Round 23 Review – PS4 NPL 2 NSW Men’s

Marconi Stallions claimed the PlayStation 4 National Premier Leagues' 2 NSW Men's First Grade Premiership on the weekend with a 2-0 victory over a courageous Blacktown Spartans at Marconi Stadium.

The Stallions extended their lead at the top of the table to an uncatchable 18 points and will enter the semi-finals as white-hot favourites to claim the Championship and ultimately gain promotion to the top echelon of NSW football should they clinch the Club Championship.

The Football NSW cameras were at Valentine Sports Park on Saturday night for the Match of the Round between Spirit FC and Hills United, a clash that ended in a one-all draw; while in other matches, Mt Druitt Town Rangers beat St George 2-0 to extend their unbeaten streak to four games; Northern Tigers earned a gritty 1-0 win at Bankstown City; North Shore Mariners and Central Coast Mariners played a 2-all draw; Western Sydney Wanderers beat a brave Macarthur 4-2; while Mounties came back from two goals down to upset Bankstown Berries 3-2 at Valentine.

Match of the Round

Spirit FC 1 Hills United 1, Valentine Sports Park

Spirit FC and Hills United shared the spoils one-all in a tight PS4 NPL 2 NSW Men's Match of the Round at Valentine Sports Park on Saturday night.

Louis Bozanic opened the scoring for Spirit in the 11th minute, while Glen Kelshaw equalised for Hills in the 22nd.

In what was a crucial clash between two sides tied in seventh equal on the ladder, the combatants entered the match just two points outside the six, but fell short of taking the opportunity to inch a step closer to a possible place in the semis. Indeed, with just three rounds remaining of the regular season, finals football may prove to be a step too far for both sides.

Spirit created far more goal-scoring opportunities than their opponents, but simply couldn't finish.

Robust striker Chris Godoy Bascur caused all sorts of bother in the Hills defence, and proved to be a constant menace, hounding and harrassing, and forcing the visitors into error. The diminutive Number 9 even had the cheek to steal possession on a number of occasions but unfortunately, couldn't strike gold.

In the third minute Godoy Bascur went on a fine solo run but nothing came of the opportunity. Five minutes later he stole the ball from a Hills opponent and fed a great pass to Chris Gomez, who had the first shot of the game, an effort that didn't have the power or direction to trouble Hills keeper Alastair Bruce.

But a minute later, Bruce couldn't do anything to stop Spirit from opening the scoring. Bozanic ran onto a through ball, outmuscled his marker and struck a superb drive past Bruce and into the back of the net.

Spirit were at this stage the dominant side, creating chances and outplaying a strangely dormant Hills outfit that hadn't quite got out of second gear.

But slowly the visitors played their way back into the contest and started stringing together some lovely passes. That paid off when in the 22nd minute Kelshaw half-volleyed home a poor clearance by Spirit keeper Jack Greenwood, who looked on in despair as the ball flashed past him and into the back of the net.

At one-all, the game had suddenly become a lot more interesting.

Just shy of the half hour mark, Spirit winger Dylan Whitlock forced Bruce into a fine save; and moments later, pushed a shot wide of the far post when he probably should have found the target. Hills struggled to contain the home side's attacking forays and at times allowed them to find defensive holes at will.

Spirit attacked through the midfield and on occasion, lobbed the ball over the top when the opportunity arose. Both tactics were effective at creating opportunities and while the home side found chinks in United's armour, Hills played some excellent attacking football of their own, only to be denied time and again by the impressive Spirit backline of Jacob Harris, Daniel Cunningham, Grant Cornwell and Michael Streeter.    

Harris in particular was outstanding, his vision, defensive nous and composure under pressure excellent. But just as vital to the Spirit cause were his backline partners, who, apart from an errant corner, proved to be an impenetrable wall for the visitors.

In the 39th minute Spirit again had a gilt-edged opportunity but with numbers in support and the Hills defence backpedalling, Bozanic was unable to provide the final pass. The home crowd breathed a collective sigh of disappointment at yet another missed opportunity.

The two sides went to the sheds at one-all and Hills began strongly after the restart, with Greg Giovenali and Jacob Basden attempting long range shots within a minute of one another. Hills then launched a sweeping attack upfield, before Spriit's Harris brilliantly intercepted a cross just when the visitors looked likely to score.

Just shy of the hour, Hills lost the ball at the back but fortunately for them, Spirit were unable to capitalise and once again, another chance went begging. Hills' carelesness at the back was looking ominous and it seemed that it would only be a matter of time before Spirit would put the match to bed. But again, it wasn't to be.

