The final round of the PlayStation4 National Premier Leagues' 2 NSW Men's competition has arrived and seven teams are still vying for four of the six playoff positions.
Premiers Marconi and second-placed St George are the only certainties of making the six, and while the result of their clash at Seynour Shaw Park this weekend means nothing to the Stallions, a loss by Saints could see them slip down the ladder and into elimination finals territory.
Mt Druitt Town Rangers and Western Sydney Wanderers lie just three points behind Saints; while Central Coast, Mounties, North Shore and Northern Tigers are just one point behind Rangers and Wanderers respectively. Ninth-placed Spirit FC are rank outsiders but if they beat Central Coast and other results fall their way, they could well sneak into the finals mix. A remarkable scenario to end the season, but 2017 has been that kind of a year.
Match of the Round
North Shore Mariners vs Western Sydney Wanderers, 3:00 PM, Sunday 27 August, Northbridge Oval
The Football NSW cameras will be at Northbridge Oval on Sunday for an intriguing do-or-die Match of the Round between North Shore Mariners and Western Sydney Wanderers.
The Wanderers sit in third equal place alongside Mt Druitt Town Rangers, while the Marinersare one of four sides in equal fourth. But after being annihilated 5-0 by Mounties last weekend, Western Sydney could be vulnerable to a side that beat them earlier this season.
Mariners' coach Joe Haywood is likely to use that victory as motivation. He's also likely to instruct his team to press high and play tough, physical and aggressive in-your-face-football. They'll need to adopt these tactics in order to break down a talented young Wanderers side that plays with subtlety and panache but who can also be susceptible to robust opposition.
In a tale of two halves, North Shore Mariners earned a gritty 2-1 victory over the Wanderers at Sydney United Sports Centre in Round 13.
Top goal-scorer Mitch Smith (who now has 14 goals to his credit) and Chris Lindsay scored for the Mariners, while 15-year-old Lochlan Constable pulled one back for the Wanderers.
The Mariners completely dominated the first half and led 2-0 at halftime. But Western Sydney came out of the sheds breathing fire and in the 52nd minute, they finally struck gold through 15-year-old substitute Constable, who beat Mariners keeper Stefan Giglio to close the gap to 2-1.
The Wanderers played some brilliant football in the second half, launching wave after wave of attacks. But with a stray pass here; a heavy touch there, some resolute defence from the Mariners, plus some good old fashioned bad luck, they just couldn't crack the visitors' defence.
"In the first half I thought we were quite aggressive with our press from the start," a delighted Mariners coach Joe Haywood told Football NSW. "I thought we did really well with that and we frustrated the opposition and I thought we were always a threat on the counter attack. It was definitely a tale of two halves: (after dominating the first half) the second half was a different story."
When asked what most impressed him about his side's performance, Haywood replied: "Our defensive resolution but again, (we were) always a threat (on the counter), especially in the first half. The second half was a bit frustrating on the ball but I thought (in the) first half when we had it, we created opportunities."
With a place in the semi-finals on the line this weekend, this matchup will be highlighted by a contrast in styles. And like the first encounter between the two sides, is certain to be just as intriguing.
Bankstown Berries vs Mt Druitt Town Rangers, 7:00 PM, Saturday 26 August, Popondetta Park
They may be one of the more unfashionable clubs in Sydney. And they may be located in one of the city's more notorious suburbs. But Mt Druitt Town Rangers are just one step away from stealing second-place on the Premiership ladder from St George.
Aidan Desmond's team needs to beat Bankstown Berries this Sunday, a Berries outfit that was last week eliminated from the finals mix and could well be distracted by next Tuesday's huge FFA Cup clash against Sydney FC. Mt Druitt also need Marconi to beat St George, a victory that would be the Premiers' 12th on-the-trot. The outcome of that scenario would be a well-earned, if unlikely, second place finish for Rangers, who have lost just once in their last six games.
Mt Druitt are often described as "unfashionable" and are never spoken of with the same respect as the likes of Marconi and Western Sydney. But Desmond doesn't mind the indifference.
