Round 16 of the PlayStation 4 National Premier Leagues' NSW Men's competition kicks off this weekend, and as always there are plenty of interesting matches to tease league diehards.
The competition remains incredibly close but there's likely to be a split between the top and bottom clubs on the near horizon.
On Saturday, Spirit FC host Western Sydney Wanderers in the Match of the Round, while in other matches, Northern Tigers entertain St George, Central Coast face Hills Brumbies and Bankstown Berries host Marconi Stallions.
On Sunday, North Shore Mariners travel to Bankstown City, Mounties entertain Mt Druitt Town Rangers and Blacktown Spartans tackle Macarthur Rams.
Match of the Round
Spirit FC v Western Sydney Wanderers, 7pm, Saturday 17 June, Valentine Sports Park
Spirit FC will host Western Sydney Wanderers in this Saturday's PS4 NPL 2 NSW Men's Match of the Round at Valentine Sports Park.
The last time the two sides met, the Wanderers cruised to a 3-0 halftime lead before Spirit fought back courageously, only to go down 4-3.
"Spirit were well organised and tried to catch us in transition moments, looking to pounce when we lost the ball," Wanderers coach Trevor Morgan told Football NSW. "I think the 3-0 margin at halftime may have flattered us by one goal, but we definitely deserved to be leading."
Spirit changed tactics after the break and pressed from the restart, immediately forcing the Wanderers into error. The ball was played back to goalkeeper Nick Suman whose clearance led to a goal by Yuya Samba in a matter of seconds.
Morgan was disappointed to concede so early and that disappointment only increased when Spirit struck again to bridge the gap to 3-2.
"In the end, I think we should've gone for a clean sheet to be honest," Morgan said. "We had a 3-0 lead and the kids were playing good football, but we should've been able to finish it off."
Meanwhile, Spirit coach David Perkovic conceded that while the first half belonged to Western Sydney, he was proud of his side's performance in the second.
"The Wanderers were clearly the better side in the first half, so we changed things after halftime," Perkovic told Football NSW. "My instructions were to be positive, aggressive, and to go out there and win the second half."
With their coach's pep talk ringing in their ears, Spirit were quite aggressive in the second half and within minutes scored twice through Samba and Harris. But as the clock ticked away, the Wanderers held possession and eventually pulled away to win the three points.
"We learnt a lot from the game and the boys came off the pitch pretty positive from the second half," Perkovic said. "They got a bit of belief from that display and we'll carry that throughout the week as we prepare for our next game.
"Wanderers are a quality team and they keep the ball well. We were good enough to get back into the game so credit to our boys and next time we play them at least we can draw on such a positive experience. It was just disappointing how we played in the first half. But our reaction was positive after that."
A few things have changed since then. The Wanderers are a completely different side and while they're currently in fourth place, they've struggled in the past month or so. Jackson Bandiera, Mario Shabow, Liam Youlley and Cameron Devlin have left the club, while Abraham Majok, Nicholas Suman and Keanu Baccus have signed first grade contracts.
Spirit are third from bottom on the league table and while last week's match against Bankstown Berries was postponed, they're riding high after a 4-0 victory over Macarthur a fortnight ago.
Perkovic was delighted with the win over the Rams, one that boosted his side's confidence immensely.
When asked what impressed him the most about his side's performance, Perkovic replied: "Just how we were able to manage the game with and without the ball. Obviously we haven't been performing too well of late and frustration creeps in quickly so I was pleased that we didn't panic when we didn't have the ball, especially as the game wore on. We got more and more comfortable and didn't rush to get forward too quickly.
"Defensively we were very sound, everything they threw at us we managed well. It was good to keep a clean sheet and to get some goals."
Meanwhile, Wanderers coach Trevor Morgan was disappointed with his side's loss to bottom-placed Bankstown City last week, especially after being level at 2-all late in the game.
"You definitely want the players to have the maturity to not lose the game at 2-all and to possibly be able to win it and unfortunately at the moment, they showed last night that whilst they're trying to win a game they also leave themselves open to being beaten as well," Morgan told Football NSW.
"I think we could've settled our performance a bit more at 2-1 and then 2-2, but instead, being very young, they tried to rush. But that's stuff they'll get better at in time."
Central Coast Mariners v Hills Brumbies, 5pm, Saturday 17 June, Pluim Park
High-flying Central Coast Mariners will be seeking their sixth consecutive win when they face Hills Brumbies at Pluim Park this Saturday.
The Mariners have been the talk of the town for more than a month, playing a scintillating brand of football and dominating teams with their will to win and capacity to score a bagful of goals.
True to form, the Mariners last week humbled a brave Blacktown Spartans 4-2, a win that saw them climb above Western Sydney into third place on the Premiership table.