In the 63rd minute Hills' Jordan Parfait unleashed from long range, only to see his shot flash wide. Three minutes later, Spirit's Andre Shroeder turned sharply and shot from close range, only to see gloveman Bruce pull off a fine reflex save.

At this stage Spirit looked the more likely to score, such were the amount of opportunities they were creating. But as the match wore on, it became clear that today just wasn't going to be Spirit's day.

In the 68th minute Spirit had a corner headed off the line; and after a superb long range pass in the 76th, Chris Godoy Bascur couldn't beat Bruce in a one-on-one that probably should have sealed the game. The Number 9 was subbed a minute later and left the field to a standing ovation after turning on an influential performance that at times had Hills chasing shadows.

Five minutes from fulltime Spirit's Bradley Gibson had a half-chance but his header lacked any penetration.

Spirit were also caught offside a couple of times, costing their side further opportunities.

In a frenetic end to the match, both sides threw caution to the wind, hoping to steal the spoils. In the 86th minuteHills' substitute Sean Mitchell glanced a shot towards the target, only to see Greenwood deny him his moment of glory, while three minutes later Whitlock rifled a Shroeder pass towards goal, the leather finding goalkeeper Bruce at velocity.    

Hills' Jordan Parfait had the last chance to steal the spoils right on the cusp of fulltime, but his shot went wide, much to the relief of the home side and their small band of supporters.

In the end, the game ended in a one-all draw when Spirit probably should have won by at least two clear goals. However, football doesn't always reward the dominant side. But it always rewards those who take their opportunities.

Spirit coach David Perkovic was happy with his side's defensive performance but rued their inability to convert opportunities in front of goal.

"I think it was a bit of a scrappy affair to be honest," Perkovic told Football NSW. "Didn't really look like either side settled throughout the game but it's all about what you do in both boxes. Today we did fairly well defensively. Disappointingly we conceded off a set piece but we just needed to take our chances. We had a few one-on-ones we didn't capitalise on and (that probably) cost us two points today."

"We didn't lose so that's a positive and defensively I think we were fairly solid. We need to try to address the other end of the park and converting opportunities, that's what we'll work on this week to try and rectify next weekend.

"I think we played a balanced game of football where we asked different questions of our opposition. We played through midfield and at times when we saw an opportunity to get in behind them we took those options as well. I think we had a good balance of football that was effective and that's why we created more clinical goal-scoring opportunities than our opposition."

Meanwhile, Hills coach Dan Sheppard wasn't particularly impressed with the game.    

"It really, wasn't particularly entertaining, wasn't particularly great," Sheppard told Football NSW. "A lot of watching the ball in the air and then get down and watch the ball in the air again.

"On another day we might've conceded more goals in a game like that. Not by particularly any good stuff from Spirit but just keep on throwing the ball in the box, sometimes things happen so we stood up well there. There was some good clearances and stuff like that. We kept on trying to play (but) it's very difficult when it's very one-sided and we weren't quite good enough today.

"I say it pretty much every week that we play the better football (than our opposition). We're still a very young squad, average age around the 22 mark. Take out our two 30-year-olds from today's team and it (average age) drops down again. We had an 18-year-old start again today and we're a little bit bolder in our football than some of the others and we're a little bit bolder with our youth selection than some of the others so we're always going to be caught a little bit results-wise in comparison to some."

Match Stats 

Spirit FC 1 (Louis Bozanic 11') Hills United 1 (Glen Kelshaw 22')

Valentine Sports Park

Saturday 5 August 2017

Referee: S Brennan

Assistant Referees: J Park, A Filakoondis

Spirit FC: 80. Jack Greenwood (GK), 12. Louis Bouzanic (Andrew Robertson), 8. Grant Cornwell, 2. Daniel Cunningham, 9. Chris Godoy Bascur (20. Bradley Gibson 77'), 10. Chris Gomez (21. Zoran Kolundzic 63'), 7. Jacob Harris, 17. Ryan Johnstone, 22. Andre Schroeder, 11. Dylan Whitlock

