Now that the midway point has been reached in the PlayStation 4 National Premier Leagues' 2 NSW Men's competition, the league is looking even more competitive as every club has the capacity to win or lose on a given day.
No team is so good that they can't be beaten and complacency of any degree will be punished without fail, making for one of the best competitions on record.
In Round 13 matches, Marconi extended their lead at the top of the table to six points with a last-gasp 3-2 victory over St George at Marconi Stadium on Saturday night. The win marked a solid debut for new Stallions coach and former Socceroo Peter Tsekenis, who replaced Tony Candy earlier in the week.
In other matches, North Shore Mariners upset Western Sydney Wanderers 2-1 in a gritty performance at Edensor Park; Mt Druitt hammered Bankstown Berries 4-0 in an interesting encounter at Popondetta Park; Northern Tigers jumped to outright second on the ladder after a 7-3 win over Blacktown Spartans; Central Coast Mariners extended their unbeaten streak to three matches with a comfortable 4-0 victory over Spirit FC; Bankstown City upset Macarthur Rams 1-0 to keep their slim hopes of survival alive; while, despite having a man sent off just before halftime, Hills Brumbies still managed to beat Mounties 3-1.
Match of the Round
Western Sydney Wanderers 1 North Shore Mariners 2
In a tale of two halves, North Shore Mariners earned a gritty 2-1 victory over Western Sydney Wanderers in the PS4 NPL2 NSW Men's Match of the Round at Sydney United Sports Centre on Saturday night.
Mitch Smith and Chris Lindsay scored for the Mariners, while 15-year-old Lochlan Constable pulled one back for the Wanderers.
The Mariners came out with all guns blazing and of the two sides, looked the most likely to score in the early stages.
Inside a minute the visitors launched a deep throw-in into the penalty box that resulted in an injury to the Wanderers' Charles Abou Serhal, who copped an accidental knock to the head.
The Mariners' Michael Stojanovski had the first shot on goal, an ambitious long range effort that never had the legs to trouble the home side. But the visitors kept applying the pressure.
Braden Cheng shot over the bar and Mitch Smith followed the same script, his effort from inside the box being deflected over the woodwork.
With Freddy Ankumah-Sey showing pure pace down the right flank and Mitch Smith's physicality troubling the young Wanderers, it came as no surprise that it was those two who conjured the first goal of the game in the 13th minute, with Ankumah-Sey chipping a delightful cross into the box for Smith to head home from close range.
The Wanderers' slow start was bewildering for a side that usually plays with such irresistible zest and vigor, and it wasn't until the 17th minute that they had their first shot on goal through Tariq Maia.
But the Mariners continued to trouble the Wanderers and just on the half hour mark Chris Lindsay showed some fancy footwork inside the box before seeing his shot deflected past keeper Daniel Axford and into the back of the net, giving the Mariners an unlikely 2-0 lead.
Six minutes later, a beautiful cross from the left found Smith at full stretch touch the ball goalwards, only to see the leather clear the bar. Unlucky for the Mariners, lucky for the Wanderers.
In the 42nd minute, the Wanderers' Abou Serhal fired in a free kick from just outside the box, only to see Mariners' keeper Dominic Maunder pull off a fine save. The Mariners' custodian again denied Western Sydney just shy of halftime, but suffered a suspected rib injury for his bravery, an injury that prevented him from returning in the second half.
Trailing 2-0 at the break, the Wanderers came out breathing fire and two minutes after the restart Maia again unleashed a dangerous free kick towards the target, only to see substitute keeper Stefan Giglio dive low to pull off a fine save.
A couple of minutes later Cameron Devlin had a crack from inside the box, only to see his effort rocket into the side netting.
But in the 52nd minute, Western Sydney finally struck gold through 15-year-old substitute Lochlan Constable, who beat Giglio to close the gap to 2-1.
The Wanderers continued to dominate the Mariners, who rarely ventured into the Red and Black half and found themselves virtually relegated to the role of chasing shadows.
Just on the hour mark the Mariners cleared off the line and in the 66th minute, Lachlan Campbell headed over the bar from a corner. The pressure on the Mariners was relentless, but somehow they held on.
In the 72nd minute Maia again had a free kick opportunity but rather than go for goal he sent Cameron Devlin racing down the right flank. Devlin whipped in a cross but unfortunately for the Red and Black, the set play bore no fruit.
