Round 21 of the PlayStation 4 National Premier Leagues' 2 NSW Men's competition proved to be yet another interesting one, with teams continuing to jostle hard for places in the semi-finals.
Marconi Stallions continued on their winning way with a 4-1 victory over Spirit FC on Sunday, and with second-placed St George suffering a last-gasp 2-1 defeat at Western Sydney Wanderers the night before, the Stallions increased their lead at the top of the table to 12 points.
With five rounds of the regular season remaining, semi-finals places in the competition remain open, with every team except bottom-placed Bankstown City in the running for a place in the top six.
To illustrate how tight the competition is, just 15 points separate second-placed St George from 13th-placed Macarthur Rams, so anything is possible in the next five weeks. One or two wins or a couple of losses can change the fortunes of any club in one fell swoop, especially those vying for the last three or four places in the semis.
The Football NSW cameras captured Western Sydney's late 2-1 win over St George on Saturday night, an entertaining Match of the Round clash that looked like heading for a draw until the young Wanderers stole the spoils in the third minute of injury time. Pandemonium for the Red and Black, heartbreak for St George.
In other matches, Mt Druitt Town Rangers thumped Hills United 4-1; Bankstown Berries upset Central Coast Mariners 2-0; Blacktown Spartans slaughtered Bankstown City 6-0; Northern Tigers and North Shore Mariners shared the spoils one-all; while Macarthur Rams upset Mounties Wanderers 2-1.
Match of the Round
Western Sydney Wanderers 2 St George 1, Sydney United Sports Centre
Western Sydney Wanderers escaped with a last-gasp 2-1 victory over an unlucky St George in the PS4 NPL 2 NSW Men's Match of the Round at Edensor Park on Saturday night.
St George defender Ali Nasreddine deflected the ball into his own net to give the Wanderers a 1-0 lead after 30 minutes; before Daniel Mitwali equalised midway through the second half. Western Sydney's Lachlan Campbell snatched the winner three minutes into stoppage time, giving the Wanderers something to cheer about after what has been a difficult past two months.
In a free-flowing match played in great spirit, both teams turned on the style as they pursued their own individual brand of attacking football.
Wanderers striker Kyle Cimenti had the opening chance of the match inside the first minute, but finished up second best in a one-on-one with Saints goalkeeper Andrew Depta. Cimenti had another opportunity in the eighth minute after a nice pass from Matthew Lecce, but Depta again foiled the young Number 9.
The Wanderers played some wonderful football in the first half, passing wth pinpoint accuracy, moving swiftly in transition and creating several opportunities, with Cimenti, Lecce, Tariq Maia and Mathieu Cordier keeping Saints on the back foot.
But while the Wanderers were more precise, Saints had their own opportunities, and like the home side, couldn't convert. Jacob Sullivan in particular caused problems down the left flank. The winger's pace, balance and ability to beat a man causing alarm bells to ring in the Wanderers' defence whenever he touched the ball. Indeed, it was St George who first put the ball into the back of the net after 17 minutes, only to see referee Kurt Ams disallow the goal.
That call seemed to lift the Wanderers, who took the game by the scruff of the neck and launched a relentless barrage of attacks. They were finally rewarded after half an hour when a wicked cross from Emmanuel Gonzalez was deflected into the net by Saints' defender Ali Nasreddine. Unfortunate yes, but probably unavoidable given the velocity at which the ball was travelling when it connected with the hapless defender.
The Wanderers faithful celebrated their good fortune but Saints refused to give up and in the 35th minute Nico Paras showed great touch and a turn before blasting a shot goalwards, only to see Wanderers keeper Mackenzie Syron pull off a brilliant reflex save.
It would be the first of many fine saves by the young Wanderers gloveman.
A minute after Paras went close, Wanderers' left back Mathieu Cordier had a crack of his own but his effort was easily contained by the impressive Depta.
The Wanderers attacked wherever they saw the openings: out wide, through the middle and over the top, they kept coming like bees to a honey pot.
Just four minutes out from halftime Maia struck a free kick from on the fringes of the box, but Depta saved his shot comfortably, before St George's Tarik Ercan in the 45th minute skied a golden opportunity to equalise over the bar.
