Marconi Stallions extended their lead at the top of the PlayStation 4 National Premier Leagues' 2 NSW Men's competition to seven points with a narrow 2-1 victory over Bankstown Berries on Saturday night.
The Stallions remain Premiership favourites in a competition that has become one of the closest on record, with every team capable of winning on a given day.
Meanwhile, Northern Tigers and St George maintained second equal place on the ladder with an entertaining 3-all draw at North Turramurra; while the form team of the competition, Central Coast Mariners were held to a 2-all draw by an impressive Hills Brumbies outfit that fought back from being 2-0 down.
In the Match of the Round, Spirit FC and Western Sydney Wanderers shared the spoils 1-1 at Valentine Sports Park, a reuslt that did Spirit no favours as they languish in second last spot on the ladder, a prime example of the competitive nature of the league.
On Sunday, North Shore Mariners returned to the winners' circle after two consecutive defeats, by grinding out a 1-0 win away to Bankstown City; Blaktown Spartans also won their first game in seven weeks, a 2-0 result over Macarthur at Blacktown Football Park; while Mt Druitt Town Rangers showed their quality with a 4-2 victory over Mounties Wanderers at Glenwood.
Match of the Round
Spirit FC 1 Western Sydney Wanderers 1, Valentine Sports Park
Spirit FC and Western Sydney Wanderers shared the spoils one-all in an entertaining PlayStation 4 National Premier Leagues' 2 NSW Men's Match of the Round at Valentine Sports Park on Saturday night.
Andre Carle opened the scoring for Spirit, and Kyle Cimenti equalised for Western Sydney.
Wanderers dominated the early stages of the match but from around the 20th minute, Spirit enjoyed a purple patch of their own.
In the fourth minute Wanderers midfielder Charles Abou Serhal unleashed a vicious shot from just outside the box, only to be denied by a brilliant save by Spirit goalkeeper Murray Nelson. It would be the first of several fine saves by the Spirit gloveman.
Spirit's Andre Schroeder then freed Dylan Whitlock down the right flank a few minutes later but his low cross was cut out by the Wanderers defence.
Two minutes later, Wanderers' Oliver Puflett showed some skill, chipping in a nice cross from the right, but striker Kyle Cimenti could only head his effort over the bar from close range.
Spirit's Andre Schroeder taunted the Red and Black with his pace, skill and instinct for being in the right place at the right time. And in the 20th minute he went close to scoring with a glancing header. So close yet so far.
Five minutes later Whitlock again showed his pace down the right wing, beating his man before whipping in a dangerous cross. Johnny on the spot Schroeder couldn't connect and the chance went begging.
At this stage, the Wanderers were playing the better football - keeping possession and displaying the vibrance of youth with their speed and skill - but Spirit were creating more chances, and with a bit of luck, the home side could well have been ahead on the scoreboard.
Just on the half hour mark Spirit's Zoran Kolundzic beat Wanderers' keeper Mackenzie Syron from long range but his effort shaved the target by centimetres. That man Schroeder was at it again a moment later, but again he just couldn't find the back of the net.
Spirit turned on a very committed first half performance. They played what was in front of them. They ran, they tackled, they played direct. They played with width. And of the two teams they looked the most likely to score.
But it wasn't just the likes of Shroeder and Whitlock who caught the eye. Grant Cornwell marshalled the Spirit defence brilliantly and Nelson proved to be a rock between the sticks.
In the 37th minute Cimenti missed a one-on-one with Nelson, firing his shot wide. The young Wanderer really should have done better, but credit should also go to Nelson, whose protection of his space was outstanding.
Nelson was at it again a couple of minutes later, going down bravely at the feet of Matthew Lecce, denying the Wanderers an opportunity to take the lead right on the stroke of halftime.
With the scores level at the break, Spirit showed their intent immediately after the restart, with Andre Carle getting the better of Syron in a one-on-one, and slotting home the opening goal with clinical precision. Finally the deadlock was broken and after 50 minutes the home side held a one-nil lead.
While the goal gave the home fans something to cheer about and Spirit's confidence soared, the setback seemed to give the Wanderers a kick in the pants. The Red and Black got their act together, moving swiftly through midfield and causing alarm bells to ring in the Spirit defence.
