While the FFA Cup is great, it’s always a bit more exciting when your team is involved, so I made another long trip to the other side of the Sydney metropolitan area to watch Blacktown City play Kirrawee Kangaroos (from Sutherland Shire FA) at Kareela Oval, a nice multisport venue with two artificial pitches.
Soon after arriving I encountered the first negative of the evening: the canteen wasn’t open. The crowd was also quite small, which was disappointing – it seemed like Kirrawee hadn’t done much to promote this game (although the weather certainly didn’t help), and the players + coaching staff outnumbered the spectators.
As expected, Blacktown won comfortably. Mitch Mallia got a hat-trick, Yuta Konagaya scored in his first start for the club, while James Andrew and Adolph Koudakpo got the other goals. Demons reverted to a 3-5-2 formation, possibly because Mark Crittenden wanted to use this game for further experimentation. It was good to see a couple of the 20s players get a call up – Lewis Fraser and Mason Ingram started the game, while Evan Patramanis and Adolph Koudakpo each got about 30 minutes off the bench. They were all impressive – Fraser and Patramanis were tidy in central midfield, Ingram overlapped well down the left flank (particularly in the closing stages of the game) and Koudakpo managed to get on the scoresheet.
It’s always hard to assess the bigger team in these kinds of games – Blacktown did what they needed to do and then rested key players, using all their subs by the 61st minute. Kirrawee did well for a park football team, and they even managed to trouble Blacktown keeper Matthew Symes on a couple of occasions. There’s no shame for Kirrawee in losing by six goals to Blacktown – I can think of a couple of bigger teams who have conceded more than six against them.
Blacktown will play Lokomotiv Cove (a team from Eastern Suburbs FA formed by Sydney FC fans) in the next round, and this time it’s at Gabbie Stadium, which means less travel, but more importantly the chance to get a takeaway pizza from the nearby restaurant.
Kirrawee Kangaroos 0
Blacktown City 6 (Mallia 7’ 13’ 50’ Konagaya 28’ Andrew 80’ Koudakpo 84’)
The following night I finally got to watch a game at the greatest venue in Sydney, Bensons Lane. It was an intriguing matchup, with NPL 3 side Hawkesbury City and State League (4th division) outfit Nepean FC battling for a place in the 5th round of this year’s FFA Cup qualifiers. Bensons Lane has the kind of ambience that I imagine you’ll find at most country sporting venues: good, cheap food from the canteen, dressing sheds that actually look like sheds, and the faint smell of manure when you first get out of the car. There was a good crowd for this game, boosted by the presence of several players from Nepean’s youth teams.
Hawkesbury City took the lead in the 11th minute with a nice curling shot from their Uruguayan import, Santiago Pallares. However, despite their lower division status, Nepean were able to match Hawkesbury, and equalised ten minutes before halftime. Nepean were slightly the better side in the second half, and were dangerous on the counter, although Hawkesbury were causing problems with set pieces and high balls into the box. As it got colder and everyone started to wonder if there would be extra time, Nepean struck the decisive blow with six minutes remaining, when their substitute striker beat two defenders before curling the ball past Hawkesbury keeper Daniel Schwarzer.
The recent weather has caused havoc with Hawkesbury’s fixture list, and they might be a bit rusty as well due to lack of games. They will be hoping to move away from the relegation zone when they play all of their catchup fixtures. I’ve been told that a lot of work has gone into assembling Nepean FC’s squad for this year, and on this showing they look like they’ll be in the State League promotion race. They will probably face an even bigger test in the next round, which is likely to be against NPL 2 outfit North Shore Mariners.
Hawkesbury City 1
Nepean FC 2
On Saturday night I had the good fortune to be in the presence of the best scoreboard in NPL NSW (when it works), as Blacktown City travelled to Lambert Park to take on Sydney FC. After experimenting with a back three in midweek, it was back to a more conventional 4-3-3 formation for Demons.