The two sides went to the break with Western Sydney leading 1-0 , a just reward for their dominance of the opening 45 minutes of play.
St George came out firing in the second half and five minutes after the restart Sullivan continued to taunt the Wanderers' defence with his pace and nifty footwork before passing to Bruno Pivato, who blasted his shot over the bar.
Saints put together some skilful passages of play and in the 57th minute Paras inexplicably missed a golden opportunity to equalise from point blank range. That miss led to a swift counter-attack by the Wanderers, who swept upfield for Cimenti to fire in a dangerous low cross that Depta intercepted brilliantly. Had the Saints keeper not snuffed out the cross, his side could easily have been 2-0 in arrears.
Two minutes later Saints cleared off their line and in the 66th minute a Jordan Crighton volley was saved well by Syron. The game had opened up and both sides were throwing caution to the wind and playing some mercurial football.
St George caused plenty of grief in the Wanderers' defence but just could't find the back of the net
After some good leadup work by Nasreddine, Pivato had an opportunity to equalise, but the curly-haired maestro blasted his shot from inside the box straight at Syron.
Two minutes later Pivato tried to bend the ball into the back of the net from just outside the box but Syron again saved comfortably. Pivato again had a chance, only to see his effort brilliantly denied by the Wanderers gloveman.
Just when Saints were beginning to wonder what they had to do to beat Syron, it finally happened in bizarre fashion in the 73rd minute.
The young Wanderers keeper came under a barrage of Saints' attacks and in a matter of seconds was forced into three miraculous saves from point blank range before Mitwali fired home the equaliser amongst a melee of players. The finish may have been ugly but it was enough to level the scores.
The Wanderers went seeking an equaliser and in the 79th minute Depta snuffed out a Wanderers cross from the left; before Lecce shot over the bar in the 82nd after some great interplay by the red and black.
Syron was again brought into the action and again saved the day, with Pivato unable to poke home the rebound.
Just a minute shy of fulltime, Nasreddine worked his way into the box seeking some sort of redemption for conceding the own goal that gave Wanderers their lead, but much to his disappointment, his shot from close range sailed over the bar.
As the saying goes, "It's not over until the fat lady sings" and whether that thought played on either side when the Wanderers received a long range free kick three minutes into injury time is debatable. Regardless, Emmanuel Gonzalez floated the ball into the box and incredibly Lachlan Campbell found himself unmarked and from close range rose high above the Saints defence to head home the winner.
Pandemonium broke out amongst the Wanderers players and their faithful band of supporters; while Saints could only look on in stunned disbelief. Joy for the Red and Black; despair for St George.
Not surprisingly, Wanderers assistant coach Arthur Diles was pleased with his side's performance.
"It was a very difficult game, an extremely difficult game," Diles told Football NSW. "They're a very good side, they're not second (on the table) by fluke. It was a game that we had to be ready for. Physically we had to be ready because they're a team that likes to get forward quickly and play quite direct so it was always going to be a difficult game physically. I think our boys were excellent tonight in dealing with that."
When asked what impressed him the most about his team's performance, Diles replied: "The energy and the performance they put in physically. Some of them have been maybe lacking a little bit in tough encounters but I think tonight they really fought hard; they didn't stop. They made it difficult for St George and they dealt with the pressure quite well.
Meanwhile, Saints coach Terry Palapanis was disappointed to have the game wrenched away from his side so late in the game.
"Disappointing yeah, copping a goal from a set piece in the 93rd minute," Palapanis told Football NSW. "We weren't on our game but we did have some chances. The stats said we had some 20 odd shots at goal and they had about 12 or 13, but yeah, diappointing. They're a good side, they've got some good players and their transition's dynamic. We needed to be on our game and we weren't. We cop it."
When asked what the difference was between the two sides, Palapanis replied: "They put their chances away. We never. In the first half we were slow and it took us a while to adjust to their play. They're quite mobile. But just before we copped that goal we should have scored one or two at least. Our finishing was poor and obviously we missed our striker (Juan Carlos Romero), who's out for the year. We'll do a debrief with the coaches, look at the video and go from there."
