Bankstown Berries showed they're the real deal with a clinical 3-1 victory over Macarthur Rams in the PlayStation 4 National Premier Leagues' 2 NSW Men's competition Match of the Round at Lynwood Park on Saturday night.
The Berries' victory was very professional, and came just three night's after the unfashionable side had pulled off a huge FFA Cup win over MetroStars of South Australia. With heavy legs and mental fatigue expected to impede their visit to the outer fringes of southwestern Sydney, the Berries rose to the occasion and deservedly claimed the spoils.
In other games, Mt Druitt Town Rangers showed their class with a convincing 3-1 victory over second-placed Northern Tigers at North Turramurra. Aidan Desmond's side led 3-0 before the Tigers scored a late consolation goal in what was a clear indication that Rangers have the potential to do some damage as the regular season winds down to its conclusion.
Marconi took another step closer to clinching the premiership with a 3-0 victory over Mounties Wanderers on Sunday. Peter Tsekenis's side again proving to be too good and too clinical for the opposition. Despite playing with 10 men for 76 minutes, Spirit FC kept their slim playoff hopes alive with a courageous 2-0 win at Blacktown Spartans; North Shore Mariners bounced second-placed St George 2-0 and Hills thumped Bankstown City Lions 7-3.
With just 12 points separating second-placed St George from second-last Macarthur Rams, positions in the top six remain up for grabs as the season draws to a gripping conclusion. Four rounds to go. Four more opportunities for every club except league leaders Marconi and bottom-placed Bankstown, to fight for a place at the top table.
Match of the Round
Macarthur Rams 1 Bankstown Berries 3, Lynwood Park
Bankstown Berries showed they're the real deal with a clinical 3-1 victory over Macarthur Rams at Lynwood Park on Saturday night.
The home side opened the scoring through Damien Travis, while Perry Moustakas, Gavin Forbes and Andreas Vais struck back for the Berries.
The Berries' victory was very professional, and came just three night's after the unfashionable side had pulled off a huge FFA Cup win over South Australian outfit MetroStars. With heavy legs and mental fatigue expected to impede their visit to Macarthur, the Berries rose to the occasion and deservedly claimed the spoils.
Bankstown now have a date in the final 16 of the prestigious national cup competition; and with a seven-game unbeaten streak, are firming as contenders for the NPL 2 semi-finals.
Riding the crest of a wave after what is arguably the biggest win in the club's history, the young Berries outfit would have been excused for arriving at Macarthur a little underdone and out of sorts. But a quiet word from player coach Perry Moustakas in the aftermath of the Cup win ensured his side kept its feet firmly on the ground.
"I told them that we'd celebrate the win (against MetroStars) but we hadn't achieved anything yet, so it was time to focus on Macarthur and getting the points," Moustakas told Football NSW.
The Berries currently share fourth place with Mt Druitt, although Western Sydney and Central Coast each has a game in hand after their Round 22 clash was postponed.
The Berries have their fair share of critics who claim they don't play football the way it should be played. They're regularly criticised for playing ugly and direct. Yet, they've obviously found a formula that works and they've almost honed it to perfection. Add the intangibles of spirit and desire and you have a decent team. Add their ability to create opportunities and most of all, to convert those opportunities into goals and you not only have a decent team, but one that knows no fear. Then there's the whispers from other clubs that they don't enjoy playing the Berries because of their grit and tenacity and their ability to makes their refusal to back down.
That's what confronted Macarthur on Saturday night.
Berries' Steven Drewery had the first half chance of the game on two minutes, only to see Rams' goalkeeper Nikodin Matic bravely deny his effort from close range.
Three minutes later James Combes had a crack when from a goalmouth scramble the ball fell at his feet and from just outside the box the fullback unleashed a shot goalwards. But Nikodin was again up to the task.
Macarthur's Argentinian import Marcelo Turdera missed a golden opportunity to open the scoring from close range when in the 11th minute the striker hesitated when he seemed to expect the linesman to flag him for offside. The call didn't come and that split second of hesitation cost Turdera from turning the ball into the back of the net. The Argentine didn't really have another chance for the rest of the match.
In the 23rd minute Rams' stopper Matthew Trotter floated in a free kick for Damien Travis, who rose above the defence, only to see his header clear the bar.
The diminutive Trotter was impressive and patrolled the back third with a calmness and composure that kept the Berries' frontline at bay. Indeed, Trotter's duel with veteran striker Gavin Forbes proved to be an absorbing battle within the battle.