Unused Subs: 20. Bradley Gibson, 70. James Wallace, 9. Tom Lovell

Yellow Cards: 12. Louis Bozanic, 9. Chris Godoy Bascur

Coach: David Perkovic

Hills United: 69. Alastair Bruce (GK), 45. Jacob Basden (9. Sean Mitchell 78'), 16. Greg Giovenali, 7. Wade Giovenali, 19. Glen Kelshaw, 14. Vic Koutsoufis (15. Matias Toro Suazo 62'), 11. Daine Merrin, 8. Eoin Montford, 10. Jordan Parfait, 5. Marcus Zarantonello (28. Keiran Pace 71'), 6. Bradley Robertson

Unused Subs: 51. Joe Yammie, 22. Divan Laubscher

Yellow Cards: Wade Giovenali 60', 6. Bradley Robertson

Coach: Dan Sheppard

Mt Druitt Town Rangers 2 St George 0, Popondetta Park

Mt Druitt Town Rangers extended their winning streak to four matches with a 2-0 victory over second-placed St George at Popondetta Park on Saturday night.

Daniel Rezo scored both goals to give his side an invaluable three points and outright fourth place on the competition table; while Saints' Ali Nasreddine and Daniel Loe were red carded, making the always-difficult journey to Popondetta a catastrophic one.

"We caught them on the counter-attack with our first goal," Mt Druitt coach Aidan Desmond said of the seventh minute opener. "We suspected they'd come out and be quite aggressive in possession and really come at us. And we caught them on the counter down the right-hand side. The ball was cut back to Daniel Rezo who finished it fairly comfortably."

Rangers led 1-0 at halftime but according to Desmond his side were dreadful in the last 25 minutes of the first half.

"We were own worst enemies," Desmond said. "We gave the ball away, we didn't retain possession and we were quite scrappy."

Desmond changed a few things at halftime and within seven minutes Rezo chipped home his side's second goal to seal victory.

"St George play an aggressive defensive game and once they were down to nine men we just kept the ball," Desmond said. "I wasn't bothered whether we scored or not, we just wanted to stop them from scoring and get through the game."

Desmond added that for the fourth time in as many weeks, his side rolled up their sleeves and worked hard for one another, while goalkeeper Carlos Saliadarre made two or three critical saves in the first half to keep his side alive.

"If we'd conceded a couple of goals in that first half the result would've been a different story, but Carlos kept us alive," Desmond said. "Nobody stood out overall, we were quite good right across the park. Even the players who came of the bench just did what they had to do." 

Meanwhile, St George coach Terry Palapanis was left to rue his side's third loss on the bounce, one that doesn't affect his side's position of outright second on the ladder, but which could have a psychological impact with the semi-finals looming large on the horizon.

"We had the majority of the ball in the first half but they got us on the counter the first time they attacked us, and scored the first goal of the game," Palapanis told Football NSW. "We hit the post two or three times in that first half but just couldn't score. We had more of the play, more shots on goal and we were still down at halftime.

Palapanis said that his side made a "really poor error in judgement" to concede the second goal. And from there, things just went from bad to worse as Nasreddine and Loe received their marching orders and Rangers held on for the win.

"We had two players red carded; the first for a second yellow and the second for saying something to another player," Palapanis said. "The referee thought the comment was directed at him and he sent him off straight away. That was it, we were down to nine men ... we were down 2-0 ... thanks for coming."

When asked where his side had to improve with the semi-finals just under a month away, Palapanis replied: "We need to score goals. We just can't score, the ball just won't go into the back of the net. We had enough opportunities to win three games against Mt Druitt. They play in a particular way and it's effective so good luck to them. They rely on the counter and it's working for them. Why would you change it? It's not pretty but it's effective."

St George were on an incredible seven-match unbeaten streak between rounds 14 and 20, but since losing brilliant striker Juan Carlos Romero after an horrendous collision with Bankstown Berries goalkeeper Chad Taylor, the side from Sydney's southern suburbs have struggled. According to Palapanis, Romero could make a surprise return in a week or two.

"JC (Romero) has been training with the boys and might even be available for this week's game against Bankstown," Palapanis said. "If not then I'd say he'll be ready to play the following week just before the start of the semis."

With an astounding 18 goals to his name this season, Saints desperately need their Spanish sharpshooter back in action once the big games kick off at the end of the month. Romero's return will certainly give his coach something to smile about.

Bankstown City 0 Northern Tigers 1, Jensen Park

In a clash between the big cats, Northern Tigers edged out a brave Bankstown City Lions 1-0 at Jensen Park on Sunday, with Aram Tayebi gabbing the winner in the 24th minute.

The Lions had conceded a whopping 18 goals in their last three games and premiership contenders Northern Tigers were expected to bombard the home side mercilessly.

