Round 26 Preview – NPL 2 NSW Men’s

Seven simultaneous kickoffs on Sunday provide what is sure to be a memorable finish to the National Premier Leagues 2 NSW Men’s home-and-away season.

There are plenty of storylines on offer: the destination of the Premiership will be decided, four clubs are fighting for the two unclaimed finals spots, and the relegation battle will also be settled.

However, before Round 26 commences, we have a Round 24 catchup game on Thursday night.

Western Sydney Wanderers v St George City FA, 8:00pm Thursday 22 August, Valentine Sports Park No. 2

Valentine Sports Park is the venue for the last of the rescheduled fixtures, Western Sydney Wanderers electing to postpone because four players were called up to the Young Socceroos squad which won the AFF Under-18 Championship on Monday.

The Wanderers weren’t able to capitalise on a promising start in last Wednesday’s match against Northern Tigers, so Arthur Diles will be looking for a more complete performance from his players on Thursday. Three points would be especially welcome for a team that hasn’t experienced victory in two months. International call-ups have presented a chance for some of the younger players to make their mark, and Nicolas Milanovic impressed when he came on at halftime against the Tigers.

On the other hand, City must be glad to be back in the winner’s circle after defeating Macarthur Rams on Saturday. There were good signs at both ends for Mirko Jurilj’s men – speedsters Reuben Awaritefe and Geoffry Lino combined for the only goal against the Rams, and Christopher Marques also caught the eye with some good goalkeeping. One downside though, is an enforced midfield reshuffle due to Hayden Morton’s injury.

Match of the Round: North Shore Mariners v GHFA Spirit FC, 3:00pm Sunday 25 August, Northbridge Oval

Our featured game takes us to Northbridge Oval, where history will be made if the hosts are victorious. Very few people would have predicted this scenario in 2016, the year North Shore finished as wooden spooners. Fast forward three seasons, and Joe Haywood’s team are now only 90 minutes away from their first NPL 2 Men’s trophy.

On Sunday, a couple of new heroes stepped up for North Shore. With the Premiership on the line and on the back of a three week winless run, Nathan Separovic picked a fantastic time to open his goalscoring account for the campaign, while Daniel Saric hit the back of the net for the first time since May. As usual, Mitchell Smith is one to watch – he has seven goals in nine matches at Northbridge Oval in 2019.

Spirit sealed a finals spot on Saturday following their third win in four rounds, now David Perkovic will want his side to take that form into the postseason. Five goals in the last five games mean Duncan Stewart is in good shape, and the Dominic Furness – Futoshi Kondo pairing ran the show in midfield against Mounties. However, another defensive injury, this time to Jacob Harris, is sure to test Spirit’s depth at the back.

Hills United v Macarthur Rams, 3:00pm Sunday 25 August, Lily Homes Stadium

Meanwhile, at Lily Homes Stadium, Hills United will be hoping Spirit FC can do them a favour.

United will take the Premiership if they win and North Shore draw or lose. Should those two things eventuate, it would also be a historic result after Hills missed the finals in 2017 & 2018. They couldn’t convert a good first half performance last weekend into goals, so Patrick Zwaanswijk will want his players to be more clinical. Kento Sakurai has been fantastic in the second half of the season and might lead the way – the midfielder almost scored another spectacular long range goal against St George FC.

Macarthur are hoping to finish on a high, but it’s a tall order for them to defeat a high flying Hills outfit. Perhaps they can look to the last time they played a Premiership contender for inspiration: the Rams led for the majority of their Round 16 encounter with North Shore, so the talent is there. Shotstopper Jacob Madden and the Macarthur defence should have enough motivation – the Rams have won every time they’ve kept a clean sheet in 2019.

Rydalmere Lions v Canterbury Bankstown FC, 3:00pm Sunday 25 August, Valentine Sports Park No. 2

The competition returns to Valentine Sports Park for one half of a nailbiting relegation battle.

Rydalmere need to score five more Club Championship points than St George to escape the drop. There is still plenty of hope as the Lions pushed the league leaders all the way last weekend. Sam Perre, Garang Awac and Kuot Maliet will always be a handful in attack, however big defensive performances from the likes of Raimond Coletta and Simon Valastro are required against a Canterbury side who have suddenly found goalscoring form.

