Have the final two rounds of a football competition ever been so critical?
With just two rounds remaining of the regular season, places in the top six of the PlayStation 4 National Premier Leagues' 2 NSW Men's competition remain as open as ever.
Newly-crowned Premiers Marconi Stallions, second-placed St George and maybe even third-placed Northen Tigers, are certainties to qualify for the playoffs but it'll be open slather on who fills the remaining positions.
Marconi Stallions extended their winning streak to 10 matches after delivering a 4-1 knockout of Hills United at Seven Hills on Saturday night. Leading 2-1 in the 89th minute, the Stallions delivering a savage left-right combination to knock Hills to the canvas, showing yet again just why they're the Premiers and ultimate favourites to win the Championship and possible promotion back to the top tier of NSW Football.
In the Match of the Round, Western Sydney Wanderers' striker Kyle Cimenti scored on the stroke of fulltime to steal an unlikely one-all draw at Bankstown Berries, a comeback that keeps the Red and Black alive and well.
In other games, Central Coast Mariners scored a 90th minute winner to stun Mt Druitt Town Rangers 2-1 at Pluim Park; Spirit FC upset Northern Tigers 3-2 in a torrid local derby; North Shore Mariners travelled to Macarthur and stole the spoils 3-2; while Juan Carlos Romero made a shock return to help guide St George to a late 2-0 win over a brave Bankstown City Lions.
In the only Sunday fixture of the round, Mounties Wanderers demolished Blacktown Spartans 5-1 after the sides went to the break level at one-all. A classic case of a tale of two halves.
Match of the Round
Bankstown Berries 1 Western Sydney Wanderers 1, The Crest Athletic Centre
Western Sydney Wanderers maintained their grip on sixth position in the PS4 NPL 2 NSW Men's competition with a last gasp Kyle Cimenti goal forcing a share of the spoils.
For the majority of the contest it looked like the Berries would jump several teams into fifth position on the ladder after Daniel Fornito struck home in the 38th minute.
The draw is a devastating one for the Berries with two weeks left of the regular season as they sit outside the finals places while the Wanderers sit in fourth position, with the added advantage of a game in hand.
On a cold night out in Sydney's south-west it was the visiting Wanderers that fired the first shot. Emmanuel Gonzalez found space on the left side of the box before he unleashed a volley that was safely taken by Berries keeper John Dimitrakas.
But once the Berries started to settle on the ball – they dominated possession and created their fair share of chances. Andreas Vais turned well in the box but couldn't power his shot past the Wanderers shot-stopper.
Two minutes later it was Vais again when he connected well with a volley that slashed wide of the post. The more experienced Berries started to flex their muscles on their younger opponents.
Wanderers attempted a short corner routine to change their fortunes which found it's way to Matthew Lecce who angled it inches wide of the right hand post in a rare chance for the visitors in the first half.
Bankstown Berries converted their dominance into a goal in the 37th minute when some swift feet opened up the angle for striker Daniel Fornito in the box and he duly took his chance well to make it one-nil going to the break.
Chances were more rare than hen's teeth in the second half, as both teams proceeded cautiously; with the Berries wanting to hold onto their lead while the Wanderers were closed down well in the middle by a robust Berries defence.
Gonzalez tried to create something for the Wanderers from a 75th minute free-kick that he chipped into the box but it evaded the scrum in the middle as the Berries continued to frustrate the top six team.
Only a minute later – the Berries should've finished off the contest when the ball fell to the feet of Vais who tried to slide it under Wanderers keeper Mackenzie Syron but some courageous keeping from the young man kept the margin to one.
In the 84th minute Berries captain Perry Moustakas also had a chance to make it 2-nil when he latched onto Domenico Tripodi's free-kick but the midfielder could only direct it right at Syron.
As the Berries tried to defend their lead they would find out that football can be the cruelest of games.
Wanderers received a 93rd minute free-kick which was lofted into the box, spilled by Berries keeper Dimitrakas that fell to the feet of Wanderers striker Kyle Cimenti to prod home for 1-1.
Afterwards Berries player coach Perry Moustakas lamented the late equaliser but hadn't given up the fight for the top six.
"It is hard to take," Moustakas told Football NSW. "I think we played well, they didn't have many chances but these things happen in football. One rare mistake and they equalise. Seeing how they [Wanderers] celebrated they knew needed to earn it,
"It's been a funny league – there is a lot of football to be played and we're going to fight to the end plus we have a Westfield FFA cup game against the best team in Australia (Sydney FC) to look forward to."
