The original plan for Saturday night was to travel to Lynwood Park for the NPL 2 game between Macarthur Rams and Western Sydney Wanderers (which Macarthur ended up winning 2-1), but after reading Derek Royal’s magnificent preview of Spartans v Marconi (the fourth match on the page), I was compelled to go to Blacktown Football Park instead to watch that game.
After entering the venue I was annoyed to hear Spartans fans shouting ‘Come on Blacktown!’ Let me to make something perfectly clear: there’s only one Blacktown, and it ain’t the orange team.
I met up with Boris and Goran, two Bonnyrigg fans who were there to support Marconi players that they knew, but more importantly were also there to heckle Spartans players. Despite supporting different teams, we had one thing in common: we wanted to see a re-enactment of this great day in 2014.
From the opening whistle, the Spartans players didn’t even look like they were still in the dressing sheds, they actually looked like they’d been to the pub beforehand. Marconi took the lead in the first minute, with former Blacktown City player Sean Rooney doing us all proud by finding the net after getting on the end of a pinpoint corner. The Fairfield Galacticos were all over their opponents, and it was 2-0 inside ten minutes, as Rooney curled a brilliant free kick over the wall and past Spartans keeper Jacob Forster.
Marconi’s dominance continued, with a couple more close calls. Incredibly, Rooney completed his hat trick inside half an hour (once a Demon, always a Demon), but unfortunately I missed the goal. (I was in a tricky situation, not only did I want to take notes for the blog and live tweet the game, but a couple of people had asked me to provide SMS updates as they were unable to attend.) It got even worse for Spartans as Emanuel Elali was sent off five minutes before halftime, but Marconi’s dominance was so great at this point that I don’t think it made too much difference to the balance of play.
Los Galacticos almost got another goal when Mirjan Pavlovic missed a great chance just before the break, but they didn’t have to wait long to get their fourth. Soon after the restart, Rooney was allowed way too much space on the edge of the box and he responded by drilling the ball low past Forster.
It was clear that Marconi took their foot off the gas after the fourth goal, although they did hit the post with about 20 minutes left. Spartans were still unable to make any real impression on the game, and they didn’t even force The Best Goalkeeper In NPL NSW™ (a.k.a. Nenad Vekic) into a meaningful save until around ten minutes from the end. Despite easing off, Marconi still managed to add a fifth near the end, as Marko Jesic thumped a header past Forster after being left free at the near post. Jesic ran over to us to celebrate, which was nice as that’s something corporate/media types such as myself don’t experience too often.
On this occasion, the Princes of Bossley Park made the men from Rooty Hill look like Paupers, and are now top of NPL 2. Los Galacticos finally put together the kind of performance that we all know they’re capable of, and if they can find this form regularly the other NPL 2 teams don’t stand a chance. This was Spartans first really bad result of the season, but more bad news was to follow after this game – Spartans have been docked six points for fielding ineligible players in the first two games of the season, and have dropped from third to ninth as a result.
Marconi 5 (Rooney 1’ 10’ 27’ 51’ Jesic 90’)
The following afternoon, while most WSW fans were getting ready to cheer for a team that they hate in normal circumstances (warning: clip contains coarse language), I travelled to southern Sydney for the NPL 1 match between Rockdale City Suns and Blacktown City. Not only was this a top of the table clash, but both teams were also undefeated going into the game, so I was looking forward to this clash almost as much as I was looking forward to having a kebapi roll from the Ilinden Sports Centre canteen.
Rockdale were on top in the first ten minutes, and Connor Evans blocked a shot on the goalline after a corner wasn’t dealt with. However, a few minutes later Blacktown took the lead on the counter. After a good ball from Roberto Speranza found Mitch Mallia in space and isolated against Rockdale fullback Brayden Sorge, Mallia used his pace to beat Sorge on the outside before putting it on a plate for Joey Gibbs.
Rockdale then had their best period of the match, with Demons defender Matt Lewis making a vital block inside the six yard box, before shots from Alec Urosevski and Jordan Figon brought a couple of good saves from Tristan Prendergast. However, it was Blacktown who would get the next goal five minutes before halftime. Roberto Speranza and Danny Choi were involved in the buildup, setting up Mallia, who skinned a defender in the box before sliding the ball past Ante Covic. The 2-0 score at halftime was not reflective of general play, but it was reflective of Blacktown’s ruthlessness in front of goal.
Rockdale dominated possession after the break, with Blacktown happy to sit back thanks to their two goal cushion. Early in the second half Urosevski again brought the best out of Prendergast, before Jordan Figon wasted Rockdale’s best chance of the game, blazing over after being put through on goal (I liked the subtle push from Shayne d’Cunha just as Figon was shooting to put him off).
With about half an hour to go Rockdale decided to go for broke, bringing on Toufic Alameddine for Patrick Savor (a winger for a defender), and changing their formation. However, Blacktown handled the changes well, and Gibbs had a chance on the counter (which was saved by Covic) before Daniel Araujo won a penalty with just under 20 minutes left. Joey Gibbs beat former teammate Ante Covic from the spot, and the game was effectively over as a contest, with Rockdale going through the motions in the closing stages. However, the scoring wasn’t over – Blacktown substitute James Andrew beat the offside trap in the 90th minute and poked the ball past Covic to make it four.
