious Tigers outfit, their recent white-hot form falling by the wayside as they encountered a workaholic opponent willing to fight to the bitter end.
Prior to the defeat, the Stallions had smashed home 10 goals in two matches. They played to their strengths and they played with purpose. They finally looked like the real deal, a team that valued teamwork and consistency. But all that disappeared in one fell swoop when they faced a side that wanted victory more than they did.
Everybody knows that Marconi has quality. They have players like Beauchamp, Pavlovic, Rooney and Jesic, experienced players capable of turning a game on its head with a flash of brilliance. Indeed, Rooney's touch inside the box has been phenomenal in recent weeks, and his 12 goals a just reward for his instinct and determination.
But despite that collective brilliance, Marconi cannot afford to take St George lightly. The team from Sydney's south may not be one of the competition's most fashionable side's but one thing they 'can' do is score goals.
"We're confident we can score goals against anyone," St George coach Terry Palapanis recently 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 five to Stevan Ilic, Saints' ability to finish has been their saviour.
Regardless, Saints will need to be on-song this weekend if they're to condemn Marconi to a second boilover in as many weeks.
Spirit FC vs Central Coast Mariners, Valentine Sports Park, 7pm, Saturday 27 May
Spirit FC will need to be at their very best when they host a Central Coast Mariners side fresh from an eight-goal thumping of Bankstown City Lions at Valentine Sports Park this Saturday.
Spirit suffered a 3-1 defeat at St George last week and they face a young Mariners outfit that has finally discovered how to score goals.
Despite struggling for results this season, Mariners coach Ben Cahn has constantly praised his side's performances, even when they were languishing near the foot of the table. They may not have been finishing their opportunities but they were creating them by the bucket load.
"We've played really well and created a lot of chances this season," Cahn told Football NSW. "But in this case (against Bankstown City) we took all of our chances."
But despite winning by the highest margin of any team so far this season, Cahn wasn't getting carried away.
"There were still some mistakes made, there were still some things that we can improve on massively," he said. "We're just still trying to strive for that consistency in the level of performance."
Meanwhile, Spirit FC were disappointing in their 3-1 loss to St George last weekend, so they could do worse than look to their 3-1 victory over Northern Tigers in Round 11 as some form of inspiration before they take on the young Coasters.
On that day, coach David Perkovic was delighted with his side's performance, one that proved that they have the ability to trouble anyone.
And with his side a measly six points outside the top four, Perkovic would welcome with open arms a win and more importantly, three points for their efforts.
Bankstown City vs Macarthur Rams, Jensen Park, 3pm, Sunday 28 May
Bankstown City Lions must regroup quickly after last week's horrendous 8-0 thrashing to Central Coast Mariners and with the second round almost upon us, they need to start winning games, beginning with Macarthur at Jensen Park this Saturday.
With a record of two wins, one draw and nine losses, it's no surprise that the Lions languish in last place on the ladder.
But what is a surprise is that apart from the Central Coast massacre, their performances have been quite good.
In Mile Todoroski, Bankstown has a coach who has done everything in his power to address the slide. It's not that his side has played badly because they've had their moments and completely dominated opponents, only to lose at the death. It's not that Todoroski has a poor squad either. A small one yes, but a poor one, no. It's a squad full of experience but for some reason, the results just haven't fallen their way.
Macarthur however, will be gunning for the Lions. They'll be looking to bounce back from a 1-0 loss to Mt Druitt and they'll be looking at their struggling opponents as an opportunity to regain the mojo that saw them race to an unbeaten streak of six games before Mt Druitt crashed the party.
Indeed, after an horrendous start to the season, Macarthur have battled, fought and chased their way to respectability, their current standing of fifth-equal proof that they have the goods to trouble anyone. Just ask Western Sydney Wanderers and North Shore Mariners, teams that have suffered at the hands of the dreaded Rams.
"I think they believe in themselves more now and their confidence is building," Rans coach Eddie Briscoe told Football NSW. "They know they've got to dig in; they know they've got to give it 90 minutes plus and they're digging in for each other.
"We've been lucky in certain areas but we're making luck as well. It's positive but it's still hard work."
Mounties Wanderers vs Hills Brumbies, Valentine Sports Park, 3pm, Sunday 28 May
Mounties Wanderers face Hills Brumbies at Valentine Sports Park on Sunday and given the way the two sides like to play, this could be quite an entertaining game of football.
Mounties coach Lee Sterrey was happy with his side's one-all draw with Western Sydney Wanderers last weekend, a match in which his side fought back from a 1-0 deficit at halftime.
Unhappy with his side's performance in the first half, Sterrey changed tactics and formation, changes that worked a treat.
"I made some changes in the second half and at halftime gave the boys some stick about showing some character and pride in the shirt and playing for Mounties," Sterrey said. "It worked. Our comeback and our determination to get something out of the game was fantastic.
"We've played some beautiful football this season and we've created opportunities, but our finishing has been a major problem. If we can fix that, we can beat anyone."
Meanwhile Hills coach Dan Sheppard was delighted to earn three points after their 4-1 victory over Blacktown Spartans, but he conceded that the scoreline wasn't a true reflection of the game.
"The scoreline flattered us because we scored two late goals," Sheppard told Football NSW. "The difference between the two sides was we were better with our chances in front of goal.
"I also think we have to take a big reality check because they still opened us up a couple of times and should've scored. (Hills goalkeeper) Josh Stancic made a couple of excellent saves that kept us in the game and the last two goals we scored were very late, so that blew the scoreline out."
Hills haven't changed their style from last season, they still try to keep the ball on the ground, play through the numbers and to the feet, and try to score more goals than the opposition. But given the congestion on the competition table at the midway stage of the season, Sheppard is wary of thinking too far ahead.
"Every week you need to be focused and you can't turn up and play half a game because other teams have got enough to beat you," he said.
"Our own personal expectation is we do the best we can and see where we sit at the middle point of the season when we've played everyone."
-By Derek Royal, Football NSW Reporter