Round 17 of the PlayStation 4 National Premier Leagues' 2 NSW Men's competition kicks off this weekend and as usual there are plenty of interesting matchups to keep the punters happy.
On Saturday, the Football NSW cameras will be covering Mt Druitt Town Rangers' clash with Bankstown City Lions at Popondetta Park; while in other games, Central Coast Mariners host Northern Tigers at Pluim Park; Macarthur Rams entertain Hills Brumbies at Lynwood; Mounties visit St George at Seymour Shaw; and Bankstown Berries host Blacktown Spartans at The Crest.
Meanwhile, on Sunday, Western Sydney Wanderers and Marconi will do battle at Bossley Park, and North Shore Mariners host Spirit FC at Northbridge.
Again, plenty of interesting matchups and with the table so congested and positions on the line each and every week, expect a few surprises along the way.
Match of the Round
Mt Druitt Town Rangers v Bankstown City Lions, 7pm, Saturday 24 June, Popondetta Park
Mt Druitt Town Rangers will host Bankstown City Lions in this Saturday's Match of the Round at Popondetta Park and the home side will be hoping to continue their good form and maintain their place in the top five on the Premiership table.
Rangers have been in super form in recent weeks, winning four from five matches, including last weekend's remarkable 4-2 victory over Mounties Wanderers.
Mt Druitt's rich vein of form is largely due to their consistency of selection, a luxury the side didn't have earlier in the season when injuries and suspensions played havoc on a weekly basis. The return of sharpshooter Kuag Reec has instilled confidence in the team, and so too has the leadership displayed by other senior players such as Matthew Clowes, Daniel McCann and newcomer Carlos Saliadarre.
The addition of Kris Vlismas from Sydney United 58 and Luke Grima from Parramatta FC has also strengthened the club and while they're one of the more unassuming outfits in the league, they just go about their business without any fuss and continue to surprise.
Assistant coach Stewart Montgomery said his side is in a good place at the moment, with the players comfortable with the club's playing style and desire to put in the hard yards on the training paddock.
"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."
When asked what he expected of Bankstown this weekend, Montgomery replied: "We're expecting to play a side that has to win. We're conscious of that but that really doesn't change what we'll plan to do. We won't do anything fundamentally different. We've got a few things that we think we can break them down with but in real terms we've got to meet their energy levels and meet their commitment and then hopefully we get the opportunities to score the goals. That's our plan."
Bankstown City meanwhile, remain dead last on the table and their season becomes more desperate with every defeat.
Coach Mile Todoroski rued the fact that after upsetting title contenders Western Sydney Wanderers a fortnight ago, his side was unable to win two games in a row after last week succumbing to North Shore Mariners 1-0 at home.
The Lions have had their moments in recent weeks, with the upset of Western Sydney one for the highlights reel. And despite having a very talented group of players, the critical ability to create opportunities and to score goals is lacking.
Huseyin Jasli remains the team's premier player and is always good for the spectacular, while the robust Hussein Akil, goalkeeper Dion Shaw and the trickery of Aaron D’ Mello are also mainstays of the team. The acquisition of the skilful Michael Cimino from Marconi could also prove to be a good one once he regains full fitness, but the season doesn't get any easier for a side used to challenging for Premiership honours.
Mile Todoroski was confident a few weeks ago that his team was moving in the right direction and finally combining as a collective, not as a group of individuals thrown together for the first time. They'll need to build on that if they're to survive this season, starting with this Saturday's clash at Popondetta. But as always, the Lions' mentor wasn't getting carried away.
"Our situation is very tough but we have to accept that," he said. "We have to deal with the situation, that's our reality."
Central Coast Mariners v Northern Tigers, 5pm, Saturday 24 June, North Turramurra Oval
Central Coast Mariners will be aiming to extend their unbeaten run to seven matches when they take on Northern Tigers in a mammoth clash at North Turramurra Oval this Saturday.
The Mariners were preying on Hills Brumbies last week, eager to make them their sixth victim in as many games; and when goal-scoring ace Brenton Fox opened the scoring in the first minute and added a second just shy of the half hour mark, it looked like win number six was in the bag.
But it wasn't to be as Hills fought back to steal a 2-all draw, a result that left the young Coasters feeling devastated.
According to Mariners coach Ben Cahn, his side created enough opportunities to win handsomely, hitting the bar once and squandering a number of half chances, but they couldn't put the ball into the back of the net, allowing the Brumbies to pounce and earn an invaluable point.
"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," Cahn told Football NSW.
"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."
Despite sharing the spoils, Central Coast has been the form side of the competition for almost two months - a 4-1 victory over league leaders Marconi the major highlight among many - and they have the ability to run riot if they're not pressured for the full 90 minutes.