At the other end of the park, Berries' defender Domenico Tripodi was also thriving in his defensive duties, tackling hard and distributing the ball with confidence.
Neither side really had any clearcut chances for most of the first half and both goalkeepers were largely unemployed. But that all changed when in the 38th minute the Rams took an unexpected lead through Travis, who galloped onto a long ball and found the target with clinical precision. Nice move. Class finish.
But the home side's celebrations lasted no more than a minute as Berries' inspirational player coach Perry Moustakas equalised with a gorgeous lob over the despairing Matic's head. Forbes flicked a nice pass to Moustakas, whose finish was top class and totally unexpected of a man who started the season at right back, before moving into the midfield after serving a lengthy suspension a few weeks ago. The combination between Moustakas and Forbes would cause plenty more bother to the Macarthur defence as the game wore on.
The teams went to the sheds level at one-all, a scoreline that reflected fairly on the game.
A minute after the restart Rams' Lochlan Reus unleashed an ambitious shot from long range, his effort sailing wide. A minute later Forbes cracked a solid angled shot at the target only to see Matic pull off a fine save.
Three minutes later Forbes had a golden opportunity to put the Berries in front. Finding himself unmarked, the experienced Number 9 fluffed his lines as his header from close range sailed wide. Nine times out of 10, Forbes would have rattled the back of the net but not this time. He would however, make amends before the referee blew the whistle for fulltime.
In the 50th minute the Forbes-Moustakas combo almost bore fruit again as Moustakas volleyed a Forbes tap back at the target, only for Matic to deny the skipper from grabbing his second.
Six minutes later Moustakas passed to Forbes who tried to bend a shot into the far corner, only to see his effort clear the bar. The Berries were starting to find their rhythm but while they found some dominance, they couldn't quite make their chances count.
Then the Rams slowly played their way back into the game.
In the 57th minute Reus tried another shot from long range but again the Rams' midfielder's effort sailed wide. A minute later Travis floated a cross into the penalty box and from a difficult bounce Nathan Paull drilled a rasping shot goalwards, only to see his effort skim the crossbar.
On the hour Berries' Steven Drewery had a good chance in front of goal, only to shoot wide, while nine minutes later Mitchell Farmer unleashed a rocket that Matic palmed away at full stretch.
Finally, the Berries broke through in the 70th minute when Forbes nodded home a perfect cross from Drewery to give his side a 2-1 lead. The sharpshooter's placement was exemplary.
Three minutes later Forbes was at it again, attempting an audacious shot from midway between halfway and the penalty box, the speculator just clearing the bar. The veteran striker left the field soon after and deservedly received a warm welcome from the Berries' dugout. Forbes' contribution was inspiring, his experience and guile causing grief in the Macarthur defence, both with the ball and without.
Bankstown continued to press and it seemed that some of the fight had gone out of the home side. Three minutes shy of fulltime Jake Bradshaw split the Rams' defence with a perfect pass with the outside of his right foot, putting Andreas Vais into the clear. Vais ran onto the ball and calmly slotted past Matic to give the Berries an unassailable 3-1 lead.
Before the referee blew the final whistle, Moustakas and Farmer had opportunities to extend their side's advantage but in the end it didn't matter. The job had been done The mission had been completed. And the Berries had again pushed through to win the spoils in what will go down as one of the finest weeks in the club's history.
As expected, coach Perry Moustakas was delighted with his side's performance.
"That was a massive win for us, we've had a really busy week," Moustakas told Football NSW. "(There are some) tired legs out there, I'd say that's been our most professional performance this year. We just really got stuck in, concentrated and did a job tonight. That's what it's all about, we did a good job."
When asked what has been the secret to the Berries' success so far this season, Moustakas replied: "Its come down to the atmosphere in the changing room. We do have a small squad but after a few bad performances this year we really sat down as a team and were all open, we spoke about the situation and what the problems were and we set ourselves a few targets. The good thing is it set the standard, the bar and the boys just rock up week-in, week-out and I'm very happy with that."
Moustakas continued: "The highlight tonight was definitely the professionalism of the boys. Backing up after the (midweek) FFA Cup game (against MetroStars), being on a high, you never what could happen. We could come here and just switch off. Straight after the game with MetroStars I just said to the boys,'great effort but we haven't done anything yet and we've got to back it up on Saturday (against Macarthur)' and I think we definitely did that tonight."
Meanwhile, Rams' assistant coach Ade Bakare said the game was quite close until the Berries scored their second goal.
