Round 7 of the NPL 2 NSW Men’s competition surprised all, as teams at the bottom of the table secured crucial wins to pile the pressure on the teams above them.
This is shaping up to be one thrilling season.
Match of the Round: Hills United vs St George FC
This was supposed to be the game that Hills United proved they were the real deal this season.
The game where they made the league sit up and take notice.
Unfortunatley, as so often has been the case this season, the headlines were stolen again by one man.
The ‘special Juan’.
Juan Carlos Heras Romero has proved again that he is different class.
With as much control, invention, and amazement as a magician weaving his magic wand, so too does Romero cast his spell on helpless defences across the NPL 2 NSW Men’s.
And, as fans gathered in number on Saturday night at Lily Homes Stadium, expecting to see a tight match between two in-form teams, they were united – irrespective of whether they were dressed in gold or red – in both admiration for the skill of Romero and in sympathy for the poor Hills backline exposed to the merciless brutality of his skill.
Romero scored his and his team’s first goal of the game midway through the first half.
Christopher Arditti made a mazy run through a sea of Hills’ defenders, weaving inside from the right wing. A desperate tackle knocked the ball loose, but before it could be gathered by recovering Hills’ players, Arditti lunged at it, squirting the ball towards the path of Romero who drove a low shot that fizzed across the surface and slid under the diving keepers’ arms and into the net.
A deserved lead for St George, but one they wouldn’t be satisfied with for long as they found their second of the game on 28 minutes.
More incisive wing-play from the Saints, this time on the left flank, as Jordan Morfitis raced to the by-line before cutting the ball back, aiming for his awaiting striker. However the ball was cut out by a Hills’ defender, whose clearance cruelly fell into the path of Ali Nasreddine who cut across the ball on the half volley, sending it spinning fiercely into the roof of the net.
The two goal lead was one St George fans enjoyed throughout the half-time break as, by stark contrast, Hills United fans spent the interval scratching their heads at how they could nullify the attacking threat of the Saints.
Whatever answers the Hills’ fans and coaching staff came up with at half-time didn’t seem to work however as in the 68th minute, Romero scored his second of the game.
The Spanish wizard chipped a ball out wide into the path of his winger, who danced his way towards the edge of the box. Looking up, he saw Romero in acres of space, almost as if the semi circle on the 18-yard line acted as some forcefield, preventing Hills’ players getting close to Romero.
The wingers pass was inch perfect for Romero to let it run between his legs, nudging the ball out of the path of the oncoming defender, and calmly stroke the ball into the corner of the net.
If it wasn’t certain already, the third goal looked to have sealed all three points for the Saints and the despondent dropping of Hills United heads looked to confirm that.
With the outcome confirmed, the only question left unanswered was, ‘by how many?’
The answer to that question became clearer on 76 minutes when Romero sent the crowd back to 2002, and a famous Ronaldinho/David Seaman moment.
A nonchalant free-kick from Romero drifted further than perhaps he intended, sailing towards the top corner of the goal. Luke Turnbull in goals began to backtrack rapidly, fearing the ball crashing embarrassingly into the net. However, in all his panic, Turnbull managed to fumble the ball onto the post, causing the ball to fall invitingly into the path of Aleksandar Lekoski who had what golfers call ‘a gimme’.
St George scored their fifth and final goal of the game on 83 minutes when a sloppy giveaway in the middle of the park allowed Saints’ players to pounce.
Romero latched onto the loose ball and fed it immediately through to Patrick O’Shea who skilfully back heeled the ball into the path of Lekoski who found himself unmarked standing on the penalty spot. Lekoski’s shot was well saved by Turnbull but, in a sign of how the fortune of the night was turning out, the ball spilled to the diminutive Anthony Morabito who converted from close range.
Hills United did add a consolation goal late in the game after Bradley Robertson scrambled the ball into the net from a corner but, in truth, it was a frustratingly long night for all men in yellow.
Regardless of the result, it’s been a positive start to the season for Hills United and they can take solace from the fact they aren’t and won’t be the only team to endure a tough night at the hands of St George.
The Saints continue to keep pace with Mt Druitt at the top of the table, in what is fast becoming a two horse race for the premiership crown.
Saturday 15th April 2018
Lily Homes Stadium
Hills United 1 (B. Robertson)
St George FC (J. Heras Romero x2, A. Lekoski, A. Nasreddine, A. Morabito)
Hills United: 1. L. Turnbull, 2. K. Pace, 5. M. Zarantonello, 6. B. Robertson, 7. W. Giovenali, 8. E. Montford, 11. D. Merrin, 13. C. Jeong, 14. C. Langan, 15. P. Gatt, 16. G. Giovenali, 19. G. Kelshaw, 44. D. Fogarty, 91. P. Cejka
St George FC: 2. D. Loe, 3. A. Nasreddine, 4. H. Akil, 5. J. Bandur, 6. P. O’Shea, 7. J. Heras Romero, 8. T. Ercan, 12. A. Morabito, 15. C. Arditti, 16. J. Morfitis, 17. A. Lekoski, 19. T. Norval, 20. R. Beneit Romero, 21. A. Costa
Blacktown Spartans 1 vs Canterbury Bankstown 3
These Berries are ripe!