Conversely Wanderers assistant Arthur Diles was delighted to keep hold of their place in the top six.
"It was a very difficult game," Diles told Football NSW. "They are a tough opponent but to score in the final minute is a credit to our boys. Being much older and stronger than us made it difficult to get time on the ball. As the game went on though we found space."
Bankstown Berries FC 1 (Fornito '38) Western Sydney Wanderers 1 (Cimenti '93)
Saturday 12th August 2017
The Crest Athletic Centre
Referee: Michael Weiner
Assistant Referees: Juan Park & Jack Dickin
Bankstown Berries FC: 2. TRIPODI Domenico, 5. COMBES James, 6. FARMER Mitchell, 8. HUDAP Dominic, 11. VAIS Andreas(FORBES '78), 12. BRADSHAW Jake, 13. AL-TAAY Yasser(NICOLAOU '83), 15. MOUSTAKAS Perry, 17. FORNITO Daniel(DI RUOCCO '70), 19. TOMOHIRO Hyams and 21. DIMITRAKAS John
Subs not used: 1. TAYLOR Chad and 4. HADJISOCRATOUS Adrian
Yellow cards: Farmer '58 and Vais '71
Red cards: nil
Western Sydney Wanderers: 5. CORDIER Mathieu, 8. ABOU SERHAL Charles(CONSTABLE '80), 9. CIMENTI Kyle, 10. GONZALEZ Emmanuel, 18. PUFFLET Oliver(BARTOLOTTO '63), 22. LECCE Matthew, 24. RUSSELL Tate, 25. HALL Jordan, 26. AQUILINA Thomas, 40. SYRON Mackenzie and 50. MAIA Tariq
Subs not used: 7. STOJCEVSKI Brandon, 20. AXFORD Daniel and 49. KUKU Abdelrahman
Yellow cards: Hall '64
Red cards: nil
-By Justin Davies
Central Coast Mariners 2 Mt Druitt Town Rangers 1, Pluim Park
Central Coast Mariners kept their finals hopes alive with a last-gasp 2-1 victory over Mt Druitt Town Rangers at Pluim Park on Saturday.
The Mariners' old firm of Duncan Stewart and Brenton Fox fired home the goals to claim a result that puts them just one point behind fourth-placed Western Sydney (and Mt Druitt) on what remains a congested NPL 2 ladder.
With just two rounds remaining before the end of the regular season, Ben Cahn's young Mariners will be desperate to win their final games to secure a spot in the six. But they won't have it all their own way as they face Bankstown City at bumpy Jensen Park followed by a Spirit FC outfit with their own aspirations of playing finals football.
For a while, the Mariners were the talk of the town, playing some brilliant football and scoring goals with gay abandon. Indeed, with Stewart, Fox and Lachlan Wales slotting home like clockwork, they embarked on an unbeaten streak of seven games. Lately though, with first team training commitments, tactical adjustments made by their opposition, and the odd injury, the Mariners have suffered something of a stutter, winning just two of their last six, including Saturday's upset of a very dangerous Mt Druitt Town Rangers.
Cahn has always believed in his boys. Even when they started the season with an horrendous record of two wins from 10 games, earning seven points from a possible 30, his belief never wavered. Not once. And he always offered positive advice and praise. His belief in the team, their style of play and the role he played in their development as young professionals, soon became "their" belief and for a glorious period between rounds 11 and 17 they were irresistible. Invincible almost. They played with youthful verve and won five straight, includng a 3-1 victory over Marconi, a scoreline that not only flattered the recently-crowned Premiers, but also remains the Stallions last loss of the season. They scored a ridiculous 22 goals while conceding a measly three. All was well in Mariners' land.
Saturday's win over a well drilled Mt Druitt outfit seeking to extend their own unbeaten run to five matches will give the young Coasters a boost in confidence going into the business end of the season. But they'll need to keep winning if they're to clinch a spot in the playoffs.
Meanwhile, prior to the Mariners' setback, Mt Druitt seemed to be finding form at the right time of the season. Last week's 2-0 win over second-placed St George wasn't just their third successive win, it was also a warning that at their best, they're not just a very good side, they're also a force to be reckoned with.