Tariq Maia chipped a free kick into the box, but Manny Gonzalez fired his header straight at Nelson.
But a few minutes later Maia showed his quality when he threaded an inch-perfect pass through for Cimenti, who fired home the equaliser past a despairing Nelson.
At one goal apiece, the Wanderers continued to attack and in the 69th minute were denied the lead when somehow Spirit defender Michael Streeter cleared off the line.
Spirit then launched their own wave of attacks. In the 79th minute a poor defensive error by the Wanderers saw Carle zero in on Syron, but one-on-one, the young keeper pulled off a superb save to again keep his side in the match.
Schroeder delivered a great pass to Ryan Johnstone who, from inside the box, skied a golden opportunity over the bar. A minute later Johnstone was at it again, and again his effort cleared the bar. Two chances within as many minutes, but no reward.
In the 85th minute Carle looked like he'd given his side the lead when his header rocketed towards the top corner of the net. But somehow Syron pulled off the play of the day, a magnificent acrobatic save that tipped the ball away to safety. How he managed such brilliance in the blink of an eye was truly astounding.
The final play came in the 88th minute when Mohamed Najjar capitalised on a defensive mishap and slotted home what the Wanderers thought was the winning goal. But as the youngters celebrated, referee Patterson disallowed the goal for offside.
Given the flow of the game and chances created, a 1-1 draw was probably a fair result, although both sides had opportunities to steal victory.
Spirit played with confidence and conviction, with Nelson, Schroeder and Whitlock catching the eye; while the young Wanderers' fleet footedness, skill on the ball and ability to hold possession showed that they remain a serious threat for Premiership honours. Young Syron had a fantastic game and kept his side alive with some brilliant goalkeeping; while the likes of Oliver Puflett, Adrian Viggiani and Manny Gonzalez also stood out for the visitors.
The result leaves Western Sydney in fourth place on the ladder; while Spirit remain in 13th position, just three points above bottom-placed Bankstown City Lions.
Spirit coach David Perkovic was pleased with his side's performance.
"It was a healthy crowd here tonight and I think they got their entertainment for the night," Perkovic told Football NSW.
"I felt that we made them (Western Sydney) a little bit more uncomfortable than they made us feel. I think that we created more quality chances than what they did. We just tried to disrupt their buildup phase and when you do that you go a long way to getting something out of the game against the Wanderers."
Perkovic added that despite his side's lowly position on the league table, he didn't believe they'd played badly in a lot of games this season, they just struggled with taking opportunities.
"We had our midseason review a few weeks ago and came away confident that we knew what we needed to do to overcome our deficiencies," Perkovic said. "We've gone a long way to do that in our last couple of games (a 4-0 thrashing of Macarthur and Saturday's draw with Western Sydney) and hopefully we continue to progress throughout the rest of the season."
When asked what his side got out of the game against the Wanderers, Perkovic replied: "Confidence. I think when you're playing a team like the Wanderers and you can dominate them in key areas of the match, it gives us a lot of confidence that we can take it to any team in the competition."
Meanwhile, Wanderers coach Trevor Morgan was pleased with his side's efforts and the learning experience gained for his young players.
"I think it was a fair result in the end, when you count the chances," Morgan told Football NSW. "It was another good learning experience for us and important for a couple of boys. For example (goalkeeper) Mackenzie Syron played his first game tonight (and made) a couple of great saves (which) kept us in the game.
"For us it was another test. It was another time where again we've played some young boys - Viggiani who's 16; Pagden who's still 15 - they're playing against men and they're learning. They're going to make some mistakes along the way but I'm impressed that there are improvements individually in their game and that's good to see."
