It’s the penultimate round of the NPL NSW Men’s 20s competition and little has changed at the top of the table since last week, with all three top sides picking up wins to keep the race for the Premiership as tight as ever.
There are big games everywhere you look: Blacktown City take on Sydney FC at Lambert Park in a match that could see Blacktown crowned Premiers, while Sydney United 58 and Manly United are fighting to keep their seasons alive in a must-win clash at Sydney United Sports Centre. The Match of the Round sees APIA Leichhardt Tigers FC take on Bonnyrigg White Eagle FC on Sunday afternoon.
Match of the Round: APIA Leichhardt Tigers FC v Bonnyrigg White Eagle FC, Sunday 1.30pm at Lambert Park
APIA came out on the wrong side of a 1-0 scoreline at Lambert Park last week when they faced Sydney United 58; going down to ten men and missing a penalty before going behind to a goal from Peter Markovic.
The Tigers’ hopes of making the finals are now incredibly remote, resting on wins in their last two games and an almost impossible series of results going their way – their goal difference is favourable, less so are the six points between themselves and fifth place.
APIA’s opponents this weekend are Bonnyrigg, who travel to Lambert Park on the back of a 2-1 loss to Hakoah Sydney City East. Bonnyrigg haven’t won since mid-June and will be eager to end their season on a high against a side they beat 1-0 when they met at Bonnyrigg Sports Club in Round 10.
Sutherland Shark FC v Marconi Stallions FC, 5pm at Bonnyrigg Sports Club
Sutherland halted their slide from the top of the ladder with a 1-0 win over Sydney Olympic at Belmore Sports Ground last weekend, just their second victory in their last six matches.
The Sharks now sit three points behind Sydney FC heading into the final two weeks of the season, a side they led by up to eight points in the weeks before their form dipped.
A win over Olympic was mandatory to keep up with Sydney and Blacktown City ahead of them, and a result against Marconi would go a long way towards setting Sutherland up for a strong run in the finals – Premiership or no.
Marconi come into this one a week after a 4-2 loss to Sydney FC; the Stallions’ first loss in a month killing all momentum as they made a late charge for the finals. No less than two wins from their last two fixtures will give them faint hope of making the five, but their opponents over the final fortnight – Sutherland and Wollongong Wolves – won’t be giving up points easily at this stage of the season.
Sydney United 58 FC v Manly United FC, 5.30pm at Sydney United Sports Centre
Sydney United 58 snatched a much-needed win at Lambert Park last week to keep them sixth heading into the final two weeks of the regular season, just a point behind fifth-placed Hakoah Sydney City East.
They return home to Sydney United Sports Centre on Saturday afternoon for a blockbuster clash against Manly United, who sit two points behind them in seventh.
Manly United suffered a 2-1 loss to Wollongong Wolves last week with heavy repercussions for their season; their defeat combined with results elsewhere meant they slipped from fourth place in Round 19 to two spots outside the five in Round 20.
A win for either side would almost certainly mean the end of the season for the other, while a draw would do little for either at this point. It promises to be a thriller.
Sydney FC v Blacktown City FC, 5.45pm at Lambert Park
Blacktown City FC will play Sydney FC on Saturday night with the opportunity to clinch the Premiership should they take all three points.
It would cap a magnificent season for Blacktown, who had kept touch with Sutherland Sharks through the best part of the season to finally overtake them into first place two weeks ago.
If they are to do it, though, they are going to have to do it the hard way. Blacktown travel to Lambert Park to take on second-placed Sydney FC, who are fresh from a 4-2 win over Marconi Stallions in Round 20.
Behind Blacktown by a point, Sydney would take pole position heading into the final week with a win on Saturday night. Both teams are in good form coming into this one, and there’s little telling which way it’ll go – this fixture ended 4-4 when Blacktown hosted Sydney at Lily Homes Stadium earlier in the season.
Hakoah Sydney City East FC v Rockdale City Suns FC, 1pm at Hensley Athletic Field
Hakoah Sydney City East remain masters of their own destiny but cannot afford to drop points in the final fortnight of the regular season if they’re to sneak into the top five – not least to Rockdale City Suns.
Hakoah beat Bonnyrigg White Eagles last week to stay in the finals places while Rockdale fell to their third defeat in as many weeks; going down 2-0 to Blacktown City to head into Round 21 in twelfth place at the bottom of the ladder.
This week’s hosts won 3-2 when they travelled to Rockdale at Ilinden Sports Centre back in May, a result that would serve them well should they manage to repeat it this week. With APIA to come in their final match, Hakoah should be confident of playing finals football.
Wollongong Wolves FC v Sydney Olympic FC, 1pm at WIN Stadium
Wollongong Wolves sit just a point ahead of sixth-placed Sydney United 58 as the 2018 regular season enters the final stretch; snapping an indifferent run of form with a 2-1 win over Manly United last week.
To remain in control of their own fate, a win over Sydney Olympic on Sunday afternoon is a must. A 1-1 draw at Belmore Sports Ground earlier in the season points to a difficult game for the Wolves, even if these sides are separated by 15 points and seven places on the ladder.
Sydney Olympic lost 1-0 to Sutherland Sharks in Round 20; neither an unexpected nor particularly disappointing result for a side that has struggled to find its rhythm this season. The best Olympic can do is to finish ahead of Rockdale City Suns and avoid the wooden spoon – Bonnyrigg are to far ahead of them to catch.
By Max Grieve