Frustration at Gabbie Stadium: FFA Cup / NPL NSW review (12-17 April 2017)

I love the Easter long weekend, it gives me the chance to watch five games in a weekend, as opposed to my usual routine of watching four games in a weekend.

Before all of that, however, I went to Melita Stadium on Wednesday night for an FFA Cup 4th Round Qualifier between two association-backed teams, Melita (Parramatta FC) and Bankstown United. United were competitive, but Melita had more quality in the final third, and led 2-0 at halftime thanks to an excellent 25 yard lob from Gosue Sama and a neat finish from Christopher Carboni.

United had a brief glimmer of hope on the hour when Tom Markovski beat the offside trap and coolly slotted the ball past Ryan Norval, but two minutes later Gosue Sama restored Melita’s two goal lead with brilliant header, before Marco Sama sealed the tie in stoppage time.

So nothing special from Melita, but they got the job done, which is all that matters – Eagles will play Central Coast Premier League side Southern & Ettalong United in the 5th Round after their win over State League outfit Western Condors. Bankstown United put up a good fight, and will trouble less athletic and less organised teams with their direct style of play.

Melita 4 (Gosue Sama 17’ 62’ Carboni 37’ Marco Sama 93’)
Bankstown United 1 (Markovski 60’)
For someone who constantly complains about travel time, I keep making long trips to games that don’t involve my team. On Friday I went to Cromer Park for a game between two undefeated teams, Manly United and Sydney Olympic. I’d been looking forward to getting the chance to see Olympic for a while, ever since hearing good things about them in preseason.

As is often the case when two big teams play each other, both teams were very cautious in the first half, with the centre forwards (Dejan Pandurevic for Manly and Paul Katsetis for Olympic) barely involved in the game. The game changed when Olympic brought on Yu Kuboki at half time, who was a constant menace with his pace and off-the-ball movement.

Manly almost got the opener when Nikola Taneski smashed the ball against the post early on in the second half, but after that Olympic dominated the remainder of the game. The decisive moment came just after the hour mark, when a defensive mixup led to Niko Tsattalios intercepting the ball on the left, before putting it on a silver platter for Kuboki, who couldn’t miss from three yards out. Olympic were able to handle anything Manly threw at them, and on the rare times that the Olympic backline was in trouble the ageless Paul Henderson was on hand to snuff out the danger. Both teams have tough games again next week, with Manly playing Rockdale, while Olympic play Blacktown.

Manly United 0
Sydney Olympic 1 (Kuboki 61’)
Picturesque Northbridge Oval (apart from the surface) was the destination on Saturday afternoon, as I watched two teams with NPL 2 finals aspirations, North Shore Mariners (a.k.a Rich Mariners) and Hills Brumbies. Despite Greg Giovenali being sent off last week against Western Sydney Wanderers, he took the field in this game, so suspensions must be delayed in NPL 2 (at least, you hope so).

This was a very physical encounter which got more and more ill-tempered as the game went on. While Hills had some chances, Rich Mariners dominated this game, with pacey winger Freddy Ankumah-Sey causing havoc on the right. It was no surprise when North Shore took the lead in the 36th minute – Tadgh Purcell scrambling the ball home after a set piece wasn’t cleared.

The second half followed the same pattern as the first, and North Shore should have extended their lead on numerous occasions. When Hills centre back Matt Viera retaliated after being tackled, picking up a second yellow card, North Shore looked like certainties to kill the game off, especially as the game got more ill-tempered, and Hills started committing silly fouls. However, a combination of poor finishing and last-ditch defending kept Brumbies in it, and they equalised with two minutes left thanks to another great strike from Greg Giovenali.

Definitely two points dropped for North Shore, but Hills would have been elated to escape with a point after being under heavy pressure for most of the game. Both teams are playing opponents who also hope to be in the NPL 2 finals, with North Shore away at Northern Tigers, while Brumbies have a “home” game against Mt Druitt, where they will have to do without the services of Greg Giovenali (maybe).

North Shore Mariners 1 (Purcell 36’)
Hills Brumbies 1 (Greg Giovenali 88’)
On Saturday night Blacktown City played Melita / Parramatta FC at Gabbie Stadium, and it would end up being a very frustrating experience. Despite the contrasting fortunes of the two teams so far this season, I was a little bit worried, probably because of the corresponding fixture from last season, where Blacktown dominated and Melita won 1-0.

After a quiet opening to the game, Melita took the lead just before the half hour when Jordan Crighton finished well at the far post from a Joshua Gersbach cross. Despite the setback, Blacktown led 2-1 at the break, with pacey attacker James Andrew heavily involved (thanks Sutherland!). Demons got their equaliser when Andrew rounded the keeper and scored into an open goal after a great run & pass from Zach Cairncross; and then took the lead right at the end of the first half when Andrew’s low cross was finished from close range by Joey Gibbs.