"I don't mind being called unfashionable," Desmond told Football NSW. "I think that perception comes with our location. Funnily enough when you enter Popondetta Park, which is one of the best facilities in the league, it's like being in an oasis", far away from some of the toughest neighbourhoods in metropolitan Sydney.
Desmond earlier this season told Football NSW that while his goal was to win the competition, finishing in the top three would be considered a success.
"At a minimum, to play finals football would be considered a successful season but we would love to win it," Desmond said. "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."
In a superb display, Rangers last week beat a hapless Macarthur Rams 5-0, propelling them above Western Sydney on goal difference, a comfortable position that, heading into the semi-finals, has them just one step away from achieving something special.
Meanwhile, Perry Moustakas's Berries would love nothing more than to finish the league season with a bang and while the odds are in Mt Druitt's favour, whichever lineup Moustakas fields this Saturday will take the game to their opponents and fight tooth and nail for a result. Yes, the Berries will be devastated that their finals dreams were expired by last week's 1-0 loss to North Shore. And yes, they may have one eye looking towards Tuesday's massive clash against Sydney FC - the finest club in Australian football - but one thing they won't do is roll over and make life easy for the opposition. That's not their way.
Mt Druitt may be in the box seat but they'll need to do what they do best when they cross the white line: roll up their sleeves and work their butts off to achieve the desired result.
Hills United vs Mounties Wanderers, 3:00 PM, Sunday 27 August, Lilys Football Centre
Mounties Wanderers will be looking to extend their winning streak to four matches when they face Hills Brumbies at Lilys Football Centre on Sunday.
In an incredible burst of form, Mounties haven't lost since the departure of coach Lee Sterrey a little under a month ago. Not only that, they've also scored an astonishing 13 goals in their last three games, a remarkable stat given their struggles in front of goal for most of the season.
Holding onto sixth place by goal difference, Mounties' 5-0 drubbing of Western Sydney last week stunned NPL 2 aficienados and put the competition on notice. Tai Smith grabbed a hat-trick and showed that his side has the potential to be a serious threat should they qualify for the six.
While they miss-fired earlier in the season and didn't live up to expectations, Mounties still played some excellent football, spoilt only by their inability to convert. But the arrival of Smith has given them some potency in front of goal, with the striker bagging a remarkable 13 goals in 12 games. Such momentum is priceless and will certainly help Mounties as they seek to negotiate their way past a Hills side that has nothing to play for but pride.
In their first season of NPL 2 football, Dan Sheppard's side performed with distinction in the first half of the season and looked like making a serious push for the semis. But the second round proved to be disastrous, with the newly-promoted side struggling to win.
With their destiny resting in their own hands, Mounties have a golden opportunity to achieve a place in the six, a scenario that seemed impossible only a matter of weeks ago. Indeed, if they perform with the same panache they've shown in recent weeks, they should leave Seven Hills with the spoils on Sunday evening.
Macarthur Rams vs Bankstown City, 3:00 PM, Sunday 27 August, Lynwood Park
Macarthur Rams host Bankstown City in the battle of the cellar-dwellers at Lynwood Park this Sunday. With Bankstown already condemned to third tier football next season, this is a golden opportunity for both sides to finish their respective campaigns on a high.
2017 has been a complete disaster for the Bankstown. Coaching dramas, a complete cleanout of players over the offseason, injuries and suspensions have all conspired to crush a once-proud club that has been anchored to the bottom of the table since the competition kicked off in March.
Coach Mile Todoroski has done his best with a small squad that on paper looks capable of doing some damage. But as the former Lion once said, the on-field reality is a different story. For whatever reason, the team just hasn't gelled and performances have been mostly inconsistent and poor.
Bankstown were last week thumped 6-2 by a rampant Central Coast Mariners, a result that should give Macarthur some hope of ending their season on a high.
Like Bankstown, the Rams have had their ups and downs this season. They've played some good football and showed plenty of courage and character. But with a small squad and the inevitable spate of injuries and suspensions, first year coach Eddie Briscoe has had to endure a challenging season. A win in their final home game of the season would be the perfect end to an imperfect season.