In the 79th minute Giglio was again called into action, this time saving bravely from close range. A few minutes later Wanderers striker Kyle Cimenti side-footed an opportunity goalwards, only to see his effort deflected away for a corner.
The Wanderers played some brilliant football in the second half, launching wave after wave of attacks. But with a stray pass here; a heavy touch there, some resolute defence from the Mariners, plus some good old fashioned bad luck, they just couldn't crack the visitors' defence.
In the end, North Shore added the Wanderers' scalp to the Marconi one they'd snared earlier this season, a result that sees them rise to fourth place on the ladder, just one point behind Western Sydney, Mt Druitt Town Rangers and St George, who share third position.
As expected, Mariners coach Joe Haywood was delighted to go home with three points.
"In the first half I thought we were quite aggressive with our press from the start," Haywood told Football NSW. "I thought we did really well with that and we frustrated the opposition and I thought we were always a threat on the counter attack. It was definitely a tale of two halves: (after dominating the first half) the second half was a different story."
When asked what most impressed him about his side's performance, Haywood replied: "Our defensive resolution but again, (we were) always a threat (on the counter), especially in the first half. The second half was a bit frustrating on the ball but I thought (in the) first half when we had it, we created opportunities."
Meanwhile, Wanderers coach Trevor Morgan was unhappy that his side had again come up against an opponent unwilling to play football.
"You can't blame these other teams to play to their strengths," Morgan told Football NSW. "They never come out to play us, they don't try. We've got grown men playing retreat defence against kids but that's what they have to do. And it works for them. We made some mistakes early, but I felt that after being 2-0 down our response was excellent."
When asked what was said in the dressing room at halftime to prompt such a dominant second half display, Morgan replied: "I told them that you have to believe in yourself, you have to be positive, and the game's there to be won. The game's certainly not over.
"I think we created more opportunities in the second half and I felt that we had every chance to turn it around."
Morgan revealed that 15-year-old, Lochlan Constable made his debut for the side and came through with flying colours.
"For us, our objective is to throw boys into this level of competition and see who performs, and I think he (Constable) put his hand up. Also, Sam Silvera, another boy from our Under 18s, came on and it's very pleasing that they dip their toe in the water and can handle it."
Western Sydney Wanderers 1 (Lochlan Constable) North Shore Mariners 2 (Mitch Smith, Chris Lindsay)
Sydney United Sports Centre
Saturday 27 May 2017
Referee: Tim Danaskos
Assistant Referees: Paddy Reynolds, Tara Brown
Western Sydney Wanderers: 20. Daniel Axford (GK), 2. Lachlan Campbell, 5. Mathieu Cordier, 6. Cameron Devlin, 8. Charles Abou Serhal (28. Lochlan Constable 44'), 9. Kyle Cimenti, 15. Blake Currey, 18. Oliver Puflett (10. Emmanuel Gonzalez 75'), 22. Matthew Lecce (29. Samuel Silvera 62'), 24. Tate Russell, 50. Tariq Maia
Unused Subs: 19. Malcolm Ward, 30. Mackenzie Syron
Yellow Cards: 24. Russell Tate 21'
Coach: Trevor Morgan
North Shore Mariners: 1. Dominic Maunder (GK)(36. Stefan Giglio - halftime), 3. Chris Lindsay, 4. James Scott, 6. Ricky Woodward, 8. Mitch Arcosa, 10. Braden Cheng (27. Robert Kerr 90'), 11. Freddy Ankumah-Sey (20. Joshua Mbakwe), 12. Sean Toth, 18. Mitch Smith, 21. Aaron Davis, 28. Michael Stojanovski
Subs: 9. Scott Tonkin, 23. Christian Desa, 31. Chris Deblaere
Yellow cards: 6. Ricky Woodward 30', 12. Sean Toth 90+2
Coach: Joe Haywood
Mt Druitt Town Rangers 4 Bankstown Berries 0
Mt Druitt Town Rangers smashed four goals past a hapless Bankstown Berries in a 4-0 rout at Popondetta Park on Saturday.
But the victory wasn't as convincing as the scoreline might suggest, with the home side grabbing two late goals after the Berries had a penalty saved and two players sent from the field.