Back-to-back wins for the first time this season has lifted Canterbury Bankstown out of the relegation gloom and into a cluster of mid-table teams.
It’s a testament to how tight this competition is.
For weeks the Berries struggled to score, they struggled to win and they struggled to find any form of confidence.
But there’s a renewed spirit within the dressing sheds at Canterbury Bankstown and all the ‘struggling’ seems to have shifted over to the men clad in orange and black.
The Spartans, after their opening round win against Macarthur, have fallen down the ladder like a bungee-jumper whose cord has malfunctioned.
And whilst the relegation shaped rocks at the bottom of the gorge still seem a way off, they grow closer and closer with every defeat.
This defeat came courtesy of some astute high-press from the Berries’ team, pressuring a Spartans defence that has been lacking in confidence for weeks.
On 20 minutes, Jake Bradshaw nipped in to dispossess a Spartans’ defender, Bradshaw tip-toed into the box and finished from an acute angle.
The home fans believed their side could get back into the game, but all hope evaporated in a 10 minute period midway through the second half.
Perry Moustakas rose highest to head home a Dominic Tripodi free-kick, and shortly after, Bradshaw was at it again – this time turning provider – as Richard Darko swept home from close range.
The Spartans rallied and found their way back into the game thanks to Alex Boyadijian whose devilish shot dipped sharply in front of the keeper and snuck home.
However the Berries showed resilience to remain secure at the back and collect an important three points for Branko Culina and his men.
Mounties Wanderers 1 vs Mt Druitt Town Rangers 5
The race for the premiership title is shaping up as a two horse race.
And, on the weekend Winx claimed her 25th straight victory, it’s clear to see which horse is Winx in this race.
Mt Druitt are on fire and defences in the NPL 2 are well and truly terrified.
Another 5 goal thumping of a hapless Mounties in this clash has cemented the Rangers’ place on the summit of the NPL 2 Men’s table.
There was some debate over the first goal, many believed Nicholas Trimble got the last touch, some believed it was Harry Kane who should be credited with the goal, but the official match report has chalked it down as a Pasqualino Cappuccio own goal.
There was no doubt over the second however, Brian Griffin-Colls snuck in behind his defender and finished neatly inside the far post.
It seemed Mounties fans were going to be in for a long afternoon at the Sydney United Sports Centre as the Rangers raced to a two-goal lead inside 10 minutes.
However Mounties responded with a goal of their own moments later through Mitchell Davidson.
It was Davidson’s third goal of the season and a strike that looked to inspire confidence in a Mounties team that desperately needed something to lift their spirits,
Sadly for Mounties fans, the goal was a momentary reprieve from Rangers’ dominance, and normal business resumed just 5 minutes later.
Making the most of the strong breeze in their backs, Mt Druitt played a more direct brand of football in the opening period, and on 15 minutes, Emmanuel Gonzalez latched onto a long ball in behind the defence to cooly finish past the keeper.
It was that man again shortly after half-time, as Gonzalez had too much pace for his defender, darting in behind the defensive line, rounded the keeper and tickled the ball into the net.
Eager to get in on the double-act, Brian Griffin-Colls added his second and his side’s fifth late in the second half, sealing some magnificent looking icing on one rather large green and yellow cake.
When asked about how far his side can go this year, Mt Druitt coach, Aidan Desmond replied, “from the beginning of the season, there’s been a feeling amongst the playing group that something special could happen this year”
However Desmond was quick to reiterate the need for his side to remain focussed on the here and now rather than be swept away by dreams of September.
It is only Round 7 but dreams of September aren’t too far away if the Rangers continue in the manner they’ve begun
Macarthur Rams 4 vs GHFA Spirit FC 1
Fresh off seeing the Berries break their duck last week, the pressure really piled onto the collective shoulders of Macarthur Rams ahead of their home clash against Spirit FC.
Knowing they couldn’t afford to drop any more points, or risk losing touch with the teams above them, the Rams responded in the best way possible with an emphatic win over a disappointing Spirit FC outfit.
Fans at Lynwood Park were left singing “Onana, what’s my name?” as the classy forward scored two slick goals to fire his team to their first victory of the season.
Not to be outdone, Mark Symington continued his solid start to the season, bagging a tasty McDouble to the sheer delight of all Rams’ fans on Saturday night.
Spirit FC striker, Kevin Lopes, kept up his perfect goal-to-game ratio, scoring his side’s first goal of the game during the second half, but in truth it was never going to be enough on a poor night for David Perkovic’s men.
