Rakija makes everything better: FFA Cup / NPL NSW review (19 – 25 April 2017)

The 5th Round of FFA Cup Qualifiers for Football NSW clubs began on Wednesday 19th April, and I decided to visit Garside Park for the first time to see NPL 3 team Granville Rage play Illawarra Premier League outfit Wollongong United. I’ve been curious about the standard of Illawarra Premier League sides as they often beat NPL 2 & 3 teams in the FFA Cup Qualifiers, and I’ve wanted to see Wollongong United play ever since they knocked Spartans out of the Cup last year.

Wollongong United got off to a flyer, scoring in the first minute. Patrick Gatt equalised for Rage soon afterwards, smashing in a free kick from 30 yards, but that was as good as it got for Rage, as United dominated the rest of the game, and would have been in front at the break but for a couple of good saves from the Rage keeper.

United continued their domination in the second half, going close from set pieces a few times, before retaking the lead in the 70th minute with a brilliant 30 yard volley. They then added another goal with about ten minutes left when they finally got one of their set pieces right. Rage hit the bar with a free kick late on, but they were never really in the contest, and Wollongong United claimed a deserved victory – they’ll play St George City FA or Hills Brumbies in the next round.

Granville Rage 1
Wollongong United 3
The following night Blacktown City played Eastern Suburbs FA side Lokomotiv Cove (a club founded by Sydney FC supporters) in another match from the FFA Cup 5th Qualifying Round. I wasn’t entirely sure why this game wasn’t played the previous night, as it would have allowed an extra day of rest before a tough trip away to Sydney Olympic (Raymond Verheijen would be furious).

The evening started well, with HYPERLINK “” a pizza and a couple of beers, but it would be another frustrating game at Gabbie Stadium. Lokomotiv Cove deserve plenty of credit for maintaining their defensive shape and making it difficult for Blacktown, and the Cove keeper made a number of good saves. However, Blacktown played like they had one eye on Sunday’s game against Olympic, and were guilty of being too casual in attacking positions.

It took until midway through the second half for Blacktown to take the lead after the Lokomotiv keeper made his only mistake of the game, fumbling a fairly easy shot and allowing Danny Choi to score with his first touch after coming on as a substitute. After Choi’s goal came more frustrating near misses, to the point where it almost became amusing (the assistant referee on the grandstand side was openly laughing at the way the game was unfolding). Demons made the game safe in stoppage time, Choi intercepting a poor pass and setting up Mitch Mallia, who finally scored after several attempts on goal.

I was bemused by the Blacktown City youth players over-celebrating the second goal, we’d been underwhelming for the whole game and only scored after Lokomotiv Cove made some fairly basic errors. Blacktown play Mt Druitt Town Rangers or University of NSW in the next round, and they’ll need to play a lot better to make the FFA Cup Round of 32 this year.

Blacktown City 2 (Choi 66’ Mallia 92’)
Lokomotiv Cove 0
I like watching football at new venues, and on Saturday I got to tick another one off the list, as I made the long, long trip to Seymour Shaw Park for the NPL 2 match between St George FC and Western Sydney Wanderers.
As expected, WSW had the majority of possession, but St George were very competitive for the opening 60 minutes of this game. It took a horrible goalkeeping error for WSW to take the lead – the St George keeper fumbled a slow moving ball, leaving Oliver Puflett with a simple finish into an open net. St George equalised two minutes later, Tarik Ercan finishing from close range after a set piece wasn’t cleared. WSW would then be the beneficiaries of poor set piece defending, retaking the lead via Mathieu Cordier after St George couldn’t clear their lines.

St George had a good spell at the start of the second half, equalising for a second time thanks to a Juan Carlos Romero header (you guessed it, another goal from a set piece). WSW would finally make the game safe after Kosta Grozos scored one good goal and one lucky goal. Grozos got his first after making space on the edge of the box and then curling it past the keeper, and then a minute later would be credited with his second after the St George keeper blasted a clearance into him and then could only watch as the ball rolled over the line. St George had some good moments after Grozos’s double, and even hit the post with a free kick, but WSW were able to hold them off, and got their fifth of the game after a good save from Nick Suman led to a counter attack, which ended with Emmanuel Gonzalez rounding the keeper and scoring.

The game was marred by a horrible injury for Kosta Grozos in stoppage time. Thankfully, I’ve been told that there’s no broken bones, but it was an appalling and unnecessary tackle. I’m gutted for Kosta as he’s had a good season judging by the games that I’ve watched – hopefully he recovers quickly. Both teams play members of the extended Mariners family in the next round – WSW have a home game against Central Coast, while St George have a tough away trip to Northbridge Oval to play North Shore (a.k.a. Rich Mariners).

St George FC 2 (Ercan 28’ Romero 57’)
Western Sydney Wanderers 5 (Puflett 26’ Cordier 39’ Grozos 64’ 65’ Gonzalez 89’)
On Sunday Sydney Olympic held a Family Fun Day (with a jumping castle and face painting) as part of their home game against Blacktown City – it’s good to see clubs trying different things to boost attendance at their home games. As a keen observer and admirer of scoreboards with clocks, it was also good to see that HYPERLINK “” Olympic are using the Peter Moore scoreboard at their home games this year.

I usually feel confident about Blacktown’s chances in any game, but after two underwhelming performances in the last week (against Melita and Lokomotiv Cove), I was pessimistic about Sunday’s game. I was even more worried when I saw that Blacktown were using a 3-4-1-2 formation for this game, as they’d been much more effective this season when using a 4-3-3 shape.

