As we ready our bellies for a sumptuous serving of finals football in the coming weeks, Round 18 of the NPL 2 NSW Men’s has served up the perfect entrée with the competition’s top teams facing off in another explosive round of football.
Knife and fork at the ready?
Let’s dig in.
Match of the Round: North Shore Mariners vs St George FC – 4pm, Sunday 1st July – Northbridge Oval
Before any broadway show, there’s always a dress rehearsal.
An opportunity for the actors to have one final practice performance before the big event.
And with the main event of the 2018 finals series looming on the horizon for both these teams, this match is the perfect opportunity for them to show us all what we can expect from them when the football becomes do or die.
St George, they were many people’s tip at the beginning of the season.
However whilst many had tipped St George to perform well, no one could have predicted what has transpired so far.
The managerial merry-go-round and transfer window have had an indelible impact on the Saints but with Savor now at the helm, the club looks primed to fulfil the predictions made by many way back before a ball was even kicked.
North Shore, well, not even the most ardent North Shore fan could have expected to be performing so well at this stage of the season.
Perennially a team eager to improve, the North Shore side have gone from wooden-spooners in 2016 to title challengers in 2018.
And now, after four wins in a row, they sit just 3 points behind the league leaders.
How far can North Shore go and what impact will they have in the finals? This dress rehearsal will tell us all we need to know.
Canterbury Bankstown vs Rydalmere Lions – 7pm, Saturday 30th June – The Crest Athletic Centre
Australians love an underdog.
A team who defies the odds stacked against them.
And these two teams encapsulate that better than most.
Rydalmere, a tiny club when compared to the financial and historical stature of some of the other established clubs in the competition; enjoying the meteoric rise of multiple promotions; depleted of experience and quality during the transfer window; forced into playing a side with an average age of less than 21.
It warms the soul.
Similarly, Canterbury Bankstown were the competition’s easy-beats. A team that couldn’t score a goal, let alone win a match of football. Similarly depleted through the recent transfer window; severe injuries to crucial players; relying on ageing players whose legs refuse to do what they used to.
It leaves you wishing both teams could collect three points on Saturday night.
Although like in every good story, there is a winner and a loser.
Who will play which role on Saturday night?
Mt Druitt Town Rangers vs Hills United – 7pm, Saturday 30th June – Popondetta Park
Mt Druitt are hurting.
Two defeats in a row is bad.
However what makes matters worse is, those two defeats have come against teams they are likely to play in this season’s finals.
Both St George and the North Shore Mariners dealt a psychological blow to the Rangers in recent weeks, shaking what was previously unshakeable confidence.
Now the Rangers will be heading into the finals knowing none of the teams they will be versing fear them.
One such team is Hills United.
The Brumbies are clinging onto their top six spot but with each defeat or draw, their grip is rapidly loosening.
They currently sit in 5th place, on 27 points – the same as Rydalmere in 6th.
With Spirit FC and the Mounties breathing down their necks, Hills are looking nervously over their shoulder.
And their nerves are compounded when Luke McGuire takes a look at his side’s fixture list.
After this match, Hills play the North Shore Mariners and St George – two of the competition’s top four teams.
If Hills lose this match, and fail to take at least three points from their next two games, their top 6 spot could be gone before the preview is due for Round 20.
GHFA Spirit FC vs Northern Tigers 7:30pm, Saturday 30th June – Christie Park
Just as easily as losing can become a habit, so too can winning.
After losing four games in a row through a miserable May, Spirit FC have now won 2 in a row, and are on a 5 game undefeated run.
Plenty of credit is owed to the tactical nous of coach David Perkovic, who has transformed his team’s run of form by building a foundation of defensive solidarity which then gives room for his attacking players, in particular the red hot Matthew West, to flourish.
The proof is in the pudding.
Two clean sheets in their past two games, they have overall reduced the goals conceded per game from 3.3 goals (Rounds 10-12) to 0.6 (Rounds 15-17).
This isn’t good news for the Northern Tigers.
Jason Eagar’s men have struggled in front of goal recently, and without the benefit of VAR to award them a penalty and for a burly bearded man to step up and slot it away, the Tigers have gone three games without finding the back of the net.
This worrying dip in form has seen them slip down to 10th in the table and has left the Tigers on the brink of extinction from the finals’ race this season.
Two teams knocking on the door of the top six, will it open for either? Saturday night will provide us with the answer to this question.
Western Sydney Wanderers vs Mounties Wanderers – 7pm, Saturday 30th June, Sydney United Sports Centre
The Wandering derby is back for its second rendition this season but this time, the two teams are in very different situations.The last time these two teams met, the Western Sydney Wanderers were in the middle of a 3-game unbeaten run, a streak which propelled them into the top six on the competition table.
Fast forward 12 weeks and it’s almost the complete opposite.
The boys in red and black have lost 4 of their last 5 games and haven’t won a match since Round 11.
With the majority of their star players unlikely to play for the academy side again this season, the defeats look set to continue, especially here against a Mounties side beginning to find their groove.
Last week’s thumping of Parramatta FC will have given the Mounties, and Juan Carlos Romero, much needed confidence.
Prior to his double last round, Romero had only scored two goals in five games – decent by anyone’s standards; but Romero isn’t ‘anyone’.
Terry Palapanis will be looking for another man of the match performance on Saturday as the Mounties continue their late, albeit unlikely, season push for the finals.
Macarthur Rams vs Central Coast Mariners – 7pm, Saturday 30th June – Lynwood Park
For all of Macarthur’s struggles this season, there’s a feeling about this game that the Rams could cause an upset.
An icy Lynwood Park on a winter’s evening; home fans in full voice; their season and status as an NPL 2 club on the line – this match has all the ingredients.
Don’t forget the Rams stole a point off the Central Coast Mariners last time these two teams met.
Can the youth of the Central Coast Mariners handle the physicality of the burly Rams’ side?
Ken Schembri’s men will certainly be hoping to collect another three points as they seek to overthrow Mt Druitt in first place.
Parramatta FC vs Blacktown Spartans – 3pm, Sunday 1st July – Melita Stadium
The good news for Parramatta fans after last week’s performance, is that things can only get better.
A disastrous defensive display from the Eagles gifted the Mounties 5 goals as they suffered a heavy defeat.
Equally alarming from that match was the inability of Parramatta to trouble Dion Shaw in the Mounties’ goal.
Although, as they have shown this season – most notably against Mt Druitt – the Eagles are capable of soaring to stellar heights.
They will be pleased to welcome the Spartans to Melita Stadium on Sunday afternoon – a team who have lost their last two games.
Whilst neither of these teams should start planning for football in early September, they need to (especially Parramatta) find form quickly otherwise the only plans they can make will be for NPL 3 football next year.
Source FNSW website - By Ryan Latty