It doesn't seem all that long ago that the Mariners struggled in the front and back thirds, squandering goal-scoring opportunities and leaking soft goals. But since the likes of Brenton Fox and Duncan Stewart have found their mojo - they've scored a remarkable 25 goals between them and are among the top four scorers in the league - and the backline has tightened things up in defence, the young guns have been humming a winning tune.
Northern Tigers have also been in superb form. Unbeaten in five matches, Mark McCormick's side deserve their lofty second position on the table, but they'll need to be at their best to counter the young Mariners.
In a willing battle between two teams sharing second place on the ladder, the Tigers last week drew with St George, a result that McCormick acknowledged as fair.
"It was a decent game, both teams tried to play and I think a draw was a fair result," the Scotsman said. "It was a really tough game, they're a decent side.
"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."
The Tigers have been one of a few surprise packages this season, their lofty position a just reward for their lively playing style, grit and determination.
They're also a very tight-knit group spearheaded by senior players such as club captain Michael Rolston, Jordan Ferrier and Jamie Craig. Add a few youngsters, like goal-scoring ace Ryan Peterson, and teenager Jordan Smylie and the team from North Turramurra have the goods to do some damage.
"We've got some guys who've been around the league but we've also got younger boys coming through and are finally developing," McCormick said. "The senior guys are teaching them what it means to win in this league. Every single victory that we've had has been a battle. And anyone that's got any points in this league knows that. You can't back off at all."
Neither side will back off this Saturday. After all, mercurial football is a part of their DNA.
Macarthur Rams v Hills Brumbies, 7pm, Saturday 24 June, Lynwood Park
Macarthur Rams will need to be at their very best when they take on Hills Brumbies at Lynwood Park this Saturday night.
While the Rams have struggled over the past month or so, the Brumbies last week turned on what coach Dan Sheppard described as their "best performance of the season" against high-flying Central Coast Mariners.
"I honestly think that was our best performance of the season," Sheppard 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.
"We had no standouts because everyone had good games and it was an excellent team performance."
The Brumbies trailed 2-0 in the first half before storming back for a draw, with Matias Toro Suazo and Daine Merrin scoring the critical goals.
After winning PS4 NPL 3 last season, Hills have been a welcome addition to the second tier competition, their eye-catching brand of football and desire to score goals a great endorsement of the coaching staff and players.
Last week's stellar performance will see the Brumbies confident of putting the boot into a Rams side that has struggled big time during the past month or so. Indeed, coach Eddie Briscoe's side hasn't won a match for five weeks, a situation the Englishman hopes to address this weekend.
"It was a game of two halves to be fair," Briscoe said of last week's 2-0 defeat to Blacktown Spartans. "We were better in the first half but we gave them a stupid goal and were chasing after that. 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.
"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."
Bankstown Berries v Blacktown Spartans, 7pm, Saturday 24 June, The Crest Athletic Centre
Bankstown Berries and Blacktown Spartans will be desperate to take home the spoils when they clash at The Crest on Saturday night.
With both sides languishing in the lower half of the table, three points would be a godsend in a competition where every millimeter gained counts for something.
The Berries played well in a 2-1 defeat to league leaders Marconi Stallions last weekend and could quite easily have snatched a draw.
Assistant coach Charles Samushonga was proud of their efforts.
"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."
"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."
Meanwhile, Blacktown Spartans last Sunday broke through for their first win in seven weeks, when they toppled Macarthur 2-0 at 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 six consecutives losses, 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 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. I saw a fighting spirit in the boys today that I haven't seen in a while. We're doing our best and that's all we can do."
St George v Mounties Wanderers, 7pm, Saturday 24 June, Seymour Shaw Park
St George host Mounties Wanderers at Seymour Shaw on Saturday night and the home side will be looking to continue the brilliant form that has them sitting pretty in second place on the table.
Saints played an entertaining 2-all draw with Northern Tigers at North Turramurra last weekend and coach Terry Palapanis was impressed with his side's performance.
"The Tigers are a good side, they're a mobile side, they play a different formation to everybody else," Palapanis told Football NSW. "It took our players a bit of time to adjust and I made a few tweaks at halftime. All in all, I'm pretty happy with the draw. It was a fair result.
"There weren't any standouts, they all did their jobs. We had a couple of players below par but other than that, the other nine were excellent."
The acquisition of Bruno Pivato from Bansktown City has also been a fillip for the side, his experience and talent in midfield, not to mention the two goals he's scored in two games, makes him invaluable as the season rolls on.
"Bruno is a very good player, a very good acquisition," Palapanis said. "He's enjoying his football and he's one of the best players in the league. No doubt about that."
When asked what he expected of Mounties, Palapanis said he was surprised by their struggles this season.