"I thought first half we played really well and it was quite close, pretty even," Bakare told Football NSW. "And I think the second half they just got away from us (in the) last half hour, especially when the second goal went in. It was really even until then.
"We had a lot of the play but didn't create enough chances. (In the) final third we weren't playing enough through balls. They had a fair amount of chances too. As I say it was a very even game up until halftime but (in the) last half hour they got away with it once they got the second goal in."
Bakare added that while he didn't want to make excuses, the physical toll of playing a midweek friendly against Sydney FC may have led to some tiredness in the legs and had an impact on his side's performance.
"Maybe just a touch of close in those moments when they needed to create a spark came through for them and just not our day today, unfortunately."
Macarthur Rams 1 (Damien Travis 38') Bankstown Berries 3 (Perry Moustakas 39', Gavin Forbes 70', Andreas Vais 87')
Saturday 28 July 2017
Referee: Jerry Bitas
Assistant Referees: Hugh Carwardine, Sam Quinn
Macarthur Rams: 1. Nikodin Matic (GK), 2. Craig Cooley (4. Benne Owusu 77'), 19. Scott Goodwin, 14. Blake Moginn, 7. Nathan Paull (17. Rhys Lloyd 72'), 6. James Ralston, 12. Lochlan Reus, 11. Damien Travis, 8. Matthew Trotter, 9. Marcelo Turdera, 10. Ben Cornish
Unused Subs: 40. Nikola Bratic, 16. Mitchell Di Pietro
Yellow Cards: 10. Ben Cornish, 4. Benne Owusu
Coach: Eddie Briscoe
Bankstown Berries: 21. John Dimitrakas (GK), 13. Yasser Al Taay (17. Daniel Fornito 61'), 12. Jake Bradshaw, 5. James Combes, 16. Steven Drewery (3. Daniel Di Ruocco 77'), 7. Kyle Ewart, 6. Mitchell Farmer, 9. Gavin Forbes (11. Andreas Vais 75'), 15. Perry Moustakas, 19. Hyams Tomohiro, 2. Domenico Tripodi
Unused Subs: 1. Chad Taylor (GK), 14. Jamie Nicolaov
Yellow Cards: 12. Jake Bradshaw, 7. Kyle Ewart
Player Coach: Perry Moustakas
Northern Tigers 1 Mt Druitt Town Rangers 3, North Turramurra Recreational Area
Mt Druitt Town Rangers thumped Northern Tigers 3-1 in a sterling performance at North Turramurra on Saturday to keep their premiership hopes alive.
Luke Grima scored two goals and Alex Vlismas grabbed one; while Liam McConochie scored a consolation goal for the Tigers.
Unbeaten in three consecutive games, Aidan Desmond's Rangers are finding form at the right time of the season, while the second-placed Tigers aren't as polished as they were earlier in the year, when they played with such authority and confidence that everyone picked them as a genuine contender for premiership honours.
Grima opened the scoring for Rangers just on the cusp of halftime and extended their lead to 2-0 in the 52nd minute. Vlismas added a third just on the hour, stirring the home side into action during a frenetic last half hour as they pushed forward in a desperate bid to salvage something from the game.
Mt Druitt coach Aidan Desmond was pleased with his side's performance but remained cautious about getting too carried away.
"It was a good win but we're not getting carried away," Desmond told Football NSW. "We've still got some improvement in us and there are still four matches to play before the end of the season. The boys are binding to what we're doing and getting on and doing the job."
Desmond added that through a high pressing game, his side denied the Tigers the ability to play out from the back and through their midfield, a strategy that worked and put the home side under constant pressure.
"We managed to turn ball over and put them under pressure and just didn't allow them to play with any rhythm. But pressing high and closing down takes its toll and the last 25 minutes they dominated possession and we just had to dig in. They didn't really cause us any problems until they brought Liam McConochie on late in the second half.
"We just really rolled our sleeves up last night and stuck to the plan. We beat them in the first round and there was a lot of belief from the boys. We thought that if they went out there and stuck to the same sort of plan as they did in the first round then there was no reason why they couldn't beat them again."
After losing ace striker Kuag Reec to a season-ending MCL injury, Rangers fans panicked and thought their side would struggle without the brilliant African. But Luke Grima has stepped up to the plate and proved to be a worthy replacement.
Desmond added that while there were no standouts in what was a collective team victory, every single one of the 14 men who took to the field made a contribution.