Spirit FC 1 (Andre Carle 50') Western Sydney Wanderers 1 (Kyle Cimenti 65')
Valentine Sports Park
Saturday 17 June 2017
Referee: K Patterson
Assistant Referees: A Lyndon, A Hasnani
Spirit FC: 1. Murray Nelson, 14. Andre Carle, 8. Grant Cornwell, 10. Chris Gomez (18. Bradley Gibson), 7. Jacob Harris, 17. Ryan Johnstone, 21. Zoran Kolundzic, 20. Tim Porter, 22. Andre Schroeder, 4. Michael Streeter, 11. Dylan Whitlock (12. Louis Bozanic)
Unused Subs: 26. James Webb, 3. Sid Malhotra, 6. Adam Nisbet
Coach: David Perkovic
Western Sydney Wanderers: 30. Mackenzie Syron (GK), 8. Charles Abou Serhal, 9. Kyle Cimenti, 5. Mathieu Cordier, 10. Emmanuel Gonzalez (14. Mohamed Najjar), 25. Jordan Hall, 22. Matthew Lecce (17. Adrian Viggiani), 50. Tariq Maia, 12. Noah Pagden, 18. Oliver Puflett, 24. Tate Russell
Unused Subs: 20. Daniel Axford, 2. Lachlan Campbell, 15. Blake Currey
Yellow Cards: 9. Kyle Cimenti
Coach: Trevor Morgan
Central Coast Mariners 2 Hills Brumbies 2, Pluim Park
Hills Brumbies came back from a two goal deficit to steal a point from the white-hot Central Coast Mariners at Pluim Park on Saturday.
Goal-scoring ace Brenton Fox grabbed two first half goals for the Mariners, while Matias Toro Suazo and Daine Merrin hit back for the Brumbies.
The Mariners were gunning for their sixth win in a row and when Fox opened the scoring in the first minute and added a second just shy of the half hour mark, it looked like the Coasters would canter home to victory. But it wasn't to be.
Mariners coach Ben Cahn said his side dominated the first half and should have held more than a two-goal lead.
"We started really well and scored in the first couple of minutes," Cahn told Football NSW. "We really dominated the first half, scored a comfortable second goal; hit the bar at 2-0 up just before halftime; missed two one-on-ones and in the second half we missed a host of really good chances and allowed them to sneak back into it."
The Central Coast mentor added that the result was disappointing and his boys felt like they'd lost, "which shows how far they've come in the last couple of months".
Cahn said his side had so many opportunities - one v ones and even an open goal from inside the six yard box - but just couldn't add to their two-goal lead.
"The boys were devastated by the result but that's a testament to the belief they have in themselves and the expectations we have as a group now.
"Hills are a good side and they've got some really good attacking players. I think structurally certainly going forward they're one of the best in the league. They're very clever with the way they use their numbers going forward and they were in the game the whole time. They also had some good chances. But it was disappointing to have led by 2-0 and not come away with the win, especially after missing so many goals when we had that two-goal buffer."
Meanwhile, Brumbies coach Dan Sheppard told Football NSW he had mixed emotions about the result.
"I honestly think that was our best performance of the season," he said. "It was very good. I was very impressed with that performance and I think Central Coast should feel a little bit lucky in many ways."
Sheppard added the Mariners also had a stroke of good fortune with their second goal, when a Brumbies player slipped and the home side pounced to grab a 2-0 lead.
"That can happen to anyone anytime because the field was wet. And the only other time they threatened us was when we pushed forward looking to score goals. If we'd equalised in the first half we would've run away with it."
Sheppard enjoyed the clash, one where both teams played good football that was exciting and entertaining.
"We had no standouts because everyone had good games," Sheppard said. "Even the guys who made mistakes and started badly turned it around and it was an excellent team performance."
Matias Toro Suazo pulled the first goal back for Hills in the 67th minute; before skipper Daine Merrin slotted home a penalty to claim a share of the spoils two minutes shy of fulltime.
Central Coast Mariners 2 (Brenton Fox 2) Hills Brumbies 2 (Matias Toro Suazo, Daine Merrin)
Saturday 17 June 2017
Northern Tigers 3 St George 3, North Turramurra
Northern Tigers and St George turned on a splendid display of attacking football in a 3-all draw at North Turramurra on Saturday.
Luke Dawson, Jamie Craig and Aram Tayebi, scored for the Tigers, while Nicholas Paras, Juan Carlos Romero and Bruno Pivato found the net for the Saints.