Coach Ben Cahn was pleased with his side's persistence.
"The game plan was good, and even though they frustrated us for long periods and got themselves ahead and then back in the game, we still kept believing and kept trying to do the right things," Cahn told Football NSW.
"Apart from the two goals they scored and a couple of other passages that were sloppy, everybody chipped in and I was really happy with the overall performance."
The Brumbies meanwhile, last week suffered a shock 4-1 defeat to a rampant St George, so they'll be desperate to get their season back on track against the white hot Mariners. The newly-promoted side were also due to negotiate a midweek FFA Cup clash against Blacktown City, currently the best club in NSW.
The Brumbies have so far impressed in their debut PS4 NPL 2 NSW campaign. They're in a good place and have the desire to continue their rise as a force to be reckoned with.
The nucleus of last season's squad remains and many of the boys have played together in both under 20s and first grade, creating familiarity and combinations in their debut season in tier two.
"We're doing well but we're still the newcomers in the competition, we've still got a lot to learn," coach Dan Sheppard told Football NSW. "I guess we're just happy we're getting results and we just want to make it last as long as we can."
Blacktown and Central Coast will certainly test the Brumbies in the next few days. How they respond to the challenge will be interesting and could have an impact on the remainder of the season.
Northern Tigers v St George, 6.30pm, Saturday 17 June, North Turramurra Recreation Area
Northern Tigers and St George clash at North Turramurra on Saturday in what should be a cracking match between two of the best sides in the competition.
Saints have won four of their last five matches, their solitary loss an unlucky 3-2 defeat at Marconi; while the Tigers are unbeaten in their last five outings, including a 5-2 rampage over the Stallions and a 7-2 thumping of Blacktown Spartans.
The Tigers beat Saints 3-1 in Round 3, their extra quality proving to be the difference between the two sides.
"I think we dominated the game in terms of possession and I was happy with that," Tigers coach Mark McCormick told Football NSW. "I think we were sound structurally and we had just a little bit of extra quality.
"After taking the lead late in the first half, we reiterated at the break that while we were doing the correct things, we needed to come out and be a little more aggressive in the second half and make our chances inside the box count. I think in both boxes we wanted it more and that's what happened in the second half."
Meanwhile, St George assistant coach Gwynne Berry had no complaints about the result, conceding that the better side won on the night.
"I thought they played a lot better than us, particularly in the first half," Berry told Football NSW. "We got ourselves caught out a little before halftime and then conceded straight away in the second half, which was a bit of a setback. But no complaints, they were better than us physically and technically, and their rotation was better than ours too."
Since then, Saints have improved as the season has progressed, creating opportunities, scoring goals and rocketing up the ladder into second place alongside the Tigers.
The acquisition of Spaniard Juan Carlos Romero has been a masterstroke, his close control, distribution and work off the ball outstanding, not to mention the 12 goals he has scored so far this season.
Romero showed all of these qualities in Saints' 4-1 victory over Hills Brumbies last weekend, a match in which they created plenty of chances and held firm on defence.
Coach Terry Palapanis was impressed with his side's victory over Hills, a side he considers one of the best in the competition.
"Make no mistake, Hills are a very good side, so this was a fantastic result," Palapanis told Football NSW. "Because they're a good side that performance was definitely one of our best this season. We're okay, we're on track and I'm still hoping people think we're flying under the radar. But I think people will probably start taking note of us now. We're a decent side."
Meanwhile, Northern Tigers again showed their quality with a resounding 3-0 victory over Mounties Wanderers at North Turramurra last Saturday.
After a torrid first half Max Glanville opened the scoring for the Tigers in the 34th minute and the home side went to the break with a 1-0 lead.
Ryan Peterson extended the home side's lead to 2-0 when he slotted home a penalty in the 67th minute, and six minutes later Joel Hardwick struck a brilliant volley to seal the spoils.
Tigers coach Mark McCormick was pleased with his side's performance, especially after they'd been put under the pump by Mounties' physicality and robust style of football.
"It was a good match from us," McCormick told Football NSW. "It was even in the first half and Mounties were playing direct and getting physical. We had to adjust to that early on and when we did, we controlled the game, especially in the second half. We were the more dominant team and created a lot of chances."
With the talent in both sides, this is a must-see for fans of both clubs. North Turramurra is the place to be.
North Shore Mariners v Bankstown City, 3pm, Sunday 18 June, Jensen Park
Bankstown City host North Shore Mariners at Jensen Park on Sunday, and while the Lions will be hoping to build on last week's 3-2 win over Premiership contenders Western Sydney Wanderers.
The Mariners will be desperate to break their two-match losing streak.