With Bankstown playing deep and showing a reluctance to go forward, Kuag Reec opened the scoring for the home side in the 18th minute and added another on the hour to give Mt Druitt a handy 2-0 lead.
Fifteen minutes later and a major turning point in the match occurred when Bankstown scored from the penalty spot. But just as the Berries started to celebrate, referee Kelly Jones disallowed the goal for encroachment and then awarded a free kick to Mt Druitt.
Pandemonium erupted as the Berries disputed the referee's call and moments later, Domenic Hudap received his marching orders after receiving his second yellow card. Player coach Perry Moustakas then copped a red for dissent and that was effectively the end of the ballgame.
Mt Druitt coach Aidan Desmond said the Berries were very physical and once Moustakas received his marching orders, the game opened up, allowing former Parramatta FC striker Luke Grima to score two quick goals to seal a 4-0 victory. One that propelled them to third equal place on the league ladder, alongside Western Sydney and St George.
"It was quite an interesting game," Desmond added. "Bankstown sat fairly deep for the whole game. They never really attacked or pressed us hard."
Desmond praised Reec, whose return a few weeks ago has inspired his teammates to greater deeds; while he also singled out Hiten Sato and Kristopher Vlismas, who made his debut for the club after switching from Sydney United 58.
Mt Druitt Town Rangers 4 (Kuag Reec 2, Luke Grima 2) Bankstown Berries 0
Saturday 27 May 2017
Blacktown Spartans 3 Northern Tigers 7
Northern Tigers continued on their winning way with an extraordinary 7-3 victory over Blacktown Spartans at Blacktown Football Park on Saturday night.
The Tigers raced out to a 3-0 lead after just 22 minutes but by the 68th minute Blacktown had levelled the scores at 3-3 before conceding another four in the dying stages of the match.
Tigers coach Mark McCormick was relieved to take home the three points but he wasn't impressed that his side allowed Spartans back into the game after holding such a comprehensive three-goal lead.
"It was a strange game," McCormick told Football NSW. "We started really well and we played with a lot of composure. We played as good as I've seen us (play all season).
"And then we just switched off. In the last 20 minutes of the first half we totally switched off and the Spartans were the better team. I was massively disappointed that we allowed them to score three goals and to level the game at three-all. But credit to the players because they really responded (and scored four goals) but apart from the last 20 minutes of the first half, it was a fantastic performance from us. I was really pleased with the effort."
While the spotlight has been on others, the Tigers have quietly gone about their business without any fuss, collecting points and developing a strong team culture along the way. The win pushes the North Turramurra outfit up to outright second on the ladder, six points behind league leaders Marconi.
Meanwhile, Spartans coach Luis Contigiani knew his young side needed to be at their best to trouble the Tigers. He also knew that they were likely to be outclassed but he held a tiny sliver of hope that somehow they would engage the opposition and emerge better for the experience.
Blacktown had lost Emmanuel Elali, Alessandro Pecora and Alex Boyadijan to suspension; while star playmaker Mohamed Rahimi was playing his farewell match for the club after signing with PS4 NPL outfit Sydney Olympic. Football NSW had also deducted six points from the club for an early season indiscretion. All of these events combined to overwhelm what was essentially a skeleton crew that, while they tried hard, were simply outclassed in the first 20 minutes, conceding three quick goals and losing momentum fast.
But then a funny thing happened and somehow the youngsters clawed their way back into the game. One goal. Two goals. Three. Suddenly the scores were even at three-all and Contigiani was thinking his side might just pull off an upset win.
But it wasn't to be. Rahimi suffered a serious eye injury after a head clash with a Tigers defender. And after convulsing and vomiting in the dressing room, the brilliant playmaker had to be sent to hospital.
The incident seemed to affect the Spartans who capitulated as the Tigers took advantage of Rahimi's absence and went on the rampage, scoring four quick goals to seal victory.
"The Tigers are a good team, very mobile, very fast and they keep the ball well," Contigiani told Football NSW. "They've also got a very experienced captain and once Mohamed left the field, we just fell apart.
"We're going to go through a bit of a hard time now and I was lucky to put out eleven. We're really working overtime looking for players. We're a young team and it's getting tough but we're just going to have to keep working hard and hoping and praying that things will change.
"With my regular team that started the season we could compete with anyone. But now we're so understrength we're working overtime looking for players. We're trying so hard to change our circumstances but what do you do - drop your bundle and walk away or fight to the end?"