Luke Dawson opened the scoring for the Tigers in the 14th minute but the lead didn't last long as Nico Paras capitalised on a defensive error to equalise for Saints just four minutes later.
Jamie Craig then put the Tigers ahead 2-1 in the 40th minute and that scoreline remained as the two sides went to the sheds at halftime.
Spanish goal-scoring machine Juan Carlos Romero equalised for St George in the 55th minute with his 13th goal of the season and with just seven minutes to go on the clock, Bruno Pivato gave his side what Saints fans would have thought was the match-winning lead.
But it wasn't to be as the Tigers launched another raid on the Saints' goal, with newcomer Aram Tayebi grabbing the equaliser just two minutes later.
"It was a decent game, both teams tried to play and I think a draw was a fair result," Tigers coach Mark McCormick told Football NSW. "It was a really tough game, they're a decent side. They've changed quite a lot since we met them earlier in the competition.
"They're one of the better sides that we've played but we need to minimise the errors that we're making. We're our own worst enemy at times and we can't be gifting teams two goals and expect to win games. It's just impossible at this level of competition. That's something we need to improve on and the guys know that. Our effort was excellent, it's just our decision-making that needs to improve."
Northern Tigers 3 (Luke Dawson, Jamie Craig, Aram Tayebi) St George 3 (Nico Paras, Juan Carlos Romero, Bruno Pivato)
North Turramurra Recreation Area
Saturday 17 June 2017
Bankstown Berries 1 Marconi Stallions 2, The Crest Athletic Centre
Marconi Stallions extended their lead at the top of the table to seven points with a close 2-1 victory over Bankstown Berries at The Crest on Saturday night.
Marko Jesic and Mirjan Pavlovic scored for the Stallions, while Daniel Fornito replied for the Berries.
Jesic opened the scoring on the stroke of halftime, but the Berries struck back through Fornito in the 68th minute. Marconi responded immediately, with Pavlovic striking home what proved to be the match-winner just a minute later.
Marconi coach Peter Tsekenis was impressed with his side's performance, especially in the absence of former Socceroo defender Michael Beauchamp.
"We were without Beauchamp so we had a couple of young boys at the back who did a reasonably good job," Tsekenis told Football NSW. "The goal we conceded was disappointing because it was taken from outside the box but other than that, we created some good chances and dominated a large amount of the game. The players are responding and working well towards where I want them to be."
Tsekenis added that because of his late arrival at the club, he has been forced to implement in midseason strategies that would normally be worked on in preseason, a risk that he's prepared to take.
"It's a bit risky but I'm happy with the way things are progressing at the moment," he said. "I'm happy that we're coming along quite nicely in regards to what I'd like them to be doing and the way I want them to play.
"Its been a vast improvement on the last couple of weeks as we're heading in the right direction. We've got a good squad that I'm happy with and we've got good cover for every position and good balance."
Meanwhile, Berries assistant coach Charles Samushonga was proud of his charges, despite the narrow defeat.
"They did well, they came up against a very good side, probably the best side in our league," Samushonga told Football NSW. "For a large part of the game we more than matched them and could have equalised in the 92nd minute. We created chances that we weren't able to capitalise on. But I'm very proud of them, they did well."
Samushonga added that he was impressed by the side's "commitment to what we're trying to achieve".
"They worked ridiculously hard. They were composed when they did get on the ball and they tried to play. When you go up against a side like Marconi you can be a bit intimidated because of the calibre of player they field. But the boys faced up to them, matched them and took the game to them. They respected them but they didn't fear them. To come away from a game like that and say we were unfortunate not to get a draw is a big achievement. I'm very proud of them."
Bankstown Berries 1 (Daniel Fornito) Marconi Stallions 2 (Marko Jesic, Mirjan Pavlovic)
The Crest Athletic Centre
Saturday 17 June 2017
Bankstown City 0 North Shore Mariners 1, Jensen Park
North Shore Mariners grabbed an invaluable three points with a narrow 1-0 victory over Bankstown City Lions at Jensen Park on Sunday.
Sharpshooter Mitch Smith headed the winner in the 64th minute, earning his side a victory that sees them climb into sixth place on the competition table.
