With just six rounds of the regular season remaining, semi-finals places in the PlayStation 4 National Premier Leagues' 2 NSW Men's competition remain open, with almost every team fighting for a place in the top six.
The Football NSW cameras will be at Sydney United Sports Centre for the mouth-watering matchup between Western Sydney Wanderers and St George, teams that currently lie in fifth and second place respectively.
In other matches, Mt Druitt Town Rangers host Hills United; Central Coast travel to Bankstown Berries,; Bankstown City entertain Blacktown Spartans; Marconi host Spirit FC; Northern Tigers visit North Shore Mariners and Mounties Wanderers host Macarthur Rams.
Match of the Round
Western Sydney Wanderers vs St George, 7pm, Saturday 22 July, Sydney United Sports Centre
Western Sydney Wanderers host St George in Saturday's PS4 NPL 2 NSW Men's Match of the Round at Edensor Park, a clash that is of critical importance to the home side.
The young Wanderers sit in fifth place on the league table but with only two wins from their last 11 matches, will need to be at their very best against a white-hot Saints outfit that has stamped its claim as a serious contender for premiership honours.
Western Sydney last week lost 2-1 to third-placed Northern Tigers and while four of their senior players were out after being selected in the first team squad that faced English Premier League giants Arsenal on Saturday night, their absence provided an opportunity for coach Trevor Morgan to blood even more new players.
Morgan has this season blooded several newcomers as young as 15 and 16, and the experience of playing against more senior and experienced players in the second tier state competition has been an invaluable part of their footballing education.
"A few boys got their first runs for us," Morgan told Football NSW. "And they should take some confidence out of the Tigers game. In the end it was a 2-1 game and that means they made something out of it. Two nil to the Tigers in the first half, one nil to us in the second half, they're the positives.
"But I think the Tigers' experience was what made the difference. They've got more senior boys, they've got more games under their belts than my boys."
With just six matches remaining of the regular season, Western Sydney need to start winning. Their charter may be to develop young players for the future but competing in the semi-finals is a minimum expectation for a professional club boasting such vast resources and talent. Challenging the likes of Marconi, St George and Northern Tigers for premiership honours is a tough assignment but not an impossible one and when the young Wanderers fire on all cylinders, they're capable of creating magic.
Meanwhile, Terry Palapanis' St George side continues to hum a cheery tune as the big games loom large on the horizon. Boasting just one loss in their last 10 matches, Saints have showed they're the real deal. They're well-coached. They're talented and in the likes of Juan Carlos Romero and Bruno Pivato they have match-winners who can turn a game with a piece of brilliance. Then also have a steely edge and a spirit that permeates the entire team, a team that will fight for one another for the full 90 minutes.
"We've showed good character and quality, especially when we've had so many players out through injury and suspension," Palapanis told Football NSW. "But the squad is even, it doesn't matter who plays, who doesn't play and who comes in. All the players, including those who start on the bench, are very good."
While always reluctant to single out anyone for special praise, Palapanis can't help but mention Pivato and Romero, whose performances this season have been sublime.
"Bruno's quality," Palapanis said of the curly headed maestro. "What a player, he's fantastic on the park and in the changing room. I was ecstatic when he came back to St George (from Bankstown City).
"And JC (Romero) is just on another level. He's a very good player."
St George's ascendancy up the ladder has been remarkable and one that not many outside the club predicted, but Palapanis said he was always confident his side had the talent to do something special.
"I truly believe that this team believes they can actually win every game. I can see it in the changing room and I can see it at training. You sense things. You walk into the changing room before the game and there's a buzz about the place. The changing room is fantastic and as a coach, you walk in and go 'mate, we aren't losing today'. That self belief is a combination of their ability and their character."
Mt Druitt Town Rangers vs Hills United, 3pm, Saturday 22 July, Popondetta Park
Mt Druitt Town Rangers host Hills United at Popondetta Park in a clash that is of vital importance to both sides. Rangers last week came back from two goals down to draw at Blacktown Spartans, while Hills suffered a 2-1 loss to North Shore Mariners.
With only a point separating the two sides on the table (Rangers are in sixth equal and Hills seventh), this should be a clash of epic proportions.
Mt Druitt coach Aidan Desmond recently said that a successful season for his side would be to play finals football. But the affable Rangers mentor knows he'll need to address a run of inconsistency if they're to achieve that aim.