But it didn't happen, with the Tigers eternally grateful to escape with the spoils.

"It was an important three points for us," Tigers coach Mark McCormick told Football NSW. "We're still in the hunt for the playoffs so it was real important we got back on track after last week's 3-1 loss to Mt Druitt. We went to Jensen which is never an easy place to go to because of the (poor) pitch. But we put on a professional performance and came away with the three points."

When asked what impressed him the most about his side's performance, McCormick replied: "It was a real professional performance; it's a real difficult pitch and Bankstown are fighting for their lives. They're a very physical team and our boys responded to that.

"We had some chances; they've cleared one off the line; we've missed a penalty at zero-zero; and even though we were playing on a difficult pitch, we were still creating chances. But also, a clean sheet is extremely important at this stage of the season and in a league that's so tight three points are invaluable."

When asked to name his side's standouts, the Glaswegian said everybody stood out in what was a collective performance.

"Everyone was fantastic, even the guys coming off the bench," McCormick said. "It was really important. We had a 17-year-old kid in goal and a couple of other teenagers out there. Sometimes you need to win ugly, it's not always beautiful. Sometimes it's just a a case of taking the three points and getting out of there."   

Marconi Stallions 2 Blacktown Spartans 0, Marconi Stadium

Marconi Stallions did enough to beat a courageous Blacktown Spartans 2-0 at Marconi Stadium on Sunday, with Sean Rooney and Marko Jesic sealing the win with goals in the 45th and 56th minutes.

Peter Tsekenis's sky blue machine just keeps on winning and the 2-0 victory saw his side claim the NPL 2 Premiership and take another step towards their ultimate goal of gaining promotion to the top echelon of NSW football.

Marconi's win extended their lead at the top of the table to an uncatchable 18 points and while his side's performance was far from polished, Tsekenis was pleased to take home the spoils.

"Credit to Spartans, they kept coming at us," Tsekenis told Football NSW. "We created some good opportunities at times but the end finish was very sloppy. Spartans created a couple of chances themselves which could have made life a bit more difficult for us but we were in control most of the game and it was just a matter of finishing things off. If we had our shooting boots on we could've put three or four in but it wasn't to be. But credit to Spartans, they kept competing and in the end we got the result we needed."

Tsekenis said he was impressed with his side's ability to stay patient and not become frustrated.

"We stayed patient and kept working and plugging away," he said. "It became frustrating because we created a lot of chances but were really sloppy in front of goal to the point where it was laughable. But their keeper made some really good saves and kept them in the game for a long period. In the end our patience and focus got us through and we got the result we needed, which at this stage of the season is very important."

Meanwhile, Spartans coach Luis Contigiani said that while he was disappointed to lose, he was was happy with his team's performance.

"Marconi are a very good team and any one of their front three (Rooney, Jesic and Mirjan Pavlovic) can score a goal," 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.

"But then they scored just before halftime and in the second half they scored a penalty and after that they took control. We didn't keep the ball as well as we did in the first half and in the second half they turned it on and were more dominant. 

"It was their experience and overall quality against a young team that wants to be better and wants to play good football. I didn't leave upset because I know the boys gave it everything and we made a game ot it. We didn't just sit back and absorb pressure, we took the game to them."

Luis Contigiani's young Spartans outfit has been through the wars this season. Experiencing the best of both worlds the Spartans led the competition early in the season only to be hit with a spate of suspensions and injuries and then the killer blow of a six point deduction for playing a suspended player, which saw them plummet to second last on the table.

Currently sitting in 12th place on the ladder, the Spartans are a mere five points out of the six and while they weren't expected to upset the Stallions, they certainly made life uncomfortable for the premiership favourites.

North Shore Mariners 2 Central Coast Mariners 2, Northbridge Oval

In the battle of the Mariners, North Shore and Central Coast shared the spoils 2-all at Northbridge Oval on Sunday.

In what was expected to be a keen contest between two teams with contrasting styles, Ankumah-Sey and Smith scored for the home side; while Glassock and Stewart grabbed goals for the Coasters.

In the lead up to the game, North Shore coach Joe Haywood said he thought Central Coast would be quick, robust and full of confidence.

"They've now got a mentality in their group where they know how to win; they've got a system that suits them; they've got personnel that suits them and obviously they've got young, talented footballers, which is great," Haywood said. "It's going to be a good test and a good game all round."   

With the semi-finals just four weeks away, both sides would have craved three points but it wasn't to be, with the draw leaving them sitting in equal seventh, just a point outside the six.