Northern Tigers vs Blacktown Spartans, 3:00 PM, Sunday 27 August, North Turramurra
It's hard to believe that Northern Tigers' season will be on the line when they face Blacktown Spartans at North Turramurra this Sunday.
For so long considered a certainty to finish in the top three, the Tigers are currently in eighth place on the ladder, a forlorn scenario that can only be fixed with a victory and some favourable results elsewhere.
Mark McCormick's team has played some excellent football this season. They've played with style and panache and they've showed plenty of intestinal fortitude along the way, especially in the first half of the season when they were one of the most feared teams in the competition.
But the second round has been a major challenge for the North Turramurra side, whose mojo has diminished inexplicably with each passing round. Last week's 3-1 loss at Marconi was simply their latest setback and their third loss in six outings, so this Sunday's clash with the Spartans offers McCormick's side with an opportunity to make amends and to push for a place in the six.
It won't be easy as Luis Contigiani's Spartans can be a tough nut to crack. They're young, they're fit and they love to sit back and strike on the counter, a style of football that suits a side blessed with a solid defence and fleet-footed youngsters who play with plenty of verve and aggression.
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. The Spartans' finals hopes may be over but Contigiani would love nothing more than end his debut season in the hot seat with a win.
Central Coast Mariners vs Spirit FC, 3:00 PM, Sunday 27 August, Pluim Park
Central Coast Mariners and Spirit FC will clash at Pluim Park in a do-or-die matchup that is
Ben Cahn's young Mariners will throw caution to the wind and seek to outplay their opponents with their special 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 they can blow their opponents off the park in 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 37 of the side's astounding tally of 69 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 are currently in fifth place on the table and with a +20 goal difference, are looking good for a spot in the six. But Spirit FC will be aiming to derail the young Coasters' season and as the side least likely to qualify for the finals, they'll need to play the game of their lives to steal the spoils and keep their hopes alive.
Spirit were impressive in last week's 4-2 victory over second-placed St George, a result that proved they have the talent and the desire to make life uncomfortable for the Mariners.
Coach David Perkovic was delighted to see his side score four goals for the first time this season and with a solid defence, aerial prowess and the ability to score goals, his team has nothing to lose when they visit Pluim Park on Sunday.
Spirit will arrive at Lisarow in ninth place on the table and just two points shy of the six but with so many teams vying for places in the playoffs, the challenge that confronts them is a big one.
St George vs Marconi Stallions, 3:00 PM, Sunday 27 August, Seymour Shaw Park
Normally the matchup between the top two sides in the competition would be one of the most eagerly anticipated games of the season. But with Marconi already wrapping up the Premiership and promotion to NPL 1, Sunday's fixture at Miranda has turned into a do-or-die clash for second-placed Saints, who need to win to hold onto the runners-up spot and the advantage of a bye in the first weekend of the semis.
But while the Stallions can afford to cruise - after all, they've achieved their major objective of promotion - Peter Tsekenis's side will be gunning for their 12th win in a row, a phenomenal effort on the eve of the semis.
Saints suffered a shock 4-2 defeat at Spirit last weekend, the latest setback in a ghastly six week period where they've managed just a solitary win.
At one stage Saints were riding the crest of a wave with one loss in 10 matches but their fortunes have certainly changed since then, with injuries and suspensions decimating their season. But despite their tale of woe, they somehow remain in second place. And despite their recent bout with inconsistency, they're still well-coached; they're still talented and they still boast the likes of Juan Carlos Romero and Bruno Pivato - match-winners who can turn a game with a piece of brilliance.
But to steal the spoils against the undisputed heavyweights of the competition will take a herculean effort. Anything less is certain to topple them from the lofty perch they've occupied for most of the season.
Whatever happens, the saving grace for Terry Palapanis's outfit is the fact that regardless of Sunday's result, the team is a certainty to play finals football. And that's a luxury that few clubs can boast going into the final round.
Please note the above game has been moved to Blacktown Sports Park same KO times for all three Snr Men's teams
Source FNSW Website -By Derek Royal, Football NSW Reporter