"At a minimum, to play finals football would be considered successful but we would love to win the competition," Desmond told Football NSW. "Every team has to go out there with the ambition to win the competition. If we set ourselves the absolute minimum of reaching the finals, a place in the top three would be fantastic."
Mt Druitt will go into the Hills match looking to their senior players for guidance, players Desmond considers to be his side's backbone.
"The backbone of the team is very much around the leaders and by leaders it's not people that scream and yell and do that sort of thing," Desmond said. "People like Daniel McCann, who leads by his work ethic and professionalism; Carlos (Saliadarre) has brought so much to the team it cannot be underestimated. Other senior players like Matthew Clowes is a very good talker. They're the senior players - in Carlos's case not by age but by experience - they add a lot to the place and then the others look up to them and the likes of striker Kuag Reec, they get a lot of confidence when he's around the place too."
Hills meanwhile are currently going through a bit of a slump and will be hoping to reignite their season at Popondetta. With just one win from their last six matches - an impressive 4-1 defeat of Western Sydney Wanderers - Dan Sheppard's outfit seems to have lost their way since brilliant goalscorer Peter Cejka transferred to NPL 1 outfit Blacktown City some time ago.
But the club has enough quality and experience in its ranks to stem the tide. With time ticking away and the regular season just six weeks shy of its conclusion, Hills need to roll the sleeves up and make things happen when they take the field this weekend. Nothing short of a blue chip performance will be enough to win the spoils against a Mt Druitt side that is always tough to beat at home.
Bankstown Berries vs Central Coast Mariners, 7pm, Saturday 22 July, The Crest Athletic Centre
Central Coast Mariners face the long journey to The Crest Athletic Centre to tackle Bankstown Berries on Saturday night and both teams will be hoping to continue their good form.
Central Coast last week came from 2-1 down to thump Macarthur 5-2, while the Berries held high-fliers St George to a one-all draw.
The Crest is considered by many to be something of a graveyard for visiting teams. The wide open spaces and lack of atmosphere, not to mention a spirited Berries outfit that scraps for every inch on the field, have claimed their fair share of victims over the years, a fact of which Mariners coach Ben Cahn is well aware.
"We've got Bankstown Berries away," Cahn said last week. "Long drive, late kickoff; it's a tough place to go."
Despite his words of caution, Cahn's young Mariners will throw caution to the wind and seek to outplay their opponents with their very own brand of swashbuckling football. At their irresistible best there isn't a more brilliant football side in the competition than the Mariners. They play with such youthful zest and joie de vivre that teams can be blown off the park within minutes.
Cahn's side has been creating plenty of gioal-scoring opportunities for front men Duncan Stewart and Brenton Fox, who between them have scored 28 of the side's astounding tally of 57 goals, the highest in the league. But it's not just the forwards who are performing with disctinction, the entire team, from goalkeeper Adam Pearce forward, have done their bit as well.
The Mariners' second half performance against Macarthur delighted Cahn, who said that several of his players had turned out for the first team against the Olyroos just 24 hours beforehand.
"It was a really professional performance in a difficult week," Cahn told Football NSW. "We'd not had the squad together given a lot of them had been on the first team schedule so it was really nice to come together and perform like that. Hopefully we can develop the consistency we had a few weeks back going into the tail-end of the season."
The Berries meanwhile, had a man sent off in last week's one-all draw with St George but somehow managed to take the lead through a Daniel Fornito penalty. Saints struck back but the Berries again showed their tenacity and scrapped for every ball, especially after being reduced to 10 men.
Despite being limited by a small squad of players and a heavy workload, player coach Perry Moustakas has cultivated a tremendous team spirit at the Berries since the first round kicked off way back in March. The team's current standing of sixth equal on the ladder is just reward for their consistency, persistence and refusal to back down.
Will the Berries' street fighting instincts be enough to subdue the silky technicians from Gosford? We'll know the answer to that question late on Saturday night.
Bankstown City vs Blacktown Spartans, 3pm, Sunday 23 July, Jensen Park
Bankstown City host Blacktown Spartans at Jensen Park on Sunday and the home side will need to improve dramatically on last week's 5-0 whipping at the hands of Marconi if they're to have any hope of avoiding relegation.