Lions coach Mile Todoroski was delighted with his side's courageous performance, one that closed the gap on second-last Blacktown Spartans by a point, and one that has the wily Macedonian confident that they're finally developing into a half decent team.
"We looked pretty good on attack in first half," Todoroski said. " We scored in the first minute of the game. They scored in the first minute of the second half. We scored (the winner) at the end of the game. We closed the game very strong in the last 10 minutes. We were 2-1 down and won 3-2. It was a good performance."
Meanwhile, ever since they beat the Wanderers three weeks ago, North Shore have struggled. They lost to the Mounties 5-2, and last week suffered a 2-1 defeat to Mt Druitt Town Rangers.
Despite that, coach Joe Haywood will go into this match in a positive frame of mind after humbling Bankstown 4-1 in the third round.
On that occasion, sharpshooter Mitch Smith grabbed a hat-trick and namesake Marquin Smith scored one goal in what was the Mariners' first win of the season.
Since then North Shore have become a difficult opponent and something of a dark horse, with their 4-1 slaughter of Marconi and 2-1 win at Western Sydney highlights in a solid season.
"We're a long way from where we want to be in terms of getting some more wins under our belts," Haywood said. "It's more about learning from our mistakes. We just want to improve from where we were last year and hopefully we're making strides towards that.
"We're trying to take each game as it comes. I think we're just competitive, and we're going to cause teams problems whether it's through our football, our discipline or our structure, or whether it's set pieces. We're always going to be a threat, we're always going to be a danger. That's something I'm working on and will continue to do so."
A win would certainly go a long way for both sides.
Blacktown Spartans v Macarthur Rams, 5pm, Sunday 18 June, Blacktown Football Park
Blacktown Spartans and Macarthur Rams will both be desperate to grab maximum points when they clash at Blacktown Football Park this Sunday.
Both sides have been struggling in recent weeks, with the Spartans second bottom on the ladder with 14 points, just three behind the Rams.
The situation was completely different when the sides last clashed in Round 3. Back then, the Spartans were riding high at the top of the table as they ground out a 3-2 victory over a gritty Rams side at Lynwood Park.
Afghani Mohamad Rahimi scored twice and Alex Boyadijan added another for the Spartans in a game that bounced from end of the field to the other. The Spartans squandered a penalty but with time almost up, Rahimi raced onto a through ball and slotted home at the far post for his side to claim a last-gasp victory.
Spartans coach Luis Contigiani was pleased with his side's performance.
"I'm very proud of the boys' discipline, very proud of the effort," Contigiani said. "We're grounded, we know we've still got a mountain to climb. We're not beating teams convincingly and I'm not 100 per cent convinced yet. I'm happy with the discipline and the effort, but I think we can improve and be even better. Macarthur were tough but when you win it inspires confidence. The boys are feeling really good."
Meanwhile, Rams' head coach Bill Pilovski said it was an entertaining game but his side were unlucky.
"A draw would have been a good result," Pilovski told Football NSW. "But when you're winning as the Spartans have been winning and you've got momentum, luck or the bounce of the ball seems to fall your way. The Spartans played well but I'm happy with my boys because we played well too. That's football."
Since then, the Spartans' season has deteriorated due to a cruel run with injuries and suspensions, not to mention a loss of six points for playing a suspended player. The side that was playing with such zest and confidence back then has lost six matches on the trot and this weekend's clash against the Rams offers them a golden opportunity to get their campaign back on track.
The Spartans last week suffered their sixth consecutive loss against Central Coast Mariners, a 4-2 setback that saw them plummet dangerously close to the bottom of the table. Coach Contigiani was disappointed by his side's defeat but pleased that they'd given their best.
"The Mariners have got the best of the best and they're a good team," Contigiani told Football NSW. "They're the equivalent of Western Sydney and Marconi: they're technical and creative.
"We always knew they would have more of the ball than us, so we sat back, absorbed pressure and had some good opportunities.
"My players did the best they could but the Mariners are a class act. They're better than us at the little things. Their first touch is really good, their movement off the ball is exceptional. We were up against a good team and we're just so understrength at the moment that it's really tough."
When asked what the positives were to come out of the game, Contigiani replied: "The fact that for 75 minutes we competed against a team that has been cleaning the floor with everyone, including Marconi, who they beat 3-1, was outstanding. It took them that long to bury us. We offered the best resistance we could and I thought we did well.
"We're doing our best, I'm not going to give up we're just going to keep fighting. I'm praying and hoping that the tide will turn. We need to start winning otherwise we'll be in a lot of trouble."
Meanwhile, the Rams also find themselves in a spot of bother. Eddie Briscoe's team is currently going through a rough patch and like the Spartans, are in urgent need of a win.
