Let there be light: NPL NSW review (11-12 March 2017)

Bankstown City Lions vs Western Sydney Wanderers – 7pm (ish), Sat 11 March


The night started off well as I completely demolished one of Bankstown City’s famous ćevapi rolls. However, not everything was running as smoothly as the Jensen Park canteen. First, in a repeat of last year’s shenanigans, the floodlights hadn’t been switched on, delaying the kickoff by about 20 minutes. To make matters worse, one of the assistant referees assigned to this game had gone to the wrong ground, and another assistant picked up an injury in the 20s match. Luckily, former WSW media manager Christian Layland was on hand to replace the injured AR, while a young man who had only done 15s games before filled in for the other AR until half time.


Bankstown City look to have a tough year ahead of them, having only managed to keep three first grade players from last year’s squad. Apparently they are short of match practice due to not having a proper preseason, and the washout of last week’s derby with Bankstown Berries wouldn’t have helped. On the other hand, WSW were coming off a somewhat disappointing draw with Mt Druitt – the Wanderers were hoping to bounce back and avoid losing any more ground to Marconi (a.k.a. the Fairfield Galacticos) in the promotion battle.


Abraham Majok had two great chances in the first two minutes, first sidefooting straight at Lions keeper Dion Shaw after being played in on goal, then dribbling around Shaw after intercepting a poor backpass, only to see the ball cleared before he could slot it into the empty net. It took about Bankstown City about 15 minutes to gain a foothold, but for a brief period they were on top, at one point missing two good chances in the space of three minutes midway through the first half.


Those misses were to prove costly, as WSW would take the lead soon afterwards, Mario Shabow curling the ball past Shaw after a good through ball. After that there were excellent saves at both ends, with Ramy Najjarine forcing a good save from a free kick, before Nick Suman somehow saved a header from point blank range after a Bankstown City corner. It was definitely WSW on top though, with Kosta Grozos having a shot deflected wide at the end of the first half.


Lachlan Campbell was in the thick of the action at the start of the second half, shooting just wide after getting on the end of a WSW counter attack, before making a vital clearance to prevent a Bankstown City player getting a tap in. WSW would then take control of the game and extend their lead. Shortly after Grozos had a goal ruled out for offside, Majok beat the offside trap, before drawing the keeper and squaring it to Najjarine, who bundled it into the open goal. A minute later it should have been 3-0, but the ball was spooned over from 12 yards out.


However, this would only be a temporary reprieve, as Majok would make it 3-0 in the 64th minute. Once again the tall striker managed to break the Lions offside trap, before controlling a diagonal ball and calmly finishing past Shaw, who was left hopelessly exposed. This led to a strange argument with some Bankstown City fans, who thought the score was 4-0 because they hadn’t realised that the Grozos effort had been ruled out.


A few minutes after Majok’s goal Bankstown City made a mini-comeback, winning a penalty which was converted by Huseyin Jasli. However any Lions hopes of a result would be short lived, as soon afterwards a mishit clearance from a Lions defender went straight to WSW substitute Oliver Puflett, who made no mistake with the finish. WSW had enough time to make it five, winning a penalty of their own with six minutes left, converted by Liam Youlley.


Bankstown City will have to get up to speed quickly if they are to avoid being sucked into a relegation battle, with Wednesday night’s rescheduled derby against Berries the perfect time to get things going for this season. Despite the heavy defeat, they actually have Dion Shaw to thank for keeping the score down, as he made several good saves.


WSW looked dangerous when they were able to win the ball quickly in midfield and then get forward in numbers. However, they laboured at times when Bankstown City were able to get plenty of men behind the ball, and were sometimes too predictable. Again defending set pieces was a concern, with Lions causing plenty of problems in the first half. WSW also suffered from losses of concentration at times in this game – these lapses will be punished by better teams, such as Marconi.


Bankstown City Lions 1 (Jasli pen 67’)

Western Sydney Wanderers 5 (Shabow 24’ Najjarine 54’ Majok 64’ Puflett 71’ Youlley pen 84’)



Hakoah Sydney City East v Blacktown City – 3pm, Sun 12th March


Away trips to the Eastern Suburbs always pose a conundrum – do I take the easy way and pay $15 in road tolls, or do I avoid the tollways and go through Sydney’s seemingly never-ending series of roadworks? In the end it was the best of both worlds – I got to Hensley Athletic Field on time while not paying any tolls.


Both teams had a decent chance early on – Aleksandar Lekoski headed wide for Hakoah, before Mitch Mallia volleyed over for Blacktown – but then the game settled into a midfield battle for most of the first half. Both teams seemed cautious, (with the hot weather probably a factor in the slow-ish start), and when either team good into good wide positions the crosses always seemed to be overhit, neither team adapting particularly well to the windy conditions.


As a result, neither defence was really troubled, although both teams were a bit scrappy at times when defending in their own box. Matt Lewis tried to spark things by making some forward runs from his centre back position, but the Demons captain didn’t make any real inroads, though he had an optimistic shout for a penalty near the end of the first half which was rightly ignored by the referee.