Bankstown's performance against the Stallions was disappointing. They lacked fire and they lacked determination. They almost seemed resigned to their fate against a side that has been premiership favourites since the competition kicked off four months ago.
With just six rounds remaining of the competition, Bankstown needs to grab those last six weeks by the scruff of the neck and go out with all guns blazing, starting with their clash against Blacktown Spartans this weekend.
The likes of schemer Michael Cimino, and the experienced Huseyin Jasli, Hussein Akil and Aaron D'Mello need to lead by example. They need to somehow instill some fire into the belly of their teammates and play with a courage and tenacity that was lacking last weekend. They've got it in them, they've showed it before. And they've always been a team that the opposition has treated with the utmost respect. It's time for the Lions to respect themselves and to fight for their lives.
The Spartans won't be easy. In fact, they've only lost one of their last five matches and seem to have found a rich vein of form that has them on track for an unlikely appearance in the semis. This scenario is just one that will make them a dangerous side. Not only that but coach Luis Contigiani's band of young men has rediscovered the desire to play for one another and to make the most of whatever opportunities may come their way.
Emmanuel Elali has been solid at the back, leading by example; while striker Alex Boyadijan is a danger both with the ball and without.
The Spartans' season has been a challenging one. Injuries, suspensions, a small squad and a six-point deduction midseason have all conspired to make Contigiani's job that little bit harder. But one thing about the affable mentor is that he's an optimist. And he lives by the belief that where there's life, there's hope. That mantra has been working wonders in recent weeks; the Spartans will be hoping it continues against a desperate Bankstown this weekend.
Marconi Stallions vs Spirit FC, 3pm, Sunday 23 July, Marconi Stadium
League leaders Marconi Stallions face a Spirit FC side desperate to make amends for last week's late 1-0 defeat to Mounties Wanderers, a setback that could prove costly with finals places on the line.
As expected, Spirit coach David Perkovic was disappointed with the Mounties result - especially conceding in the 84th minute - and he hopes his boys can rise to the occasion against a Stallions outfit that not only keeps on winning but has kept four clean sheets in a row.
"We had two really good chances to go in front in the first 20 minutes," Perkovic said of the Mounties game. "We missed a tap-in with the ball coming across the face of goal and missed a golden opportunity to go in front. From there Mounties asserted themselves more and as the game wore on they became more and more direct in their approach, bypassing their midfield which became very effective for them.
"The game was decided from a set piece. They put a free kick into the box, we didn't deal with it and there was a bit of a scramble and the ball ended up in the back of the net. That was the difference between the two sides in the end. I think if we could've taken one of our earlier chances it could have been a much different game."
Spirit had the misfortune to lose the in-form Dylan Whitlock on the morning of the game through illness; while defensive midfielder Zoran Kolundzic left the field early in the second half after suffering an injury, blows that Perkovic said had a real impact on the game.
"But credit to Mounties for getting the result. They dominated possession and put a lot of hopeful ball forward which we dealt with on every occasion except one. And that's all they needed to win."
Spirit lie in equal seventh position on the table alongside Hills United and with time ticking on the season, they'll need to bring their A-game to Marconi if they hope to get at least a share of the spoils.
Meanwhile, competition favourites Marconi just keep winning. Stallions coach Peter Tsekenis has done a fantastic job since taking the reins at Bossley Park and his side look focused and determined, an ominous sign for their rivals as the competition winds down to its conclusion.
As expected, the Stallions mentor was pleased with his side's 5-0 victory at Bankstown City.
"Five nil result, another clean sheet, we'll take it any day of the week," Tsekenis told Football NSW. "We were expecting probably a little bit more resistance from them with club championships on the line, but we played our game with high intensity, we forced it and we came away with a very good result."
When asked what impressed him the most about his side's performance, Tsekenis replied: "Our intensity to start the game and get a couple of goals early. We really forced it upon them and were good enough to put them away.
"Having the clean sheet is very important to us; it's something that we pride ourselves in, making sure that we're not conceding many and scoring goals. Tonight we probably could have scored maybe a few more if we were a bit more composed in front of goal."
With the likes of Sean Rooney, Mirjan Pavlovic and Marko Jesic hitting their stride, Marconi possess the most lethal strike force in the competition and when they click they're virtually unstoppable.