This was close to a perfect performance for Blacktown – they were extremely disciplined without the ball, and their finishing was ruthless. It was also an unfamiliar experience for me: I like to complain but there isn’t really anything to complain about. Rockdale dominated possession for periods in this contest, but didn’t create many clear-cut chances, and they couldn’t get to grips with Blacktown’s counter-attacks. However, there are positives for Rockdale: their scoreboard looks nice, and their kebapi is excellent.
Rockdale City Suns 0
Blacktown City 4 (Gibbs 13’ 72p’ Mallia 40’ Andrew 90’)
On Wednesday night, a last minute change of plans allowed me to go to Gabbie Stadium for the FFA Cup 6th Preliminary Round game between Blacktown City and Mt Druitt Town Rangers. Both teams had been less than impressive in their most recent FFA Cup fixtures: Blacktown had laboured to a 2-0 win over Eastern Suburbs FA outfit Lokomotiv Cove, while Mt Druitt were uninspiring in their 3-1 win over State League side University of NSW (a performance that their keeper Carlos Saliadarre labelled as ‘disgusting’ during the game).
I arrived about 15 minutes late, but via Futbol24 (an app for dedicated gamblers fans of semi-pro football), I knew that Blacktown had already missed a penalty. It seemed that I had missed the most exciting moment of the first half: after I arrived Mt Druitt sat deep and denied Blacktown space, with Demons not creating much in the final third. It could be argued that Mt Druitt actually had the better first half chances when they countered, but overall the first half didn’t have much to write home about.
Mark Crittenden clearly wasn’t happy, and made two subs at half time, with Danny Choi and Connor Evans coming on in place of Yuta Konagaya and Lewis Beumie. Critto also made what has become a familiar formation change when things aren’t working for Blacktown, as he switched from a 3-5-2 to a 4-3-3.
After a dull first half, the second half was full of action (which is good for this blog but not necessarily good for my mental health). Five minutes after the restart Blacktown keeper Matthew Symes was red carded for handling the ball outside the box and denying a clear goalscoring opportunity, forcing Critto to switch to a 4-3-2 formation and use his final sub, with Tristan Prendergast coming on in place of Mitch Mallia. Despite going down to ten men, it was Blacktown who took the lead just before the hour, when Danny Choi curled a beautiful 30 yard free kick past Carlos Saliadarre (nicknamed the Human Glowstick by Goran).
Rangers were given a golden opportunity to equalise six minutes later when Daniel Araujo conceded a penalty, but Daniel McCann’s spot-kick was poor, and Prendergast saved with his legs. Our joy was very short lived though – seconds after the penalty miss, Mt Druitt equalised when Nick Trimble was allowed a free header on the edge of the six yard box.
Mt Druitt looked like firm favourites to win when Danny Choi left the field due to injury with about 20 minutes left in normal time, as with no subs left, Blacktown were down to nine men for the remainder of the contest. The roles were now fully reversed from the first half, with Blacktown sitting deep in a 4-3-1 formation and hoping to hit Mt Druitt on the counter.
Demons managed to hang on for the rest of normal time, and as the game went to extra time it was clear that Blacktown were hoping for either penalties or some kind of miracle goal. At this point things were very nervous for everyone, except Tristan Prendergast, who calmly dribbled past a Mt Druitt forward at the start of extra time with the goal completely unguarded. Prendergast then made a more conventional contribution to his team’s efforts soon afterwards, diving to his left to push away a shot from Brian Griffin-Colls.
In the 102nd minute Blacktown’s miracle arrived when Matt Lewis managed to get to the byline on the left side and his cutback was deflected into the net by Rangers defender Nick Trimble. Even with the two man advantage, Mt Druitt only really looked likely to score at set pieces. One of those led to a scramble in the penalty box which Blacktown eventually cleared, and another resulted in a goalline clearance from Zach Cairncross after Prendergast fumbled a cross. Blacktown even had the best chance of extra time after a mistake put Araujo in on goal, but his effort was saved by Saliadarre.
Blacktown showed great courage and persistence to come away with the win – they ran hard for the 120 minutes (Critto’s teams never get outrun) and defended brilliantly. They’ll travel to the south coast to face Illawarra Premier League outfit Bulli in the final Preliminary Round, and have the chance to qualify for the FFA Cup Round of 32 on four successive occasions.
Mt Druitt were very disappointing with the ball when it was 11-on-9 (well, disappointing for them, anyway). Despite a two man advantage, they didn’t create many clear-cut chances and (other than their set pieces) could only muster up shots from distance which were usually well off target. Blacktown also found it surprisingly easy to get in behind the Rangers backline after they went down to nine men. They’ll be bitterly disappointed with this loss – this was a golden opportunity to make the FFA Cup Round of 32 as they would have fancied their chances against Bulli.
Blacktown City 2 (Choi 57’ Trimble og 102’)
Mt Druitt 1 (Trimble 65’)