“Credit to Macarthur. They scored the early goal and didn’t allow us to get back into the game. We need to get back to the training ground and rectify where things went wrong”.
It’s been a tough week for Spirit FC.
Two straight defeats. Seven goals conceded. One goal scored. It’s worrying form.
They will need to bounce back quickly next week against a resurgent Parramatta side or risk seeing a precious finals’ spot slip swiftly out of their grasp.
Northern Tigers 1 vs Western Sydney Wanderers 1
Two new names found their way onto the score and assist sheet this week for the Western Sydney Wanderers whose second half dominance wasn’t enough for them to secure all three points against a dogged Tigers’ side.
There was very little to separate these two sides in the early exchanges of the match.
The Wanderers tried to assert themselves through incisive wing-play, whilst the Tigers robust style looked to rattle the youth of the Red & Black.
But it was the Wanderers who opened the scoring, benefitting from the wing-play that they had begun the game so promisingly with, as Tass Mourdoukoutas slammed home a header from a wonderful Abdelrahman Kuku cross.
Though shortly after taking the lead, the Wanderers would allow the Tigers to sneak back into the game, Alexander Brown snatching an equaliser for Jason Eagar’s side.
An evenly contested first half made way for a second dominated by Red & Black.
The Wanderers pushed hard for a winning goal but each time were met by a desperate diving body from a Tigers’ defender who deflected the shot inches wide.
In the end, an important point for the Tigers who demonstrate their defensive resolve – an important quality to have in any team harbouring finals’ ambitions.
The Wanderers will be disappointed to miss out on collecting all three points but will be buoyed by the fact their unbeaten streak continues as they host the Central Coast Mariners next week.
Central Coast Mariners 2 vs Parramatta FC 2
The one that got away.
Parramatta FC took the lead twice in this match, and even had a numerical advantage for 18 minutes at the end of the match, but they weren’t able to translate opportunity into reality.
The ever reliable Neram Yalda opened the scoring for the Eagles in this match, but their joy was short-lived as a lapse in concentration allowed the Mariners to equalise just two minutes later through Emmanuel Peters.
It was a tight affair, between two teams that, despite the distance between them on the table, looked evenly matched.
But as it looked like the sides would march off for half-time all square, Abuzar Awaz stepped up in the fourth minute of added time to steal his side a half-time lead.
It was a smart ploy from the Eagles, who realised that scoring so close to half-time means there is no chance for the opposition to score just minutes later – as they did for the first goal.
Despite tangible effort, neither side could fashion a genuine goal-scoring opportunity in the second half.
That was until Alec Vinci stepped up with just 20 minutes to go to blast past the keeper to level the scores.
The home crowd erupted, eager to spur their side on to an important victory.
But their cheers turned to fears just two minutes later when Emmanuel Peters got an basic lesson in football math: one yellow plus one yellow equals a red.
Suddenly the momentum shifted again, this time in favour of the away side.
The Eagles soared, hunting a winning goal.
But one would never arrive, as a stubborn Central Coast Mariners defence held firm to maintain their unbeaten start to the season.
A frustrating night for Parramatta who would have felt they deserved all three points, but overall a promising performance for a team that is slowly finding its feet in the NPL 2 NSW Men’s competition.
North Shore Mariners 1 vs Rydalmere Lions 1
The late kick-off for Round 7 and arguably the one with the most pressure.
With the knowledge of the results that have gone before, this game took on even greater significance for both sides.
Rydalmere saw both Macarthur Rams and Canterbury Bankstown pick up maximum points in their matches over the weekend, cutting the gap between the Lions and the bottom of the table to just one win.
North Shore had seen all the teams around them fail to win and knew that a win in this game could propel them above a cluster of teams in the middle of the competition table.
But for all the optimism and heightened sense of importance, neither side were able to secure the three points they so desperately craved.
The North Shore Mariners opened the scoring through a powerful finish from Chris Lindsay. In truth, it was a goal the Mariners merited after some slick passing in the opening half.
Lindsay’s strike was enough to separate the two teams at the break, but it was a different Lions’ side that emerged in the second period.
And they were rewarded for their positive second half performance, as Mitchell Gibbs kept his composure to guide the ball into the back of the net.
Both sides pushed hard for a winning goal, aware of how significant a winning strike could be for their position on the ladder.
Despite their efforts, a winning goal eluded both sets of strikers, and the referee’s whistle brought to an end an entertaining but frustrating match for both sets of fans.
Source FNSW website - By Ryan Latty
Next week’s fixtures:
St George FC vs Rydalmere Lions
Mt Druitt Town Rangers vs Blacktown Spartans
Western Sydney Wanderers vs Central Coast Mariners
Canterbury Bankstown vs Northern Tigers
North Shore Mariners vs Mounties Wanderers
Hills United vs Macarthur Rams
Parramatta FC vs GHFA Spirit FC