"We're making too many silly mistakes; there's no communication or leadership," Briscoe said after last week's 3-0 loss to Marconi. "Those simple things that get you around the pitch and get you results, we're not getting that.
"We've had the same issues all season and if we don't fix them we're not going to be competitive. We've really had a stop-start season. Even last night we had three players in and three players out. We've never really had a settled squad. We don't have the money that other clubs have got. We've got to develop from within and we've got to use what we've got. If we're not only our game 150 per cent every week we're not going to get the results and that's the honest truth. We haven't got that individual quality - we've got a couple of decent, quality players - and it's starting to show.
"We had our moments, we always do. We actually played in little patches some good football. We actually created three good chances; one got cleared off the line just before halftime and had that one gone in, it would've been 2-1. We just keep battling on."
Bankstown Berries v Marconi Stallions, 7pm, Saturday 17 June, The Crest Athletic Centre
Bankstown Berries face an uphill battle when they host league leaders Marconi Stallions at The Crest this Saturday night.
Marconi currently lead the competition and sit five points clear of Northern Tigers and St George, and with their team of stars in fine form, the Sky Blues pose a serious threat to the locals.
Marconi beat the Berries 3-1 in Round 3, with Mirjan Pavlovic scoring twice and Sean Rooney grabbing the other. But despite the loss, Berries coach Perry Moustakas was pleased with his side's effort.
"It was a great performance from my boys," Moustakas told Football NSW. "We really got stuck in and made it hard for Marconi. The difference between the sides was they were more clinical than us. The boys learnt a lot from the game but moving forward we need to take our chances and start getting results."
Marconi were too classy for Macarthur Rams last week and left Lynwood Park with a 3-0 victory, while the Berries' clash against Spirit was postponed.
The previous week the Berries ground out a 1-0 victory over local rivals Bankstown City, but they still remain in the bottom half of the table, something Moustakas will want to rectify asap.
The narrow victory over Bankstown was the Berries' first win in three league outings and while it may not have been pretty, it was enough to get their season back on the straight and narrow.
"We've had a lot of football over the last two weeks and we were playing with ten men for the last half an hour (against Bankstown)," Moustakas told Football NSW. "The effort from the boys was fantastic."
Their effort will need to be even more fantastic if they hope to foot it with the Premiership favourites this weekend, especially with sharpshooter Sean Rooney in such irresistible form in front of goal.
The former A-Leaguer has scored 16 goals so far this season and as always, will pose a huge threat this weekend.
Mounties Wanderers v Mt Druitt Town Rangers, 3pm, Sunday 18 June, Valentine Sports Park
Mounties Wanderers will be hoping to get their season back on track when they host Mt Druitt Town Rangers at Valentine Sports Park this Sunday.
Mounties last week copped a 3-0 beating by Northern Tigers and while coach Lee Sterrey was disappointed with the result, he didn't believe the scoreline was a true reflection of the game.
"I thought we had the better of the first 15-20 minutes and had some quality ball in the front third; we were playing well," Sterrey told Football NSW.
"We missed some golden opportunities and the scoreline didn't reflect the game. The big incidents in the game cost us. We should've been 1-0 up at halftime but we ended up chasing the whole game. Goals change games and if you don't take your opportunities you can't expect to win."
Meanwhile, Mt Druitt will go into the match fresh from a good 2-1 victory at North Shore Mariners, one of the toughest road trips in the league.
"Once we went a goal up we were outplayed," Mt Druitt assistant coach Stewart Montgomery told Football NSW. "Their runs from deep, their movement in the top third caused us trouble and we hung on until halftime. Our keeper Carlos Saliadarre made some fantastic saves to keep us in the game."
In the second half, Mt Druitt changed their shape and brought Kris Vlismas into centre midfield to pick up the Mariners' late runs. According to Montgomery, once that happened, his side was "pretty comfortable".
Daniel McCann scored the winner in the 64th minute, a header that flashed into the back of the net.
In the latter stages of the match, and trailing by 2-1, North Shore chased an equaliser by throwing numbers into the front third. But the visitors dealt with everything, even Saliadarre, who capped his performance with a penalty save two minutes into stoppage time.
"Today was about hanging in there, using the tenacity and camaraderie in our squad to get an outcome in what was a really important game for both clubs," Montgomery said.
"The ladder's so tight it was just really important that we won that one. That's the first time we've beaten them so I'm happy."
When asked who stood out for his side, Montgomery replied: "Carlos Saliadarre was outstanding in goal, he kept us in the game. Kuag (Reec) was always effective up front and Kris Vlismas was very good when he came in to do a job for us in the second half."
This will be an intriguing clash between two quality sides.
-By Derek Royal, Football NSW Reporter