The remaining three rounds of the regular season will be critical as teams continue to jostle for places, so every point gained is invaluable as the race for championship honours continues.  

Western Sydney Wanderers 4 Macarthur Rams 2, Sydney United Sports Centre

Western Sydney Wanderers beat Macarthur Rams 4-2 at Sydney United Sports Centre on Sunday to remain in the hunt for a place in the top six.

Kyle Cimenti scored a double for the Wanderers, and Oliver Puflett and Jordan Hall grabbed one goal each; while Scott Goodwin and Lochie Reus scored one apiece for Macarthur.

"We didn't start very well and we weren't great in the first half," Wanderers' assistant coach Arthur Diles told Football NSW. "We didn't really get control of the game and turned over the ball quite often and looked a little bit flat."

Mathieu Cordier, Oliver Puflett, Moudi Najjar and Tate Russell were away for seven days in Perth with the Young Socceroos and didn't return to Sydney until gameday, a probable reason for the Wanderers' disjointed first half.

"We lifted in the second half and started to control the game," Diles added. "I think the scoreline showed in the end that we created a few chances and took them well."

When asked what impressed him the most about his side's performance, Diles replied: "The way we finished the game. Considering it was such a big week - having those players away with the Young Socceroos - and then having an eight-day turnaround we loaded the boys up in terms of their training and it was good to see they were able to finish the game very well physically. The good thing also was we didn't concede a goal from open play - one was from a free kick and one was from a corner. We scrambled quite well and defended well."

Diles added that the win was a team effort, with no individual standouts, but he did mention 16-year-old Tom Aquilina, who made his debut, the latest in a long line of youngsters being given an opportunity with the Red and Black. 

Meanwhile, Macarthur coach Eddie Briscoe was pleased that his side refused to back down and gave the Wanderers a run for their money

"We went out there and were very positive," Briscoe told Football NSW. "We went at them and didn't sit back. It was a close first half and although we went 1-0 down, we had chances. They cleared off the line, their keeper made a couple of good saves and we equalised from a corner. I thought we were actually the better team in the first half but they got us twice on the break in the second half and while we bridged the gap to 3-2 at one stage, they caught us on the counter attack again to score their fourth. That was it.

"I was pretty proud of the guys, we had a lot of injuries and a lot of players out. To have a crack at it the way they did made me really proud."

Mounties Wanderers 3 Bankstown Berries 2, Valentine Sports Park

Mounties Wanderers staged a courageous comeback from two goals down to upset Bankstown Berries 3-2 at Valentine Sports Park on Sunday, a win that sees them sitting just one point outside the top six.

For Mounties, Tai Smith scored a double and Reed Taylor grabbed one goal; while for the Berries, Andreas Vais and player coach Perry Moustakas scored one apiece.

Mounties sensationally lost coach Lee Sterrey earlier in the week, a distraction they didn't need on the eve of a match against a side that weren't just riding the crest of a wave, but were also unbeaten in seven matches. But somehow Mounties did the improbable and not only burst the Berries' bubble, but did it the hard way, coming back from a two-goal deficit to steal the spoils.

"The character of the boys was awesome," Mounties' player coach Neftali Gonzalez told Football NSW. "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."

When asked who stood out for his side, Gonzalez replied: "To be honest all the boys were awesome but Tai (Smith) with two goals played well; and Anthony Smith the fullback also played a really good game, he gave us a lot of width on the right-hand side. They were awesome."

Meanwhile, Berries' player coach Perry Moustakas was realistic about his side's defeat.

"Look, today was coming," Moustakas told Football NSW. "We took a 2-0 lead pretty quick and created plenty of chances but it just got to a point where the players ran out of gas. They've played a lot of football in recent months and after about 35th or 40th minute we were just second-best to everything. We were tired and started making some uncharacteristic mistakes, but full credit to Mounties, they capaitalised on our mistakes. But we definitely had a lot of chances. It's a tough one to take but we knew the loss had to come eventually."

Moustakas revealed that he only had a 12-man squad available due to injuries and with a small squad of players doing the damage most of the season anyway, fatigue was always going to be a factor.

With just three matches remaining before the semi-finals, the Berries sit in sixth spot on the table, just two points behind Western Sydney and one point ahead of North Shore, Central Coast and Mounties, who share equal-seventh. Moustakas's men face the Wanderers next week in what is sure to be a fearsome battle.

-By Derek Royal, Football NSW Reporter