Living near Valentine Sports Park (Football NSW headquarters) is always great, as in addition to being the home ground for two NPL 2 teams (Mounties Wanderers and Spirit FC), it also gets used by a number of other teams when their normal home ground isn’t available. It’s even better after a period of heavy rain like we’ve had recently, as games invariably get moved to either of the complex’s two artificial pitches and I get to watch even more football than I do normally.
One such game was last Wednesday’s FFA Cup 3rd Qualifying Round match between Glenhaven (from the newly-formed Hills Football Association) and NPL 3 side Western NSW Mariners. I actually travelled there intending to see another clash between a local association side and an NPL 3 team (Quakers Hill Tigers v Stanmore Hawks) not knowing that it had been postponed – luckily for me there was another game on in its place.
Three first half goals were enough to secure a reasonably comfortable win for the inland Mariners, and they will host Gladesville-Hornsby FA side Pennant Hills in the 4th Round. The difference in skill between the two sides was not that large, but Western NSW prevailed thanks to greater athleticism and organisation. Time for a reckless prediction: Western NSW Mariners will be in the NPL 3 relegation battle with Balmain Tigers.
Side note: the rest of the abandoned NPL NSW 20s clash between Melita (I have a hard time calling them ‘Parramatta FC’) and Wollongong Wolves was also played that night, with Wolves scoring two late goals to secure a 3-1 victory.
The weekend brought many more FFA Cup ties at Valentine Sports Park. (It seems that Hills Football teams are following in the footsteps of Hills Brumbies – they’re using facilities in Blacktown because no local venues are suitable.) I managed to watch two of those FFA Cup ties – on Saturday it was Winston Hills against State League (fourth division) side Gazy Auburn. FFA Cup games between local Association sides and State League teams provide the best chance of an upset, as despite the supposedly higher status of State League, many local Association Premier League teams have equally talented players.
Things looked good for an ‘upset’ from the start, with Winston Hills the better side for most of the match. It got worse for Gazy Auburn just after the half hour when they had a man sent off for denial of a clear goalscoring opportunity. Despite this, the State League side held out, and were able to create a few chances of their own. However, a second Gazy red card in second half stoppage time proved decisive, as the resulting 30 yard free kick was smashed past the keeper with literally the last kick of the game. (Insert ‘Magic of the Cup’ reference here.) Winston Hills will fancy their chances in the next round as the luck of the draw means they have a home tie against another local Association team – Oatley RSL from St George Football Association.
On Sunday it was another Hills Football v State League clash as Kenthurst & District FC played Prospect United. After the first half finished with the score at 1-1, Prospect ran away with it in the second half, scoring four goals in 23 minutes to register a comfortable 5-1 victory (and restore some pride to the State League Competition after Gazy Auburn’s defeat). It won’t be anywhere near as simple for Prospect United in the next round though, with a trip to face NPL 2 outfit Mt Druitt Town Rangers on the cards.
PS: Kenthurst’s keeper was an enormous bloke who looked like he was training for the World’s Strongest Man Competition – this isn’t really relevant to the game itself but I thought it was noteworthy.
Since I have no social life, I was also able to fit in three NPL 2 games last weekend (and predictably two of them were at Valentine). The first of these was the early Saturday afternoon clash between Northern Tigers and Central Coast Mariners. Lachlan Wales got CCM off to a flyer in the third minute with a fierce volley from an acute angle, and the original Mariners were never really troubled after that. CCM dominated this contest, and striker Duncan Stewart will consider himself unlucky not to get on the scoresheet after having multiple chances.
Despite creating the majority of the chances, CCM had to wait until the final ten minutes to make the game safe. Former Western Sydney Wanderers Academy player Brenton Fox came on for CCM after an hour, and he was pivotal in his side’s second goal, beating three Tigers defenders before cutting the ball back for Maki Petratos, who had a simple finish. Lachlan Wales struck again to make it 3-0 in stoppage time after Tigers keeper Harry Meares fumbled his shot over the goalline.
Northern Tigers 0
Central Coast Mariners 3 (Wales 3’ 92’ Petratos 82’)
On to Saturday evening and time for something different: a game somewhere other than Valentine. It wasn’t just any ordinary game either, it was a clash between the two favourites for promotion from NPL 2, Marconi Stallions (a.k.a the Fairfield Galacticos) and Western Sydney Wanderers, at Marconi Stadium.
Marconi started poorly, conceding early after some confusion at the back left Emmanuel Gonzalez with an easy finish into an unguarded net. Stallions then lost their captain Chris Nunes to injury after a quarter of an hour, but they would begin to impose themselves on the game, causing problems in general play and from set pieces. Unfortunately for Marconi, their crossing in general play was usually wayward.
Despite the poor crossing, the Galacticos had the momentum, and would equalise soon after the restart. After WSW keeper Nick Suman made a sharp save from Sean Rooney, and Lachlan Campbell did well to block Mirjan Pavlovic’s follow up, the ball fell to Judah Cleur who forced the ball home. WSW would soon retake the lead, Oliver Puflett finishing well after a great ball from Tariq Maia. However, Marconi kept going, and midway through the second half Los Galacticos equalised for the second time, Sean Rooney reacting quickest to a loose ball following a corner.
Despite a frantic last 20 minutes as the game got more and more stretched, the game finished 2-2. A draw was a fair result, and it seems like how the teams adjust for the return clash (which interestingly will also be held at Marconi Stadium – WSW call it their ‘home away from home’ for a reason) will be crucial in deciding who gets promotion.
(And no, despite four wins from their opening four games, I refuse to acknowledge the possibility of Spartans getting promoted.)
Marconi 2 (Cleur 47’ Rooney 65’)
Western Sydney Wanderers 2 (Gonzalez 9’ Puflett 52’)
Sunday afternoon brought another trip to Valentine for the NPL 2 game between Mounties Wanderers and St George FC. The game started slowly, probably due to the warm weather (I can’t remember the last time I saw an NPL game with a drinks break in each half). However, from about midway through the first half onwards, Mounties were the better side, with the pace of Reid Taylor causing problems for St George. Mounties went closest to opening the scoring in the first half, Mitchell Davidson hitting the bar with a bullet header off a corner kick.
Mounties came out all guns blazing in the second half, but St George keeper Andrew Depta was immense, pulling off a string of fantastic saves. It looked like backs-to-the-wall for St George when striker Stevan Ilic received a harsh second yellow card, but Depta stood firm. As Mounties pushed for the winner late on, St George had a few chances of their own on the counter, but Mounties keeper Jair Fernandez was able to keep St George out.
Mounties finally got their reward in stoppage time after they won a free kick near the left corner flag. Despite the acute angle and plenty of teammates in the middle, Zac Sfiligoi unleashed a vicious curling strike which found the top corner – it was an incredible strike but Depta will be disappointed to be beaten by a free kick from that position, especially after making so many good saves.
Mounties Wanderers 1 (Sfiligoi 92’)
St George 0