NPL NSW is back! I decided to make my first visit to Pluim Park for Central Coast’s home game against Marconi, which had been moved forward to avoid a clash with their A-League fixture against Melbourne City. The time change allowed a good number of CCM fans to attend, and a decent contingent of Marconi fans also made the trip up the coast for this game.
It didn’t take long for Marconi’s star-studded lineup to take the lead. In the sixth minute, Sean Rooney got on the end of a diagonal ball, shrugged off a challenge and slotted the ball into the far corner. However, CCM’s youngsters were not awed, and took the game to their more experienced opponents. A few minutes later, a scramble in the Marconi box lead to Mirjan Pavlovic being penalised for handball, but they were let off the hook as the spot kick was blazed well over the bar. CCM didn’t let their heads drop, and pulled level midway through the first half, as Brenton Fox curled a shot past Nenad Vekic with the aid of a slight deflection.
Right at the start of the second half, Michael Beauchamp almost scored against his old club, but his header from Marko Jesic’s corner came back off the crossbar. Beauchamp had been putting himself about in this game, demonstrated by a series of ferocious challenges, one of which saw him go into the referee’s notebook.
The rain in the second half made things tricky at times. Vekic spilled a shot straight into the path of a CCM attacker, but he was quick enough to block the rebound. Mirjan Pavlovic was also having difficulties in the second half, first having a goal ruled out for offside, before wasting an excellent chance from 12 yards out.
CCM continued to take the game to Marconi, with Brenton Fox volleying over after a swift counter down the right flank. The miss would prove costly, as a minute later Pavlovic pounced on a poor backpass. Despite stumbling as he dribbled round CCM keeper Adam Pearce, he maintained his composure, evading a tackle before sidefooting the ball into the net. Pavlovic and the CCM fans behind the goal had apparently been exchanging words all game, and the striker and his teammates appeared to enjoy celebrating his goal directly in front of them. After that Marconi were happy to sit back and hit on the counter, and CCM didn’t look as threatening in the final 15 minutes. It was Marconi who scored again late on, Marko Jesic improvising to chest home from 5 yards out after getting on the end of Sean Rooney’s excellent cross.
Marconi will hope that this win gives them the momentum to avoid a repeat of last year’s slow start, as nothing less than promotion is expected after not only making several big signings, but also holding onto their stars from last year. CCM showed that they have the talent to trouble most teams in this division, but they will need to cut out the basic mistakes at the back if they are to finish with the title contenders this season.
Central Coast Mariners 1 (Brenton Fox 20’)
Marconi 3 (Sean Rooney 6’ Mirjan Pavlovic 75’ Marko Jesic 88’)
The scheduling of the CCM – Marconi game for an early afternoon kickoff allowed me more than enough time to get to Sydney United Sports Centre, the new home of the Western Sydney Wanderers NPL team, for the evening clash between WSW and Mt Druitt Town Rangers.
Despite WSW having the majority of possession, Mt Druitt were able to frustrate their opponents, first by getting numbers behind the ball, and then also causing problems on the counter, particularly in the first half. Rangers had the better chances in the opening stanza, with perhaps the best of these falling to Luke Clifford early on. The winger got on the end of a ball down the right flank and beat a challenge from Henry Davies, but could only put his shot over the bar from a very good position. Rangers were also able to cause problems from set pieces, and another good chance went begging when a free header from 6 yards out was also put over the bar. On the other hand, WSW were mainly restricted to shots from distance, none of which troubled Rangers keeper Carlos Saliadarre. WSW’s best chance of the first half came when Emmanuel Gonzalez volleyed wide from Keanu Baccus’s cross.
Just before halftime Rangers took a deserved lead. Baccus failed to deal with a high ball forward, and former WSW player Lachlan Roberts took full advantage, beating a tackle before rounding WSW keeper Nick Suman and finding the empty net.
WSW were able to put more pressure on Rangers in the second half as fatigue started to set in, and the introduction of former Mt Druitt forward Abraham Majok seemed to swing the momentum in their favour. With 15 minutes left WSW got a deserved equaliser when Tariq Maia and Mario Shabow combined to set up Jackson Bandiera, who calmly dinked the ball over Saliadarre to level the scores. After that the chances dried up for the most part, but the action in the final minutes didn’t lack intensity, as both Baccus and Maia picked up late bookings. Henry Davies had a chance in stoppage time to win it for WSW, but could only head wide from a corner.
WSW will be pleased that they remained patient and were able to get something from this game, but there are concerns about their ability to deal with a direct style of play, and they also have a lack of height which the other teams in this division will look to exploit, especially from set pieces. Despite a tough opening fixture, Mt Druitt got their season off to a decent start as they look for back-to-back finals appearances. Defensively they look hard to break down, while they are also physical enough up front to hurt teams on the counter.
Western Sydney Wanderers 1 (Jackson Bandiera 75’)
Mt Druitt Town Rangers 1 (Lachlan Roberts 43’)