All my pre-match pessimism disappeared in a crazy opening to the game. After less than two minutes, Yianni Spyrakis headed a Giorgio Speranza cross into his own net. Things got even better for Demons a few minutes later, as Olympic gave the ball away very cheaply on the edge of their own box, and Daniel Araujo was able to finish despite Paul Henderson getting a hand to his shot. Blacktown weren’t done yet, and made it 3-0 with 30 minutes played. After another poor giveaway from Olympic, Mitch Mallia burst down the left flank and played a perfect pass for Danny Choi, who beat Hagi Gligor before curling the ball past Henderson (with his right foot as well!). While Blacktown had played less than 72 hours earlier, it was Olympic were uncharacteristically sluggish in the first half, and they were the team who looked like they were still recovering from a midweek game.

Olympic came back into the game in the second half, with Blacktown not offering much after the break (fatigue was probably a factor after the game against Lokomotiv Cove, with a number of players backing up from Thursday night). Yu Kuboki made it interesting at the end, scoring twice after getting on the end of two good through balls (Kuboki’s off-the-ball movement is brilliant), but Olympic left themselves with far too much to do in the second half and paid the price for a very poor start.

Plenty of positives for Blacktown: they remain unbeaten, and winning a game with a different formation shows a good level of tactical versatility. Demons will hope to maintain this momentum as they have a very tough run of games coming up – they play the other teams in the top four (Manly, Rockdale and APIA), before ending the first half of the season against a resurgent Sydney United outfit. Olympic will be hoping that the first half-performance was a one-off (and judging from what I’ve seen this season it probably is) – their next game is away to top-of-the table APIA.

Sydney Olympic 2 (Kuboki 63’ 81’)
Blacktown City 3 (Spyrakis og 2’ Araujo 5’ Choi 30’)
Later on Sunday I went back to Gabbie Stadium to see Hills Brumbies v Mt Druitt Town Rangers, two teams that were hoping to move into the NPL 2 top six with a victory. Greg Giovenali played again, so I’ll give everyone the benefit of the doubt and assume that the suspension for HYPERLINK “” his red card against Western Sydney Wanderers was overturned. Giovenali displayed his versatility against Rangers – after lining up on the wing and as a central attacking midfielder in the last two games, he played at centre back in this game, marshalling the defence and distributing the ball well.

Despite the fact that these two teams were close on the league table, Mt Druitt were never really in this one. Hills scored in the first minute, Nathan Rayner reacting quickest after Rangers keeper Carlos Saliadarre parried a shot from distance. Brumbies would lose Victor Anyimba early on to what appeared to be a hamstring injury, but it didn’t seem to affect them – while Anyimba was off the field receiving treatment, Peter Cejka made it 2-0 with a nice turn and shot after holding the ball up well. In first half stoppage time Hills got another goal, Sean Mitchell getting on the scoresheet with a precise header into the bottom corner.

Brumbies could have gotten more in the second half but were a bit unlucky, as Saliadarre made a number of saves and Bradley Robertson hit the post from a free kick. One lapse in concentration allowed Rangers winger Lachlan Roberts to win a penalty (converted by Daniel McCann), but Mt Druitt didn’t threaten until late on. Roberts put in a few dangerous crosses towards the end, but by then it was too little too late.

The final scoreline of 3-1 didn’t reflect the game, and Brumbies could have gotten five or six on another night. Hills move into the top six, and will be hoping to consolidate their spot next week against bottom-of-the-table Bankstown City. Rangers were uncharacteristically poor in this one, with Lachlan Roberts mostly starved of any service until the final 15 minutes. Mt Druitt will need to improve quickly – they have a tough assignment next week against Northern Tigers.

Hills Brumbies 3 (Rayner 1’ Cejka 15’ Mitchell 45+2’)
Mt Druitt Town Rangers 1 (McCann pen 59’)
On Anzac Day I did what I usually do on public holidays – I watched another football game. This time it was Bonnyrigg White Eagles v Northern Tigers at Bonnyrigg Sports Club. This was an intriguing game – Bonnyrigg are struggling in NPL 1, while Northern Tigers are doing well in NPL 2 (they’re the only NPL 2 team to beat WSW this season).

The first 30 minutes were relatively quiet, with both teams mainly restricted to shots from distance. The turning point seemed to be when Ray Miller was pushed into a fence (with Tigers defender Paul Turrin receiving a yellow card). After that things started to improve both for Bonnyrigg, who took control of the game, and for me personally as I was offered a sip of some rakija by HYPERLINK “” Habib Milan (now I know why people of Balkan heritage make such a big deal of rakija).

Bonnyrigg got the opening goal just before halftime after David Vrankovic got on the end of a corner kick, and continued this momentum into the second half, as Tigers offered very little resistance. Just before the hour mark Ray Miller scored the goal of the game (showing that he hadn’t been affected by his earlier collision with the fence), cutting in from the left flank and smashing the ball past Tigers keeper Harrison Devenish-Meares. A couple of youngsters rounded off the scoring. Hassan Jalloh made it three after capitalising on a defensive error, while substitute Asmir Kadric scored late on with a dipping volley (good to see Asmir back from injury, he’s been impressive every time I’ve seen him).

Bonnyrigg needed a win to boost their confidence – with important players returning from injury they should start moving up the NPL 1 table. In the next round they play APIA, and will be keen to make amends for their disappointing 4-0 loss at Lambert Park in Round 4. Northern Tigers are a bit of a mixed bag, they’ve had some good results but also some poor performances – with more consistency they could challenge for a top two spot in NPL 2 1st grade, and possibly promotion as well (of course, whether they accept the promotion is another matter altogether).

Bonnyrigg White Eagles 4 (Vrankovic 42’ Miller 58’ Jalloh 62’ Kadric 88’)
Northern Tigers 0
Eric Subijano