For Canterbury, most of the focus rests on one man. Zac Elrich netted a hat trick on Saturday and scored twice against the Lions back in May, can he do it again against his former club? Energetic midfielder Jake Bradshaw also scored in the surprise win over Bonnyrigg, so the signs are good for a team which has the better of the head to head record with Rydalmere (two wins, one loss).

St George FC v Blacktown Spartans, 3:00pm Sunday 25 August, Ilinden Sports Centre

St George FC have hauled themselves out of the relegation zone with one round to spare, but they face a tricky match against a Blacktown Spartans outfit in the midst of the fight for the top six.

The Saints know that a repeat of their 2-0 victory over the Spartans in May would take them almost all the way to survival. A number of players appear to be hitting form at just the right time – Anthony Costa made a number of important saves against Hills, and Saints top scorer Marcus Beattie grabbed another goal on Saturday. St George FC’s record against the men in orange is exceptional: five consecutive victories dating back to the start of the 2017 season.

Meanwhile, the Spartans shouldn’t be short of incentive. Paul Hubbard’s side slipped out of the top six following last week’s defeat to Central Coast Mariners, and now need a win, plus either Mounties or Northern Tigers dropping points. More than ever, they need the Connor Eldridge – Finley Hayhurst partnership to fire. At the other end of the park, Spartans centre backs Dau Akol and Richard Blanco need to show what they can do against the Saints attack.

Northern Tigers v Central Coast Mariners, 3:00pm Sunday 25 August, North Turramurra Recreation Area

In one sense, the postseason starts a week early at North Turramurra Recreation Area. At least one of these sides will have their campaign ended in Sydney’s northern suburbs, and it’s also possible that they’ll both suffer from final day heartbreak.

Three wins and a draw in four rounds have seen the Tigers sneak into the top six, another victory guarantees them a top six place. The Northern Tigers attack was firing last Wednesday night against the Wanderers – Rory Spiers has found some goalscoring form with three goals in four games, and Alexander Brown is always a threat from set pieces. Recent history favours the Tigers, who have won their last two matches against Central Coast, including a victory with ten men in last year’s finals series.

The Mariners were seven points off the top six after Round 21. A run of 10 points from a possible 12 has kept their season alive, three more points and they may yet be involved next weekend. Mariners skipper Alec Vinci led by example on Sunday by scoring a crucial goal (only his third in 2019), while former Tiger Jordan Smylie is hoping familiarity leads to goals, for his and his team’s sake.

Mounties Wanderers v Western Sydney Wanderers, 3:00pm Sunday 25 August, Sydney United Sports Centre

In what could be dubbed The Wanderers Derby, Mounties can seal a top six place by defeating Western Sydney.

Put simply, three points are a must for Brian Brown’s Mounties side. Anything else opens the door for Blacktown Spartans and Central Coast Mariners to sneak into the top six at the last possible moment. All eyes will be on Western Sydney Wanderers legend Mark Bridge, who came on with half an hour left and helped set up a goal last weekend. Tai Smith was also handy off the bench, and at the back Blake Tuxford made a few quality saves.

This is a tough ask for Western Sydney, coming only three days after their catchup game against St George City FA. Arthur Diles might have some reinforcements in the form of the four players coming back from Young Socceroos duty – Fabian Monge, Jarrod Carluccio, Noah Pagden and Lochlan Constable. You can’t hide the fact that it’s been a difficult second half of the year, but Diles will still want a good performance to set them up for the next National Youth League campaign.

Bonnyrigg White Eagles v St George City FA, 3:00pm Sunday 25 August, Bonnyrigg Sports Club

Two teams with contrasting aims meet in south west Sydney. Bonnyrigg White Eagles are looking to carry some momentum into the finals series, while on the other hand St George City FA would like to finish the season on a positive note.

Last Saturday, Bonnyrigg continued their excellent form in front of goal – they’ve now scored 19 goals in the last five weeks. The problem was their usually rock solid defence conceded five times, which is as many as the White Eagles conceded in Rounds 17 through 24. We shouldn’t expect a repeat of that kind of defending though: Bonnyrigg have kept three clean sheets in the last four matches at Bonnyrigg Sports Club.

City have been hit hard by injuries in 2019 – now squad depth will be tested by two games in less than 72 hours. Control of the midfield is required, and this is where Alvaro Malmierca and Kerim Kumsuz will come in handy. Up front, Corey Gameiro has undoubted ability and could be the man to take them to victory.

By Eric Subijano

Twitter – @eric_subijano

Source FNSW website