Western Sydney Wanderers 2 (Lachlan Campbell 90+3) St George 1 (Ali Nasreddine O.G. 30', Daniel Mitwali 73')
Sydney United Sports Centre
Saturday 22 July 2017
Referee: Kurt Ams
Assistant Referees: Avrol Beecham, Matt Howarth
Western Sydney Wanderers: 16. Joshua Bartolotto, 2. Lachlan Campbell, 9. Kyle Cimenti, 5. Mathieu Cordier, 10. Emmanuel Gonzalez, 25. Jordan Hall, 22. Matthew Lecce, 50. Tariq Maia, 18. Oliver Puflett (7. Brandon Stojcevski), 24. Tate Russell, 40. Mackenzie Syron (G)
Unused Subs: 20. Daniel Axford, 3. Abdel Kuku, 6. Brandon Robertson, 19. Malcolm Ward
St George: 1. Andrew Depta (GK), 14. Jacob Bandur, 12. Jordan Crighton, 7. Robbie Deasy, 8. Tarik Ercan, 16. Daniel Loe, 34. Daniel Mitwali, 3. Ali Nasreddine, 10. Nico Paras, 6. Bruno Pivato, 15. Jacob Sullivan (48. Alfred Hess)
Unused Subs: 4. Jonathan Kontalis, 21. Matthew Williamson, 5. Jayden McLeod, 2. Thomas Menton
Yellow Cards: 14. Jacob Bandur
Coach: Terry Palapanis
Mt Druitt Town Rangers 4 Hills United 1, Popondetta Park
Mt Druitt Town Rangers thumped a hapless Hills United 4-1 at Popondetta Park on Saturday afternoon to maintain their position in the top six on the competition table.
Luke Grima, Alex Vlismas, Daniel Rezo and Jamie Dib scored for Rangers, while Basden pulled back a consolation goal for United.
In a match of critical importance to both sides, Rangers' Grima missed a penalty in the 20th minute but made amends when he opened the scoring just shy of halftime. Rangers caught Hills out on the counter-attack and got in behind the defence for Grima to slot home.
Hills then went walkabout and completely lost focus after conceding the first goal and allowed Mt Druitt in for their second just two minutes later, when Alex Vlismas volleyed home to give his side a 2-0 lead at the break.
Rangers continued to dominate Hills and their third goal came from a corner, with Rezo slotting home just on the hour for a 3-0 lead before Basden grabbed a consolation goal for Hills in the 73rd. Substitute Jamie Dib sealed the win for Mt Druitt when he lobbed the keeper for a fine finish two minutes later.
As expected, Mt Druitt coach Aidan Desmond was delighted with his side's performance.
"We were quite good across the park and we maintained good quality possession," Desmond told Football NSW. "We managed to keep the ball pretty well and created chances and put four of them away."
Desmond added that while there weren't any standouts in what was essentially a good team performance, the win was a very pleasing one, with youngster Trent Sierra making his first grade debut.
"Trent Sierra made his first grade debut for us and he had a really solid game," Desmond said. "He's still eligible for Under 20s and he came in and did well at left back. Lord Darkoh was suspended and Trent fitted in very well."
With ace striker Kuag Reec out for the rest of the season with an MCL injury; and Daniel McCann absent for the Hills game, Desmond was pleased that his side rolled up the sleeves and got the job done without any fuss.
"We're low on numbers but that's the way it is this time of the year," Desmond said. "We'll just keep going the way we're going and see what happens."
Hills meanwhile are currently going through a bit of a slump and were hoping to reignite their season at Popondetta. But it wasn't to be.
With just one win from their last six matches, Dan Sheppard's outfit seems to have lost their way.
But the club has enough quality and experience in its ranks to stem the tide. With time ticking away and the regular season just five weeks shy of its conclusion, Hills sit in ninth equal place on the ladder. But despite being in the lower half of the table and with so many teams in contention for the playoffs, they still have plenty to play for. A place in the top six certainly isn't beyond them.
Bankstown Berries 2 Central Coast Mariners 0, The Crest Athletic Centre
Bankstown Berries caused a major upset when they beat Central Coast Mariners 2-0 at The Crest on Saturday night. The two-goal victory was epecially significant as it was the first time this season that the high-flying Mariners have been held goalless.