Contigiani will certainly fight to the end.
Blacktown Spartans 3 (Michael Konestabo 2, Kojiro Hori) Northern Tigers 7 (Jordan Smylie 2, Ryan Peterson 2, Jamie Craig 2, Paul Turrin)
Blacktown Football Park
Saturday 27 May 2017
Marconi Stallions 3 St George 2
Competition favourites Marconi needed their 'Get out of jail free' card in a last-gasp 3-2 victory over a brave St George at Marconi Stadium on Saturday night.
New coach Peter Tsekenis watched on as his Stallions side trailed 2-1 with just 16 minutes to go, but in a dramatic and controversial end to the match, Saints had two players sent from the field and conceded the winner five minutes into stoppage time, ripping the heart out of a side that had battled courageously only to get nothing for their efforts.
Marconi needed to exorcise the demons of last week's shocking 5-2 loss to Northern Tigers and while they got the three points, they won't be entirely happy with their performance.
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 he added his 13th goal for the season against a hapless St George, his total a just reward for his instinct and determination.
But despite the Stallions' collective brilliance and Rooney's marksmanship, the Sky Blues almost slipped up against a side that has surprised many with its ability to score goals and desire to fight to the bitter end.
Indeed, Saints' Spanish import Juan Carlos Romero scored his eighth goal of the season, while veteran Stevan Ilic added his sixth, in a performance that stunned Marconi and gave hope to the unfashionable side from Sydney's southern suburbs.
New Marconi coach Peter Tsekenis was pleased with his side's effort, especially their desire to roll up the sleeves when trailing 2-1 late in the game.
"We've got some really good players, some older players and some young boys," Tsekenis told Football NSW. "Some that I know and some that I don't. It was a little bit of an experiment for me first up, and what impresed me the most was when we went behind and they rolled their sleeves up and really came home strong. It shows a bit of character and it was an opportunity for me to see where everyone's at as a team.
"There's a few things there that I'll need to work on but overall I'm happy with what's there and their application. The senior boys led from the front and a couple of young boys filled in quite well. As a whole they pulled together and got a result as a team, even the boys who came on (from the bench) did a good job for me and had a bearing on the end result."
When asked if he thought St George were unlucky to concede so late in the game and not get a point for their efforts, Tsekenis replied: "It depends on how you look at it. We probably should have scored two or three early in the game; a penalty got turned down at one-nil up and then Pavlovic was one-on-one with the keeper and slipped; so we could've easily been two or three-nil up so they (St George) were probably lucky to be in the game at that point.
"Overall they (St George) were worthy of a draw but it could've gone either way. They did put in a very good performance and (Saints coach) Terry Palapanis had them up for the battle and we had to match them and in the end relied on some ability to finish the game.
"(Going into the game) St George were also one of the form sides in the competition while our boys had come off a heavy loss from the week before. It had also been a big week at the club with a change in coaches, so I was a bit worried all that might have been too much for them. But they came home strong and I'm very proud of them."
Marconi Stallions 3 (Sean Rooney, Judah Cleur, Brandon Vella) St George 2 (Juan Carlos Romero, Stevan Ilic)
Saturday 27 May 2017
Spirit FC 0 Central Coast Mariners 4
Central Coast Mariners extended their winning streak to three matches with a comprehensive 4-0 victory over Spirit FC at Valentine Sports Park on Saturday night.
Brenton Fox grabbed a hat-trick and Duncan Stewart scored one goal as the young Mariners again showed how dangerous they can be when they capitalise on their opportunities and play tight at the back.
Despite struggling for results earlier this season, Mariners coach Ben Cahn constantly praised his side's performances until he was blue in the face, often encountering looks of disbelief from those who only saw a struggling young side languishing near the foot of the table.
But Cahn stayed true to his young charges. After all, they were playing brilliant football. They were creating a multitude of chances. But they couldn't score a goal to save themselves. Not only that, they also possessed a leaky defence that drove Cahn crazy with their habit of conceding silly goals.
But all that has changed. So much so that the young Mariners have hit a purple patch that hasn't just netted them a remarkable 15 goals in three matches, but has also seen them keep three clean sheets in as many games.