"They appear to be performing below their expectations," Palapanis said. "Given their big budget and the players they've brought in, for some reason the results haven't gone their way and they seem to be playing below par. But that can change very quickly and we'll need to be very careful that that beast doesn't awaken against us. I'm hoping Nefta (Neftali Gonzalez) is still out because he's one of the best players in the league and definitely their playmaker."
Meanwhile, Mounties last week suffered a 4-2 loss to Mt Druitt Town Rangers, a setback that left coach Lee Sterrey bewildered.
"We were awarded three penalties in the second half and we only converted one," Sterrey told Football NSW. "Mt Druitt led 2-0 at the break and we had enough opportunities to come back and win the game, not just from the pens, but from chances created. We missed the first penalty and then they scored their third goal to lead 3-0.
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.
"We're just not good enough," Mounties coach Lee Sterrey said. "You can't give sides a two goal start before you want to switch on and play. I expect better. Simple as that.
"I've been happy with our football content and our movement and interchange play, but we just haven't been sharp at the sharp end.
"Our front third's killing us at the moment and we've talked about that all year. We need to finish and we've got enough football quality to do that."
Western Sydney Wanderers v Marconi Stallions, 3pm, Sunday 25 June, Marconi Stadium
Western Sydney Wanderers host Marconi Stallions at Marconi Stadium this Sunday in a clash between two sides that were earlier this season considered certainties to contest the Grand Final.
But so much has changed since then. Marconi has opened up a handy seven-point lead at the top of the table, while the young Wanderers have taken home the spoils just once in their last seven matches.
The Wanderers still play a scintillating brand of football and they almost always dominate possession and chances created. But they're struggling where it counts the most - on the scoreboard.
Granted, like fellow A-League academy side Central Coast Mariners, Western Sydney's motivation isn't purely results-based; it's based on development and performance. Development of young players with ambitions of playing professional football and performance within a framework imposed by the club's head coach Tony Popovic.
There's no doubt that they're succeeding in these areas, with the likes of Keanu Baccus, Abraham Majok and Nicholas Suman recently signing first grade contracts, while Mario Shabow, Liam Youlley and Jackson Bandiera have moved on, seeking their fame and fortune elsewhere.
Coach Trevor Morgan is renowned for turning young talent into gold and he's not afraid to give 15 and 16-year-olds an opportunity to experience the harsh realities of a senior men’s' league that can be both physical and uncompromising. On many occasions this season Morgan's charges have left the field battered and bruised, courtesy of opponents willing to do anything to stop the youngsters from playing to their full potential. And while this approach has worked on occasion, fourth-placed Western Sydney remain a threat to the new order. They're just too talented and too professional not to.
Meanwhile, new Marconi coach Peter Tsekenis seems to have found the answer to making the Stallions a more determined, selfless bunch; with consistency and renewed confidence responsible for the Stallions' recent run of good form.
Despite losing to Central Coast a few weeks ago, Marconi have since been humming a winning tune, watching from their lofty perch as those below them battle one another for a place in the top four.
The likes of Michael Beauchamp, Sean Rooney, Mirjan Pavlovic and Marko Jesic look satisfied and content. They look energetic, focused and happy, which wasn't always the case during the first round. These guys have the ability to blow away anyone without a second glance and when they're hot, they're irresistible.
This will be an intriguing clash between two talented sides whose goals and aspirations are poles apart. Both obviously have a desire to win, that's fundamental to competitive sport, but regardless of the result, the Wanderers will continue to develop while Marconi will continue on their single-minded pursuit of Premiership honours and promotion. May the best team win.
North Shore Mariners v Spirit FC, 3pm, Sunday 25 June, Northbridge Oval
North Shore Mariners and Spirit FC will be looking at continuing on their winning ways when they clash at Northbridge Oval on Sunday.
The Mariners grabbed an invaluable three points with a narrow 1-0 victory over Bankstown City Lions at Jensen Park last 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.
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. 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."
Meanwhile, Spirit will enter the game confident they can foot it with the Mariners after an excellent performance against Western Sydney Wanderers last weekend.
Spirit played with confidence and conviction in the one-all draw, with goalkeeper Murray Nelson, playmaker Andre Schroeder and winger Dylan Whitlock catching the eye;
"I felt that we made them (Western Sydney) a little bit more uncomfortable than they made us feel," Spirit coach David Perkovic told Football NSW. "I think that we created more quality chances than what they did."
Indeed, since undergoing their midseason reviewa few weeks ago, Spirit has started the second round well, thrashing Macarthur Rams 4-0 and holding Premiership contenders Western Sydney to a draw.
"We've gone a long way towards addressing our deficiencies in our last couple of games and hopefully we continue to progress throughout the rest of the season," Perkovic said.
When asked what his side got out of the game against the Wanderers, the Spirit mentor 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."
-By Derek Royal, Football NSW Reporter