"Even the players who came off the bench and played out of position to finish the job, were good," Desmond said. "It was a really good team performance."
Meanwhile, despite the loss, Tigers coach Mark McCormick was pleased with his side's effort.
"I think we played some of our best football last night, but we just got caught out on the counter-attack," McCormick told Football NSW. "Mt Druitt set up to hit us on the counter and they did it really well. We changed the shape of our team a little bit so I take responsibility for that, but I feel that even though we got hit on the counter, we controlled the game."
When asked what positives came out of the loss, McCormick replied: "We played a different shape that we hadn't practised a lot and it worked really good at times. We got a first start for 17-year-old goalkeeper Elliot Carwardine, who replaced Tonu Liiband, who broke his leg last week. We had four teenagers start and another two 20-year-olds so giving those guys a chance to play first grade was a big positive. Liam McConochie also played his first game for 12 weeks so he came off the bench and that was a huge positive giving him some minutes in first grade.
"The players work hard but there's a lot of really good teams in the competition. If we want to make the playoffs we're going to have to be at our best."
Marconi Stallions 3 Mounties Wanderers 0, Marconi Stadium
Marconi Stallions took another step closer to clinching the minor premiership with a 3-0 victory over Mounties Wanderers at Marconi Stadium on Sunday.
Golden Boot leader Sean Rooney scored two goals and Marko Jesic grabbed one as the competition favourites showed their quality against a dogged Mounties side that tried hard but coudln't match it with the most tallented side in the competition.
Marconi's win extends their lead at the top of the table to 15 points after second-placed St George succumbed to North Shore Mariners, bringing the Stallions' minor premiership aspirations and, more importantly, their dream of gaining promotion back to the top tier of NSW football, closer to reality.
Rooney opened the scoring in the 15th minute and despite a spirited Mounties fightback, the home side clung to the 1-0 lead at halftime.
Rooney then struck home his second in the 50th minute before Jesic clinched the deal in the 85th, the Stallions' extra bit of class proving to be the major difference between the two sides.
Marconi coach Peter Tsekenis was delighted with the win
"Winning's a habit so we need to keep rolling, " Tsekenis told Football NSW. "We could have scored a couple more goals but it wasn't a whitewash by any means. Mounties gave a good account of themselves to stay in the game and compete without really hurting us too much. It was a good arm wrestle and it was the extra bit of quality in our squad that was the difference."
Tsekenis added that he's pleased with his side's desire to compete against teams that depend on a grafting style of football, confident that their quality will usually prevail.
"When we have to dig deep and compete we do and when we need to turn on that bit of quality we're able to punish teams," Tsekenis said. "We're scoirng a lot of goals and keeping it tight at the back - we only conceded a penalty last week that broke our run of clean sheets - and for me, our biggest battle is probably complacency. We have to make sure we don't become complacent because teams are going to come out and try to beat us and we have to match them, it's very simple. It's good to see the boys are raising the bar every time they go out there. That's the challenge I put to them every week."
Mounties have a ton of potential but so far this season haven't quite found the consistency to match the top echelon teams.
They've had their moments and recently embarked on a three-game winning streak. But it has been the games they should have won that has cost coach and former Stallion Lee Sterrey's side. Games where they created several opportunities without being able to convert. Games where defensive errors have been punished by the opposition.
Mounties have some quality within their ranks. Tommy Mijic and Todd Halloran have formed a solid combination at the back; Neftali Gonzalez continues to control the midfield and to many in the game, is the best player in the league, while sharpshooter Tai Smith has lived up to his reputation as a prolific goalscorer.
Mounties are certainly contenders for the semi-finals, but with just four rounds to go before the end of the regular season, winning games is their best ally in the race for a top six finish.
Blacktown Spartans 0 Spirit FC 2, Blacktown Football Park
Spirit FC turned on arguably their most courageous performance of the season to defeat Blacktown Spartans 2-0 at Blacktown Football Park on Sunday.
Daniel Cunningham opened the scoring in the 11th minute before Andre Carle received a red card just three minutes later. But despite having to play with 10 men for 76 minutes, the visitors simply rolled up their sleeves and took the game to the Spartans, stunning them with a second goal to Dylan Whitlock in the 55th.
Spirit coach David Perkovic was proud of his side's ability to win under duress and pleased that they've climbed to seventh equal on a ladder that gets more congested by the week.
"We scored an early goal and thank God we did because in the 14th minute we had a man sent off on two yellow cards, an interesting decision from the referee," Perkovic told Football NSW.