The Lions were hoping to build on last week's 3-2 win over Premiership contenders Western Sydney Wanderers, but North Shore were equally determined to break a two-game losing streak.
Since beating Western Sydney Wanderers three weeks ago, North Shore had suffered consecutive losses to Mounties and Mt Druitt and while their performance against Bankstown wasn't outstanding, they did enough to grind out three competition points, an invaluable commodity given the tightness of the league ladder.
The match started with a bang, Smith earning a penalty after taking a tumble in the box after 10 minutes. Chris Lindsay stepped up to take the spot kick, only to be denied by Lions' goalkeeper Dion Shaw.
"The game was a very scrappy affair," Mariners coach Joe Haywood told Football NSW. "Bankstown were very direct in what they did today, which is fine, I've got no problem with that at all. We had to compete, which is what we did. We had to ground out a 1-0 win away from home, which is great."
Haywood added that Bankstown goalkeeper Dion Shaw made some super saves, including the penalty taken by Lindsay. and one from point blank range in the second half.
"When you take those saves into consideration, plus a couple of half chances that we had, it could have been an easier game than what it turned out to be," Haywood said. "Overall, they didn't threaten our goal and we were in control for the majority of the game."
When asked what impressed him the most about his side's win, Haywood replied: "We had a game plan and it was pleasing that the boys stuck to that game plan and in the end got the desired result. That was really pleasing."
Meanwhile, Bankstown City coach Mile Todoroski was disappointed his side couldn't capitalise on last week's win over the Wanderers.
"We can't win back-to-back, we can't win two games in a row," Todoroski told Football NSW. "We go hot cold, hot cold, which isn't good for us.
"It was a very hard game, North Shore Mariners are a very tough team, a very fit team. They're a very solid team and from what I saw from the grandstand, they don't have any weaknesses.
"We weren't good enough to do anything today. We tried the best we can but we didn't have one shot on goal. They were too strong for us physically and we lost the game 1-0, enough for three points.
"Our situation is very tough but we have to accept that. We have to deal with the situation, that's our reality."
Bankstown City Lions 0 North Shore Mariners 1 (Mitch Smith)
Sunday 18 June 2017
Mounties Wanderers 2 Mt Druitt Town Rangers 4, Valentine Sports Park
Mt Druitt Town Rangers stormed into outright fifth position on the league table with a 4-2 victory over Mounties Wanderers at Valentine Sports Park on Sunday.
Lachlan Roberts scored two goals and Kuag Reec and Jamie Dibb grabbed one each; while Reid Raylor and Mt Druitt's Matthew Clowes (own goal) scored for Mounties.
Mt Druitt dominated the first half and Roberts scored twice to give them a 2-0 lead at the break. Disappointed with his side's poor showing in the opening half, Mounties coach Lee Sterrey let rip in the sheds and his boys responded well, tearing into Mt Druitt with a zest and gusto that were missing in the first half. As a reward for their newfound aggression and commitment, the home side received a penalty in the 50th minute, only to squander the opportunity. That miss proved costly as Mt Druitt extended their lead seven minutes later when sharpshooter Kuag Reec tucked the ball into the back of the net.
At 3-0, Rangers were well and truly in the drivers' seat, but Mounties refused to give in. They received another penalty in the 70th minute and this time Reid Taylor made no mistake from the spot, bridging the gap to 3-1.
A minute later, Mt Druitt's Matthew Clowes put the ball into his own net and at 3-2 the game had suddenly changed its complexion and Mounties were in with a sniff.
Amazingly, Sterrey's side received a third penalty. And just as amazingly, they messed up for the second time. Three penalties in one half of football and only one successful spot kick to their name. Remarkable.
Sterrey lamented his side's poor start to the game and subsequent defeat.
"Mt Druitt's first half was quite good but we didn't add to it because we were so poor," Sterrey told Football NSW. "At 2-0 down at halftime I didn't think the game was dead and buried at that stage and obviously I ripped a few tiles off the wall in the dressing room verbally because we just weren't good enough.
'It was a game of two halves, they were up for it first half and we dominated the second half. We had three penalties and had a header off the crossbar and while they had six or seven chances and scored four, we had at least that as well and scored two.