Against a Spirit FC side struggling in 13th place on the table, Fox scored a double in the 29th and 30th minutes to give his side a handy 2-0 lead at halftime. Stewart added a third on the hour, before Fox completed his hat-trick with the last kick of the game, his seventh goal in two matches.
Cahn was impressed with his side's performance and praised the youngsters for their professionalism and maturity.
"We said a lot earlier on in the season that we lacked that real maturity to turn dominant performances into results and while the game against Spirit wasn't necessarily the cleanest performance, we took our chances," Cahn told Football NSW.
"And when we do that - and we're now showing more resilience at the other end - there's always a good chance we'll win games."
Cahn added that his side has only conceded one goal from open play in their last four games, something the youngsters have been working on at training for some time. Cahn also said that his players have shown some individual growth and development as well, "which is really pleasing".
But the Central Coast mentor also warned his team that the serious stuff is only just beginning.
"I said to them before and after the game that while it's okay to have three clean sheets in as many games, the real test will be doing that in the second half of the season on a consistent basis."
This week's Match of the Round clash at Marconi will certainly be a huge test of the Mariners' resilience and character, not to mention their consistency.
Spirit FC 0 Central Coast Mariners 4 (Brenton Fox 3, Duncan Stewart)
Valentine Sports Park
Saturday 27 May 2017
Bankstown City 1 Macarthur Rams 0
Bankstown City Lions bounced back from last week's horrendous 8-0 thrashing to Central Coast Mariners to upset Macarthur Rams 1-0 at Jensen Park on Sunday.
Languishing in dead last on the table, the Lions needed the win to keep their spirits up and, most importantly, to keep their season alive.
Striker Nikola Todoroski provided that opportunity when he struck home just on the cusp of halftime.
Despite the win, Lions coach Mile Todoroski wasn't impressed by his side's performance.
"Very poor, both sides," Todoroski told Football NSW. "Fans of both clubs would be very disappointed. The only good to come from the game was we got three points.
"We still have a long road ahead of us. We need more wins, that's the only way we will stay in this league and not get relegated."
Meanwhile, Macarthur arrived at Jensen Park looking to bounce back from a 1-0 loss to Mt Druitt, but they missed a golden opportunity to do the damage.
Indeed, after an horrendous start to the season, the Rams had become the poster boys for the great Aussie battler, scrapping and chasing their way to respectability and showing that they have the goods to trouble the big boys, including the likes of Western Sydney, Central Coast and North Shore Mariners, all victims of the unlikely side from Sydney's outer southwest.
Coach Eddie Briscoe will be bitterly disappointed in the missed opportunity and now he'll need to use all his charisma to get his side's campaign back on track as the second-round kicks off next weekend.
Bankstown's win sees them bridge the gap on 13th placed Spirit FC to just two points; while Macarthur sit in sixth place on the congested PS4 NPL 2 ladder.
Bankstown City 1 (Nikola Todoroski) Macarthur Rams 0
Sunday 28 May 2017
Mounties Wanderers 1 Hills Brumbies 3
Hills Brumbies may have had a man sent off but they still managed to grind out a 3-1 victory over Mounties Wanderers at Valentine Sports Park on Sunday.
Peter Cejka and Nathan Rayner grabbed the first two goals, while an own goal completed the scoring for the newly-promoted outfit.
Hills struck in the ninth, 18th and 28th minutes to hold a commanding 3-0 halftime lead, while Mounties grabbed their goal just shy of the hour.
Hills coach Dan Sheppard was pleased with his side's performance, especially after the dismissal of captain Daine Merrin just before halftime.
"We had a very good first half but the second half was very different after Daine (Merrin) was sent off," Sheppard told Football NSW.
"To play 50 minutes a man short and only conceding one goal was very impressive. Playing with 10 men for that long is a tough ask."
After losing Merrin, Hills hung back and played conservative football, preferring to conserve energy and to keep the opposition at bay. The tactic worked and Hills were rewarded with a valuable three points for their efforts.
The win sees the Brumbies leap into fourth-equal place with North Shore Mariners, just one point behind Western Sydney, Mt Druitt and St George.
Mounties Wanderers 1 (M Davidson) Hills Brumbies 3 (Peter Cejka, Nathan Rayner, A Schmidt O.G.)
Valentine Sports Park
Sunday 28 May 2017
-By Derek Royal, Football NSW Reporter