Sydney FC were much more defensively disciplined than in last week’s game against Manly United, and they were able to frustrate Blacktown by getting numbers behind the ball, blocking numerous shots and denying Demons space. The Sky Blues also were able to counter using the pace of Charles Lokolingoy, and he was a real test for Blacktown centre-back Shayne d’Cunha, although d’Cunha was usually able to prevent Lokolingoy from shooting, and on the occasions when he did get a shot away Blacktown keeper Tristan Prendergast was equal to the task. Shayne d’Cunha also went close at the other end, heading onto the bar on the stroke of halftime.
As the game opened up in the second half Blacktown’s superior fitness began to show, and they increasingly began to look dangerous (especially on the counter), at one point forcing an excellent double-save from former Demon Thomas Heward-Belle. Once again Mark Crittenden looked to use James Andrew’s pace off the bench, and he almost got the decisive goal after beating two Sydney defenders but was also denied by Heward-Belle. Blacktown kept going and got the winning goal with three minutes remaining. After a frustrating evening, Joey Gibbs was finally able to escape the Sydney FC defence, heading home after a peach of a cross from Roberto Speranza.
Demons were made to work extremely hard for this win, and Mark Crittenden will be happy that his players kept going for the full 90 minutes, especially as he takes pride on having the fittest team in the league. Sydney FC have been competitive in every game, but their chances of finals football will disappear quickly if they can’t convert their undoubted potential into results. Thankfully for them, their strength in 18s and 20s means they are unlikely to be relegated, unless their first grade team has a historically bad season (like Marconi in 2015).
Sydney FC 0
Blacktown City 1 (Gibbs 87’)
I ended the week with a trip to Gabbie Stadium for Hills Brumbies vs Western Sydney Wanderers. After a slight delay due to lightning in the area (which caused the postponement of the 20s game), the two teams put on an entertaining contest.
While WSW created plenty of chances, Brumbies showed that they weren’t afraid to take it to WSW and created chances of their own. Matias Toro Suazo caused the biggest early scare for WSW, charging like a bull past Keanu Baccus before shooting just past the far post. However, Baccus was able to settle WSW’s nerves a minute later. After getting on the end of an excellent through ball from Mario Shabow, the right back showed great composure to dink the ball over Hills keeper Josh Stancic. Brumbies didn’t let their heads drop, and they got a deserved equaliser ten minutes before halftime when Futsalroo Greg Giovenali blasted a 30 yard free kick past WSW keeper Daniel Axford.
Brumbies were on top at this stage, but a minute before halftime their good work was undone after a somewhat lazy challenge in the box on Oliver Puflett resulted in a penalty for WSW. Kosta Grozos took the responsibility and coolly sidefooted the ball past Stancic. In the aftermath of the penalty Giovenali picked up a booking for dissent, which was to prove very costly when he received a second yellow at the start of the second half for a foul on Abraham Majok.
Despite going down to ten men Hills were brave enough to maintain a high backline and press high up the pitch. They were also the better side for the first 25 minutes of the second half, and even went close to an equaliser after Nathan Rayner nutmegged Lachlan Campbell before forcing a good save from Axford. However, eventually the spaces began to open up for WSW. With just over 15 minutes to go a good switch of play from Shabow found Matthew Lecce, who cut inside from the left flank before smashing the ball into the top corner. WSW dominated the final 15 minutes, but were unable to increase their lead thanks to a combination of poor decision making in the final third and excellent goalkeeping from Josh Stancic.
WSW are now top of both the first grade table and the NPL 2 club championship, although things such as player selection and the timing of substitutions indicate that the club is prioritising player development over winning games. However, the talent at their disposal is such that they might end up getting promoted to NPL 1 regardless.
Brumbies were impressive all across the park, causing WSW plenty of problems, and one wonders what might have happened if they had kept eleven men on the field for the entire game. They have done very well in all three grades on their return to NPL 2, and are currently fifth in the Club Championship. On this showing they will be good enough to both push for a finals spot and consolidate their position in NPL 2.
Hills Brumbies 1 (Giovenali 35’)
Western Sydney Wanderers 3 (Baccus 24’ Grozos pen 44’ Lecce 74’)