While the defence played their hearts out, Tomohiro and Forbes scored the decisive goals in what could be a major turning point in the Berries' season.
The Berries sit in sixth equal on the league table alongside Mt Druitt Town Rangers but with five rounds remaining of the regular season, player coach Perry Moustakas isn't taking anything for granted.
"I've been talking about inconsistency for a long time now and after the loss to Blacktown Spartans (in Round 17) the team sat down and had a bit of a chat between ourselves and set some targets," Moustakas told Football NSW.
"Since then the boys have been superb. Central Coast are a possession-based team and they had their fair share of the ball last night but we definitely made it hard for them to create opportunities and I feel like we fully deserved the three points."
When asked what impressed him the most about his side's performance, Moustakas replied: "The maturity of the boys towards the back-end of the season has been impressive. We played St George last week and played with 10-men for 45 minutes and still held on for a draw. The boys were gutted by the result and that showed a lot about their attitude and the standard that they've set for themselves and the team.
"But we need to finish the season strongly and we don't want this to be a little patch. We want to continue our good form all the way through (to the semis)."
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. Central Coast is just the latest outfit to return home with their tails between their legs.
But the young Mariners will bounce back quickly. Coach Ben Cahn will have his young charges back to their best - even with the distraction of players coming and going between the NPL 2 setup and first grade - and by next week they'll be raring to go again and to press their claims for a place in the finals.
Bankstown City 0 Blacktown Spartans 6, Jensen Park
Blacktown Spartans demolished Bankstown City Lions 6-0 at Jensen Park on Sunday, heaping more misery on a side that is staring at the prospect of relegation to NPL 3 at the end of the season.
Michael Konestabo scored four goals, while Koji Hori and Alessandro Pecora grabbed one each.
In a shocking incident, Spartans' striker Garang Awac was rushed to hospital after suffering a broken leg following an horrendous challenge four minutes into first half stoppage time, an incident that saw the Lions' reduced to 10 men. With the Spartans leading 1-0, through Michael Konestabo the match was stopped for around 40 minutes as an ambulance was called to transport the young striker to hospital.
Spartans coach Luis Contigiani spoke to his boys during the interlude and reinforced the need to focus and not be distracted by their teammate's injury.
"The boys had been playing brilliant football by that stage and I didn't want them to drop their heads when Garang was taken to hospital," Contigiani told Football NSW. "I reinforced the need to focus and to concentrate and to play to their potential. To show some maturity and to come of age as men."
The players did just that with Koji Hori scoring their second goal to lead 2-0 at halftime.
Despite being two goals down, Bankstown received a penalty just five minutes after the restart. Unfortunately for the struggling Lions, they were unable to convert from the spot and two minutes later Konestabo struck home his second goal to give the Spartans a 3-0 lead.
The visitor's then went on a rampage and scored again in the 74th, 82nd and 85th minutes, romping to their biggest win of the season.
"The boys were unbelievable," Contigiani said. "The combinations and some of the goals we scored, the way we moved the ball with speed, was unbelievable.
"We're starting to believe in ourselves again. Yesterday striker Alex Boyadijan was out injured, Tiano Pecora was suspended, Mitchell was out with a knee injury and now Garang's out for the rest of the season; but what I'm seeing is, even with a skeleton side, the boys are believing.
"At the end of the day, the way we did things: the discipline, the belief amongst the boys gave me a lot of joy and eased the pain from what happened to Garang. If we didn't cop that six point suspension earlier in the season we could be in the top four, but that's life and we'll just keep on taking things one week at a time. We might even scrape into the semi-finals."
The Spartans have only lost one of their last six matches and have found a rich vein of form that has them on track for an unlikely appearance in the semis. Yet their 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 for the rest of the season.
Meanwhile, Bankstown didn't seem to learn anything from last week's 5-0 defeat to league leader's Marconi, a performance that disappointed their small band of fans, their coach and probably most of all, themselves. They lacked fire and they lacked determination. They almost seemed resigned to their fate.
Unfortunately, with just five rounds remaining of the regular season, the once mighty Lions look certain to be playing third tier football next season.