"We're just not good enough. You can't give sides a two goal start before you want to switch on and play. We're not doing enough and we're lucky to have three or four good players a week. We're always chasing games and we don't get out of trouble. I expect better. Simple as that."
Meanwhile, Mt Druitt assistant coach Stewart Montgomery was delighted with his side's performance.
"We're in a good place at the moment and we were really good today," Montgomery told Football NSW. "We were very dominant in the first half and controlled possession and played our game. We really retained the ball and did that really well."
Montgomery added that Mt Druitt's first three goals were a product of their ability to hold onto possession, get into advanced positions out wide, and crossing the ball and finishing.
"It was 2-0 at halftime and we didn't really want halftime to come because we'd missed probably three or four other clear opportunities along the way. We then went 3-0 up early in the second half and Mounties changed to a 4-2-4 and went really direct, putting their big guys up front and getting behind us with long balls and crosses.
"They also had three penalties and only scored one of them. We got our composure back in the last 15 minutes and went on to win it."
When asked what impressed him the most about his side's performance, Montgomery replied: "I just really like how we're sticking to what we work on and that is controlled possession and getting the ball into advanced positions when we can. We've got quality guys up top who can score goals. If we just keep doing that and keep the ball away from the opposition, we're very hard to beat."
Mounties Wanderers 2 (Reid Taylor, Matthew Clowes o.g.) Mt Druitt Town Rangers 4 (Lachlan Roberts 2, Kuag Reec, Jamie Dibb)
Valentine Sports Park
Sunday 18 June 2017
Blacktown Spartans 2 Macarthur Rams 0, Blacktown Football Park
Blacktown Spartans broke through for their first win in seven games when they beat Macarthur Rams 2-0 at Blacktown Football Park on Sunday.
Alex Boyadijan opened the scoring in the second minute, while Koji Hori slotted home a penalty just shy of fulltime.
After leading the competition in the early part of the season, the Spartans' campaign took a turn for the worst in Round 10 when they copped a 5-0 battering from Marconi. They then went on a six game losing streak that included a cruel run with injuries and suspensions, not to mention a loss of six points for playing a suspended player.
The clash against the Rams offered Blacktown a golden opportunity to get their campaign back on track. And they grabbed the opportunity with both hands.
"I played a very young team today but Emmanuel Elali was back and he made a massive difference," Spartans coach Luis Contigiani told Football NSW. "The first half was fairly even and the Rams have got some good players, they knock the ball around well. And they could quite easily have scored a goal."
But according to Contigiani, the second half belonged to the Spartans.
"In the second half we were back to how we used to play: we gave them nothing in the final third and when we wanted to, we broke out with speed. We played with a bit of conviction.
"They've been training well and they're doing their best. But when you lose so much depth - losing Mohamed Rahimi gave us a real mountain to climb - it's tough. I saw a fighting spirit in the boys today that I haven't seen in a while.
"Our shape was a lot better in defence and we kept the ball a lot better than we have in previous weeks. As I said, having Emmanuel Elali back made a massive difference. But we're doing our best and that's all we can do."
Meanwhile, Rams coach Eddie Briscoe rued yet another missed opportunity.
"It was a game of two halves to be fair, we were better in the first half but we gave them a stupid goal and were chasing after that," Briscoe told Football NSW. "I think we edged it in the first half and we even hit the bar. In the second half we got a man sent off and they got a penalty in injury time. It was a pretty even game but we didn't create much.
"Football-wise in the first half we were very good, but maintaining it for the whole 90 minutes is hard. And at the end of the day you've got to take your chances. Goals change games and you can't give stupid goals away if you want to win.
"Every week's a battle for us and we've got to find a way to stop people scoring and start scoring a few ourselves. We do it on the training paddock but when we cross that white line, we seem to switch off. We've just got to find a way. We know where we're at, we know what we're trying to achieve and at the end of the day you can only do what you can with what you've got."
Blacktown Spartans 2 (Alex Boyadijan, Kojiro Hori) Macarthur Rams 0
Blacktown Football Park
Sunday 18 June 2017
-By Derek Royal, Football NSW Reporter