This result doesn't change that observation. It just makes things more challenging as the fight for finals places reaches fever pitch.
Northern Tigers 2 Spirit FC 3, North Turramurra
Spirit FC kept their slender finals hopes alive with a 2-1 victory over local rivals Northern Tigers at North Turramurra on Saturday.
Spirit now sit in ninth position on the league table, just two points outside the top six. If they're to play a part in the semi-finals, David Perkovic's team will need to win their final two matches of the season but also rely on other results to go their way.
There's no doubt that Spirit realised the clash against the Tigers was their last throw of the dice - a win would see them keep their hopes alive for a berth in the finals, while a loss would likely end their season. Perkovic's team duly stepped up to the plate and delivered.
Spirit showed some of their quality in last week's one-all draw with Hills United, a match they should have won by at least two goals. Perkovic's men defended well and created several chances, but just couldn't finish, something they managed to achieve this weekend.
The Tigers meanwhile, sit precariously in third place on the table and with several teams snapping at their heels - including Western Sydney, Mt Druiit, Central Coast and North Shore - are by no means guaranteed to hold onto their place.
The Tigers have been inconsistent in the second round of the season. Apart from snatching an important three points in a 1-0 win over bottom-placed Bankstown last week, Mark McCormick's side has struggled to win games.
They've played with their trademark grit and determination. And they're fit and they're fast and full of youthful zest. But the results just having ben going their way. Even in games they've been expected to win in a canter.
Granted, they've lost some key players, including Ryan Peterson and Harrison Devenish-Meares, and they've used the opportunity to blood some young talent, which has been a positive for the club's long term future.
But with the finals just a matter of weeks away, McCormick's cubs will be thrown into a cauldron of which they've never experienced before. A cauldron where the high stakes of playoffs and championships are contested with palpable intensity. The big question is, willthe youngsters cope when it comes to mixing it with the big boys? Will they rise to the occasion when everything is on the line?
Only time will tell.
St George 2 Bankstown City 0, Seymour Shaw Park
Spanish sharpshooter Juan Carlos Romero made a shock comeback from injury to guide St George to a tough 2-0 victory over Bankstown City Lions at Seymour Shaw Park on Saturday.
Sidelined for the past month after suffering internal injuries following a collision with Bankstown Berries goalkeeper Chad Taylor, the Spaniard was originally ruled out for the remainder of the season. But Romero proved to be just as resilient in his recovery as he has been in his ability to score goals, making a shock second half return that netted him his 19th goal of the season and a much-needed victory for his under-fie side.
For the second week in a row, relegation-doomed Bankstown battled fiercely and didn't concede the first goal until the 82nd minute when Bruno Pivato gave Saints a 1-0 lead after his side had bombarded the visitors' goal relentlessly for a solid 20 minutes.
Romero added the second four minutes later, much to the delight (and relief) of coach Terry Palapanis, his assistants and the small but loyal Red and White army.
With the semi-finals looming large on the horizon, St George needed to win to get their campaign back on track. They needed to score goals and they needed to regain their confidence, which had taken a bit of a battering after three consecutive defeats.
Facing a defeated Bankstown side, Saints achieved that. But just as Northern Tigers found out last week, Bankstown proved to be anything but easy. In fact, Bankstown showed remarkable courage to somehow survive 82 minutes before conceding their first goal. Romero's inevitable strike simply mailed the coffin a little bit deeper.
The rangy Spaniard is, and always has been, the missing piece in the St George masterplan and with an astounding number of goals in his debut season, he has definitely been close to the acquisition of the season. With the semi-finals just a matter of weeks away - his return has certainly given St George and their loyal band of supporters plenty to smile about.
Hills United 1 Marconi Stallions 4, Lilys Football Centre
Premiers Marconi Stallions continued on their winning way with a 4-1 victory over Hills United at Lilys Football Centre on Saturday night.
The victory extended the Stallions' winning streak to 10 matches, but despite the lopsided scoreline, a three-goal difference probably wasn't a fair reflection of the game. Hills battled hard and they had their moments, but as always, Marconi's quality in the final third determined the outcome.
Indeed, Marconi only led 2-1 in the 89th minute before they hit their hapless opponents with a savage left-right combination that sent them spiraling to the canvas. In the blink of an eye, 2-1 had become 4-1; a likely win by decision surpassed by a knockout.