Marconi Stallions 4 Spirit FC 1, Marconi Stadium
League leaders Marconi Stallions continued on their merry way with a 4-1 victory over Spirit FC atMarconi Stadium on Sunday.
The Stallions led 4-0 through doubles to Mirjan Pavlovic and Marko Jesic before Spirit's Jake Harris struck home a consolation goal from the penalty spot in the 68th minute.
Spirit coach David Perkovic was disappointed with the result but conceded that the Stallions were simply too good on the day.
"Marconi obviously have a lot of quality in their team and credit to (Stallions coach) Peter Tsekenis, who has got them playing in a structured way that doesn't allow the opposition to get into the game," Perkovic told Football NSW.
"The two goals we conceded in the first half were from mistakes. They've got the quality to pounce on mistakes and to hurt you. The second goal we gave away cheap possession on the halfway line and through quick transition they put the ball over the top and scored."
Perkovic added that his side tried to lift their performance in the second half but Marconi simply went up a gear and scored two more before Harris grabbed a consolation goal from the spot to give the scoreline some respectability.
"In the second half we competed well and definitely played to the final whistle," Perkovic said. "In terms of the football, the second half was a little more balanced and whether that was because they just took the foot off the pedal or we lifted a little bit, I'm not sure. We competed but they had the quality to capitalise on their opportunities. Credit to Marconi, they were far too good for us today."
Spirit lie in 12th position on the league table but still have an opportunity to make the six if they can string together some wins in the final five rounds of the regular season. Marconi meanwhile, have opened up their lead at the top of the table to 12 points and seem certain to win the premiership in a canter.
North Shore Mariners 1 Northern Tigers 1, Northbridge Oval
In the battle of Sydney's Northside, North Shore Mariners and Northern Tigers shared the spoils one-all at Northbridge Oval on Sunday.
Mariners took the lead in the 86th minute only to concede the equaliser three minutes later, a lapse in concentration that would have disappointed coach Joe Haywood.
The Mariners entered the game fresh from a 2-1 win at Hills United, while the Tigers had defeated Western Sydney Wanderers by the same scoreline.
North Shore have been going through something of a form slump of late, so coach Haywood should be delighted with his side's unbeaten recordin their lasttwo games.
"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 the boys know they're better than than what their results are showing."
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."
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 Round 20 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 and two sides that sit in outright third (Tigers) and eighth (Mariners) on the league table respectively, this match was always going to go down to the wire. It's no surprise at all that the spoils were shared.
Mounties Wanderers 1 Macarthur Rams 2, Valentine Sports Park
Argentinian import Marcelo Turdera scored the winner as Macarthur Rams earned a fighting 2-1 victory over Mounties Wanderers at Valentine Sports Park on Sunday.
Turdera's 90th minute winner was his sixth goal from as many games, proving that his acquisition has been a shrewd one for the struggling Rams.
Macarthur opened the scoring through Damion Travis in the 68th minute, but Mounties equalised in the 86th before Turdera struck home the winner right on the stroke of fulltime.
Rams' coach Eddie Briscoe was delighted with the win and while Turdera was the match-winner, the Englishman refused to single out anyone for special praise.
"To be fair, Mounties controlled the game and they had a lot of chances," Briscoe told Football NSW. "But the difference was, we took ours and they didn't. It was a huge team effort and everyone from goalkeeper Nikodin Matic to our defenders and midfielders and strikers, all made a huge contribution. We have a small squad of players and we struggle for depth, but when we fight for each other like we did today, we can do some damage."
Despite the victory, Macarthur remain in 13th place on the ladder, while Mounties drop from fourth equal to outright seventh, a disappointing state of affairs for Lee Sterrey's talented side but definitely one that can be rectified with five rounds remaining of the regular season.
Going into the match, Mounties had found some decent form - winning three-on-the-trot - and the clash against Macarthur offered them a golden opportunity to continue on their winning way.
But it wasn't to be as the Rams fought for their lives and somehow conjured an unlikely victory.
"We've got to fight our way to stay in this league," Briscoe said. "That's our priority. We've got to keep fighting away and we need to find a couple more 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