"The boys showed real character, and got through to halftime unscathed. We made a positional change at halftime where Dylan (Whitlock) moved up front from the wing; and Gomez went to the left wing. Ten minutes into the second half Dylan scored our second goal and even though it was only 10 minutes into the second half, I felt that we'd killed off any hopes of a Spartans comeback. The fact that we were 2-0 up with 10 men really hurt their confidence."
Perkovic added that his side managed the game well both with and without the ball and played with intelligence, denying the Spartans space and their ability to threaten.
"They didn't really threaten our goal too much so I was quite pleased with our efforts," Perkovic said. "Defensively we were very solid and we took our chances. To be honest everyone who took part in the game stood out because to play for 76 minutes with 10 men is a fantastic achievement. Everyone deserves credit for today's result."
The loss was a big disappointment for the Spartans and for the second time in as many games they faced 10 men. Last week they demolished Bankstown City Lions 6-0 at Jensen Park, losing striker Garang Awac to a broken leg after a sickening challenge by Lions' Kyohei Kimura, who was immediately sent from the field. The match was held up for 40 minutes as an ambulance was called to transport Awac to hospital.
Spartans coach Luis Contigiani was delighted with his side's performance but unfortunately they couldn't replicate their efforts against a relentless Spirit FC.
With just four rounds remaining of the regular season, both sides are still in with a slim chance of making the top six, but they'll have to grab maximum points to do so and hope that other results go their way.
St George 0 North Shore Mariners 2, Seymour Shaw Park
North Shore Mariners bounced St George 2-0 at Seymour Shaw Park on Sunday, condemning the second-placed Saints to their second loss in as many games.
Marquin Smith scored both goals for the visitors who played simple football to claim the spoils of victory, while according to Saints coach Terry Palapanis, his side turned in one of their worst performances of the season.
"I thought we knew what problems they were going to cause us, the dangerous areas and we had a game plan," Mariners coach Joe Haywood told Football NSW. "We delivered that game plan to a tee really, we got a breakaway goal and really had control of the game and eventually got another goal."
When asked what impressed him the most about his side's performance, Haywood replied: "The ability to change shape within the game - we moved two different formations within periods of the game that we needed to - the ability to adapt when we needed to and the mentality of 'it's not about me but my ability to do my job for the team' were also positives. We had a few boys playing out of position, a few boys not starting, but everyone who played did a job and did really well."
Haywood praised Marquin Smith for his goal-scoring instinct; Freddy Ankumah-Seh for his pace, power and strength; and his side's overall ability to play a compact formation.
Meanwhile, Saints coach Palapanis was ropeable and bitterly disappointed with his side's performance.
"We were poor; we were flat, we were pedestrian and we were second to everything. We were everywhere but Seymour Shaw Park," Palapanis said. "We couldn't inject anything and at halftime it was like talking to zombies."
Palapanis added that while the Mariners were good, his side allowed them so much time and space, it was embarrassing.
"The Mariners thought it was Christmas come early the way we played. We just weren't there. We weren't up to it physically. We weren't up to it mentally and our execution was poor. We didn't create anything either so people can stop saying we miss JC (striker Juan Carlos Romero) because when you're not creating chances it doesn't matter who's playing up top.
"It was very disappointing becaue we could have consolidated second spot but we didn't roll our sleeves up. I don't know where our minds were; certainly not at Seymour Shaw Park.
"The Mariners played us off the park, they played through us, they played long when they had to. We were that poor defensively that they could have done anything to us. It definitely could've been more than 2-0. We're not in a good space at the moment."
Hills United 7 Bankstown City 3, Lilys Football Centre
Hills United kept their semi-finals hopes alive with a thumping 7-3 victory over bottom-placed Bankstown City Lions at Lilys Football Centre on Sunday night.
For Hills, Matias Toro Suazo scored a hat-trick; Glenn Kelshaw grabbed two goals, and Daine Merrin and Jordan Parfait scored one apiece.
Hills entered the game with just one win in six games, but grabbed the opportunity with both hands to beat a dispirited opponent whose confidence has been crushed by a stressful battle to avoid relegation.
Hills' win sees them just two points out of the top six and with a mere four rounds remaining of the regular season, their destiny lies in their own hands.
Hills coach Dan Sheppard has some quality in his ranks, so a place at the top table isn't beyond Hills, a side that at the start of the season showed that when they're on song, they're a force to be reckoned with.
-By Derek Royal, Football NSW Reporter