However, any hope of Demons running away with this one were dashed shortly after halftime, when Ibrahim Haydar equalised after being left free at a set piece. Melita seemed happy to settle for the point after that, and Blacktown had plenty of possession but not many clear-cut chances. Former Melita player Danny Choi was brought off the bench and looked dangerous as usual, whipping in some dangerous crosses which none of his teammates could reach. I suspected it wouldn’t be our night when Danny Choi headed over from close range in the final ten minutes, and I knew it definitely wouldn’t be our night when Mitch Mallia headed over from an even better position in the third minute of stoppage time.

There are some positives to take from this game: Blacktown are still unbeaten and James Andrew looks like a handful for every defence that he faces. However, Demons will have to step up massively next week against Olympic, who from what I’ve seen look like the best team in the league at this stage (note: Rockdale are the only NPL 1 team I haven’t seen this season). This was a good result for Melita, but they’ll have to start getting wins from somewhere to get away from the bottom of the table, as you’d expect Bonnyrigg to start moving up once key players come back from injury. Up next for Melita is another tough game, at home to top-of-the-table APIA.

Blacktown City 2 (Andrew 40’ Gibbs 45+3’)
Melita 2 (Crighton 29’ Haydar 49’)
The weekend wouldn’t be right if I didn’t watch a game at Valentine Sports Park, so that’s where I went on Sunday for the NPL 2 game between Mounties Wanderers and Spirit FC. Both teams are currently using Valentine as a temporary home due to inadequate facilities – let’s hope they can be back at their proper home grounds in the near future.

Spirit FC coach David Perkovic was sacked by Mounties at the end of last season despite leading them to the semi-finals, so he would have been keen to show Mounties what they were missing. His men got off to a great start, taking the lead in the seventh minute through former Manly United player Dylan Whitlock.

However, things went downhill quickly for Spirit, as the men (who used to be) from Cook Park controlled the remainder of the game, taking the lead with two strikes just before halftime. Reid Taylor scored the equaliser for Mounties after good work from Neftali Gonzalez on the left flank, and then a few minutes later Noah Chianese put them in front with a wonderful curling strike from the edge of the box.

In the second half, Mounties extended their lead after a clumsy challenge in the box, with Hiroto Tokuichi converting from the spot. For a brief period Spirit FC looked like they might have some hope after Andre Carle made it 3-2, but this didn’t last long. Neftali Gonzalez was again involved as Mounties got their fourth of the game, as Michael Cklamovski headed home from Gonzalez’s pinpoint corner. Substitute Michael Gaitatzis rounded off the scoring with another penalty.

Next week Mounties have a trip to the south-west to face Macarthur Rams, while it’s not getting any easier for Spirit FC – they’re at “home” against the Fairfield Galacticos (Marconi for you first time readers).

Mounties Wanderers 5 (Taylor 38’ Chianese 41’ Tokuichi pen 69’ Cklamovski 76’ Gaitatzis pen 86’)
Spirit FC 2 (Whitlock 7’ Carle 71’)
I ended my long weekend with a trip to the home of the fourth-best ćevapi in NPL NSW, Sydney United Sports Centre, for the NPL 1 clash between Sydney United and Wollongong Wolves.

The first half was fairly even, although United had more clear-cut chances, with Yutaro Shin, Matt Sim and Panni Nikas all having good chances to open the scoring. Riley Woodcock started at right back for United despite being left footed. At times in the first half it looked awkward when he overlapped, particularly when he attempted a right foot cross and it ended up on the hill behind the goal. However, just as I was considering tweeting that Woodcock on the right isn’t working, and that his overlapping won’t be effective, he proved me wrong, scoring after being set up by Glen Trifiro.

In the second half Wolves were almost completely overrun by United. However, despite all of United’s possession, the score remained 1-0 for most of the second half. My natural instinct for complaining means that I want to blame United for poor finishing (they really need a striker – Yutaro Shin is a fantastic player but he’s not a centre forward), but credit has to be given to Wollongong keeper Justin Pasfield, who had an amazing game and stopped it from being a cricket score. Late on Panni Nikas stepped up (as usual) to make the game safe, getting on the end of a great through ball from Nick Olsen (who had hit the bar from 25 yards earlier) before smashing the ball past Pasfield.

So another win for Sydney United as they continue their resurgence under old/new coach Mark Rudan. They have one of the best midfields in the competition, but you feel that without a proper centre forward they won’t challenge the top teams in NPL 1. Wollongong have shown promise and have definitely improved from last season, but unless they improve their away form they’ll probably be stuck in mid-table. Next week is the Mark Rudan Derby (Sydney FC v Sydney United), while Wollongong will be glad to be back at home – they meet Hakoah.

Sydney United 2 (Woodcock 36’ Nikas 84’)
Wollongong Wolves 0
Eric Subijano