North Shore Mariners vs Northern Tigers, 3pm, Sunday 23 July, Northbridge Oval
In the battle of Sydney's Northside, North Shore Mariners and Northern Tigers clash at Northbridge Oval on Sunday.
The Mariners last week beat Hills United 2-1, while the Tigers defeated Western Sydney Wanderers by the same scoreline.
North Shore had been going through something of a form slump so coach Joe Haywood was delighted, if not a mite relieved, to see his side reignite their campaign with a victory last week.
"We've had a bit of a midseason slump," Haywood told Football NSW. "We've been unfortunate in games where we should've scored goals but we haven't and been punished.
"We haven't panicked in the past few weeks, it's just been one of those things that sometimes happens in sports. If you don't take your chances you get punished.
"But they know they're better than what their results are showing and they were just glad to get two goals up (against Hills); two good goals."
When asked what he expected of the Tigers, Haywood replied: "I'm expecting a team that's going to be full of confidence. They've been doing very well this season with some good results. But they've also had some shaky results as well so they are beatable.
"We actually went one-nil up against them at their place then conceded a sloppy goal. Let's just see how the game goes. They do play a shape that's quite awkward to defend against. We'll set ourselves up and make a plan and see how we go."
Northern Tigers meanwhile, had also been struggling for form, but still managed to remain in third place on the table. Coach Mark McCormick was pleased that his side's fortunes had taken a change for the better after the win over Western Sydney.
"The win over Western Sydney was good for our guys because over the last few weeks the luck hadn't been going our way," McCormick told Football NSW. "I think we deserved the win and getting a tight 2-1 result is good for the guys' confidence."
In a clash between contrasting styles, this match will be a close one and is sure to go down to the wire.
Mounties Wanderers vs Macarthur Rams, 3pm, Sunday 23 July, Valentine Sports Park
Mounties Wanderers and Macarthur Rams clash at Valentine Sports Park on Sunday with the home side keen to extend their unbeaten run to four matches.
Mounties lie in fourth-equal place on the table alongside Western Sydney Wanderers and their last-gasp win over Spirit last week has given them confidence of ending the season on a high.
With just six rounds remaining, Lee Sterrey's team has found some form and the clash against the struggling Macarthur offers a golden opportunity to continue on their winning way.
"I'm really happy with the outcome," Sterrey said of last week's win over Spirit. "It wasn't one of our better games this year and to be honest we probably can't play much worse. It was a character win, put it that way. Again it's testament to what's in the room. The boys have been up all season and the character's been first class. Yes, some results haven't gone our way earlier this season but I've always had belief that something will turn for the team sooner or later. Now we've had three wins on the trot there's a lot of confdence in the room.
"The strength of the team was there yesterday, we worked awfully hard and we didn't want to give an inch. I'm just happy to get the three points in the bag and move on to Macarthur next week."
Meanwhile, despite racing to a 2-1 lead, Macarthur last week suffered a 5-2 thumping at the hands of Central Coast Mariners, a result that Rams' coach Eddie Briscoe conceded was a fair one.
"We went down 1-0 but then we came back," Briscoe told Football NSW. "Our first goal was fantastic, an eight-or-nine pass move, Marcelo finished it off really well. Then we got them over the top and made it 2-1 when Marcelo ran around the keeper and scored.
"But even at that stage the Mariners were still creating and we didn't do too much after that. We were dead in the legs and as you know, the Mariners are a fantastic team. We needed to battle, and keep chasing and fighting and maintaining our shape. But we just didn't do that and once they got their third goal we fell apart."
"Central Coast are a fantastic football team and not only that they play a high-tempo, high pressure game for 90 minutes plus. They don't stop, they're relentless and they're just hard to contain. They create and they build pressure. They got the result and they deserved it."
When asked what the positives were to come out of the game, Briscoe replied: "We actually played some decent football in the first 45 minutes. And to hold them at two goals wasn't too bad. For 60 minutes we were quite decent and then after that we fell apart. We've got to find a way to play for 90 minutes.
"We've got Mounties on Sunday and we are where we are (on the league table) and we've got a small squad. We've got to fight our way to stay in this league. That's our priority over the last six rounds.
"We've got to keep fighting away and we need to find a couple of wins somewhere. We need to try and keep the squad together and keep them focused. You can see their heads go down when things aren't going well but we're just going to keep fighting away. That's all we can do."
-By Derek Royal, Football NSW Reporter