Blacktown City lead the pack by the tightest of margins heading into Round 20 of the NPL NSW Men’s 20s competition, with Sydney FC and Sutherland Sharks snapping at their heels in second and third respectively.
Sutherland have slipped off the pace in recent weeks with just one win in their last five games, and will be looking to get their Premiership challenge back on track when they travel to Sydney Olympic on Saturday. Sydney FC take on Marconi on Sunday afternoon, while the Match of the Round will see APIA Leichhardt Tigers take on Sydney United 58 at Lambert Park.
Match of the Round: APIA Leichhardt Tigers FC v Sydney United 58 FC, Sunday 2pm at Lambert Park
Nothing less than a win last week would’ve kept APIA in the hunt for an unlikely place in the finals, and the Tigers duly delivered with a 3-2 win over Wollongong Wolves keeping them just three points off the pace heading into Round 20.
They also sit just two points behind their opponents this weekend; Sydney United 58 travelling to Lambert Park on the back of a disappointing 1-1 draw with Bonnyrigg White Eagles in Round 19. A win would have taken United up into the five, but now hopes rest on a near-perfect run-in – beginning with APIA on Sunday afternoon.
The Tigers caused something of an upset when these sides met at Sydney United Sports Centre back in Round 9, with Samuel Paslis and Mustafa Kamara on the scoresheet to secure a 2-0 win over an opposition that had been reduced to ten men.
Bonnyrigg White Eagles FC v Hakoah Sydney City East FC, 5pm at Bonnyrigg Sports Club
Bonnyrigg White Eagles remain a mathematical chance of scraping into the finals after picking up a point against Sydney United 58 last week, but would still require both a monumental upswing in form and a miraculous set of results to go their way.
Bonnyrigg are winless since mid-June, their last victory coming in a 3-2 win over competition stragglers Rockdale in Round 15.
They’ll look to pick themselves up on Saturday when they host Hakoah Sydney City East at Bonnyrigg Sports Club, where they’ll be out to avenge a 1-0 defeat in the reverse of the same fixture earlier in the season.
Hakoah come into this one a week after going down 1-0 to competition leaders Blacktown City, a result that saw that saw them slip outside the five behind Wollongong Wolves on goal difference. Their final three games of the regular season appear winnable, though they can ill afford to drop points in any with several teams still hopeful of stealing into fifth.
Manly United FC v Wollongong Wolves FC, 5pm at Cromer Park
Manly United pulled off the result of Round 19 when they stunned Sutherland Sharks 2-1 at Seymour Shaw last week, the shock win putting them fourth on the table with three weeks of the regular season to play.
United sit level with Wollongong and Hakoah on 28 points and lead the trio on goal difference, making this weekend’s match a crucial encounter for both sides.
A draw at Cromer Park would do little for either side with several teams below them ready to jump on dropped points, and tricky run-ins for both beyond this game.
Wollongong travel to Cromer Park eager to bounce back after last week’s disappointing 3-2 defeat to APIA Leichhardt Tigers; the Wolves’ fourth consecutive match without a win. Needless to say, three points against fellow finals contenders Manly would go a long way towards making up for the loss to the Tigers.
Sydney Olympic FC v Sutherland Sharks FC, 12.40pm at Belmore Sports Ground
Sydney Olympic suffered their heaviest loss of the season in Round 19, going down 6-0 to Sydney FCt at Lambert Park last Saturday.
Still, the side from Belmore sit just off the bottom of the table on goal difference, having conceded two goals fewer than fellow cellar-dwellers Rockdale City Suns. Things don’t get any easier for Olympic this weekend, as they welcome Sutherland Sharks to Belmore Sports Ground on Sunday afternoon.
The Sharks copped a shocking defeat at the hands of Manly United last weekend to slip to their fourth loss in five games, yet remain a Premiership contender and a real threat for the finals provided they can shake themselves out of their present funk. Sutherland are now three points behind first-placed Blacktown City, having previously occupied top spot for all but three rounds of the season to date.
Olympic have reason to be optimistic heading into Sunday’s game having beaten Sutherland 2-1 earlier in the season, though current form would suggest they’ll face a far trickier opponent this time round.
Blacktown City FC v Rockdale City Suns FC, 1pm at Lily Homes Stadium
On a roll after three wins in their last four games, Blacktown City will look to consolidate their lead at the top of the table when they welcome the Rockdale City Suns to Lily Homes Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Blacktown have been stuck behind Sutherland for much of the season but the Sharks have hit a rough patch of form in recent weeks to drop back into third, leaving Blacktown a point out in front of Sydney FC in first place.
Their opponents this week head west after an impressive 3-2 win at Wollongong Wolves in Round 19, a result which puts them within touching distance of a place in the finals should results go their way elsewhere.
Marconi Stallions FC v Sydney FC, 1pm at Marconi Stadium
Marconi Stallions picked up their third win on the trot last weekend – a 2-1 win over Rockdale – to move within two points of the finals places at the end of Round 19, though they face an uphill battle to carry such good form through to the end of the season.
The Stallions take on Sydney FC on Sunday ahead of a clash with Sutherland Sharks in Round 21, fixtures from which Marconi must surely take at least a point if they’re to squeeze into the top five.
Their opponents this weekend travel to Marconi Stadium following a 6-0 demolition of Sydney Olympic, Finn Ballard McBride running rampant with four goals.
Sydney FC beat Marconi 4-0 at Lambert Park earlier in the season, and will be intent on completing the double over the Stallions when they meet on Sunday afternoon – they sit just a point off top spot, no doubt hungry to take advantage of any slip up from Blacktown City above them.
-By Max Grieve