Stallions coach Peter Tsekenis was pleased with last week's 2-0 win over Blacktown Spartans, one that not only rewarded his side with Premiership honours, but also showed they had the capability to be patient when dominating yet failing to convert. That they scored twice to claim the spoils was enough for the former Olyroo, whose influence has been masterful since he took over the reins at Bossley Park midseason.
The clash against Hills presented a conundrum for Marconi. With the Premiership locked up for 12 months and nothing much at stake, the visit to Lily's had the potential of becoming something of an ambush.
So Tsekenis hoped that his side's professionalism would reign supreme over an opponent that plays good football and competes hard. He hoped his Stallions would ignore the distractions and just go about their business as usual.
He received his wish gratefully: a solid if not stunning performance; three points and the confidence and momentum that comes with winning.
With the sweet smell of finals football looming in the air, the Stallions are certainly in a good place.
Macarthur Rams 2 North Shore Mariners 3, Lynwood Park
North Shore Mariners kept their finals hopes alive with a tough 3-2 victory over Macarthur Rams at Lynwood Park on Saturday night.
For the Mariners, Kerr scored a double and Braden Cheng grabbed one goal; while Marcelo Turdera and Mason Versi netted one apiece for the Rams.
With just three rounds to go before the end of the regular season, the Northbridge outfit were desperate to win the spoils against a Rams side capable of causing more than their fair share of distress. Travelling to Macarthur on a cold winter's night isn't an easy road trip and the Rams' grit, determination and willingness to fight often leaves their opponents with the odd niggle and bruise.
But Joe Haywood's Mariners can be just as physical and just as robust, and proved to be up to the task and good enough to take home the spoils.
Pre-match, Rams coach Eddie Briscoe said he expected a tough test against a physical and well-organised Mariners side renowned for playing with plenty of pace, power and vigor.
Briscoe was right on the money but ironically it was his Rams who opened the scoring in the 13th minute. Plenty happened after that and before long, North Shore had missed a penalty but equalised, sending the two sides to the break with the score tied at one-all.
Macarthur again took the lead, this time two minutes after the restart, but again North Shore equalised. The score remained 2-all until the 86th minute when the Mariners snuck home the winner, a heartbreaking setback for a brave Rams side; and another opportunity for the Mariners to keep their finals hopes alive.
Blacktown Spartans 1 Mounties Wanderers 5, Blacktown Football Park
In a tale of two halves, Mounties Wanderers demolished Blacktown Spartans 5-1 at Blacktown Football Park on Sunday, keeping their hopes alive for a place in the semis,
With the score level at one-all at halftime, nobody would have predicted what was to come in the second 45 as Mounties shifted up a few gears to leave the home side stumbling in their wake.
Ever since parting ways with former coach Lee Sterrey a fortnight ago, Mounties have clicked into overdrive and won two matches on the trot, the Spartans result a welcome addition to last week's courageous come-from-behind win over Bankstown Berries.
"The character of the boys was awesome," Mounties' player coach Neftali Gonzalez told Football NSW after the Berries' win. "We started a bit sloppy at the back and conceded two goals but to be honest, to come back from 2-0 down showed great character. I'm happy for them."
Looking ahead to the clash against the Spartans, Gonzalez said he expected a tough game.
"The Spartans are always tough to beat, they normally sit deep and they're hard to break down," Gonzalez told Football NSW. "Their counter-attack is pretty sharp so it's going to be hard, a good game."
A week ago, that looked like being the case. The Spartans pushed hard against Premiership winners Marconi, before going down 2-0; an honest performance that won praise from coach Luis Contigiani.
"Marconi are a very good team," Contigiani told Football NSW. "It's a quality side but in the first half we were good and actually had some clearcut chances. We kept the ball well and actually competed very, very well."
The Spartans also competed very well against Mounties but after conceding the lead in the 62nd minute, capitulated badly, allowing an opportunistic and clinical opponent to run away with the spoils.
When asked what he expected of Mounties pre-game, Contigiani replied: "Normally, when a team loses their coach, they rally and win a few games. Mounties proved that by beating the Berries (last week), so I think maybe we're going to play them at the wrong time. But in saying that we're going to give them the best possible game that we can. We're always going to go out to try to win."
The affable Spartans mentor couldn't have been more prophetic if he tried.
Source FNSW Website -By Derek Royal, Football NSW Reporter