Halftime brought the discovery that the canteen at Hensley Athletic Field always sells beer, a fact that would actually be useful to me if I didn’t have to drive for over an hour to get to the ground. Still, the sausage & egg sandwich was nice, but obviously not as good as the fare at Lilys Football Centre. There was also the small matter of a Frank Lowy sighting during the interval.


On to the second half, and things started to pick up, with Giorgio Speranza forcing Anthony Bouzanis into a good save soon after the restart. However, Blacktown coach Mark Crittenden still wasn’t happy, making a tactical switch about ten minutes into the second half, changing from the 3-5-2 shape used throughout most of the preseason to the 4-3-3 shape which was used very successfully in 2015 & 2016.


Blacktown continued to push for a goal, and Danny Choi came on just after the hour. However, it was Hakoah who made the breakthrough soon afterwards, Lekoski beating Tristan Prendergast at his near post with a quick shot on the turn. The game started to open up after the goal, with Joey Gibbs and Choi going close, the former denied by another sharp save from Bouzanis. Hakoah also had opportunities to counter-attack, but poor decision making kept them from getting a chance to score a second.


It was all-out attack for Demons in the final ten minutes, but they still hadn’t adapted to the wind and kept overhitting crosses. In spite of this, they had multiple chances, with Giorgio Speranza’s shot deflected wide of the target, before Bouzanis stood tall again to deny Lewis and Shayne d’Cunha. However, just when it looked like the job was done for Hakoah, d’Cunha rose highest to meet Danny Choi’s inswinging corner, netting the equaliser in the final minute of regulation time. There was just enough time for Blacktown to survive a late scare, the referee ignoring Hakoah’s appeals after the ball seemed to make contact with Connor Evans’s arm.


The 1-1 draw was a fair result, with neither team doing enough to deserve all three points. Hakoah will be looking to consolidate in their second season back in the top flight, and this performance shows that they are unlikely to be a pushover for any team in this division. After losses of some key players in the offseason, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Blacktown City come back to the pack this year. The last ten minutes of this contest gave the most hope for Demons fans, and Mark Crittenden will be pushing his squad to replicate that level of performance over a 90 minute period.


Hakoah Sydney City East 1 (Lekoski 64’)

Blacktown City 1 (d’Cunha 90’)



Sydney United 58 v APIA Leichhardt Tigers – 6pm, Sun 12th March


Time to head home for everyone at Hensley Athletic Field, except for three crazy individuals who thought they could make it to Sydney United Sports Centre in time for a 6pm kickoff. What followed was a minor miracle as all three of us managed to beat the traffic to catch the start of the game, although personally I was helped by the game starting ten minutes after the publicised kickoff time.


Nick Olsen would have been keen to make an impression for two reasons: it was his United debut and he was playing against one of his former clubs. He and United got their wish in the fifth minute, as Olsen scored with a volley from an almost impossible angle after APIA keeper Luke Turnbull completely missed a corner kick.


APIA then began to assert themselves, and they would control most of the rest of the contest. Midway through the first half APIA won a penalty after Petar Markovic was penalised for handball. Jordan Murray stepped up to take the responsibility, but his weak spot kick was blocked by United keeper Thomas Manos.


Despite a chance for Matt Sim, who headed wide off a deflected cross, it was APIA who were on top at this stage, and they equalised on the half hour. Manos did well to tip a deflected shot onto the post, but was helpless as Murray tapped the ball into an open goal. Much to the dismay of the home fans, the equaliser did not serve as a wake-up call for SU58. Instead it was APIA who scored again just before halftime, with Murray getting his second after being left completely unmarked from a corner.


After a quick halftime chat with Tony Tannous from Hawkesbury Radio (who was even kind enough to clarify who no. 22 & 92 for APIA were – the numbers were different to the FNSW match programme), as well as sightings of former United players Jason Culina and Mirjan Pavlovic, it was on to the second half.


Just after the restart, Sean Symons nutmegged a defender and was 1-on-1 with Manos, but dragged his shot wide. APIA’s set pieces were still causing problems, and they were unlucky not to score when a corner went through the six yard box, evading several players. United only threatened sporadically in the second half, with shots from Olsen and Trifiro drawing relatively comfortable saves from Turnbull. In the final minutes Tomislav Uskok moved up front as United pushed for an equaliser, but it was APIA who came closest to scoring again, Sean Symons again getting through on goal after a nutmeg, but shooting straight at Manos.


APIA fully deserved their win after a shaky start to the game, and will be delighted to start with three points away from home against last year’s Premiers. On the other hand, SU58 fans have some cause for concern. Their preseason form has been patchy, and at this stage it looks like they haven’t found a replacement for Chris Payne.


Sydney United 1 (Olsen 5’)

APIA Leichhardt 2 (Murray 30’ 41’)



–          Eric Subijano