Saturday night’s NPL 2 game between Spirit FC and Northern Tigers was a difficult game to write about. Spirit FC are using Valentine Sports Park as a temporary home while Christie Park is being redeveloped, and while Valentine has an artificial surface and all of the facilities that footballers require, it lacks the quirkiness and character of many other suburban grounds. The two sets of fans that attended on Saturday are also much more reserved (i.e. they complain a lot less) than other NPL fanbases. However, the worst thing is that the Valentine Sports Park cafeteria is closed at night-time – a fact that always makes me sad.
Northern Tigers started brightly, and took the lead in the tenth minute after an inswinging free kick from Ally Brown evaded everyone and nestled in the far corner of the net. However, after the early goal Spirit FC dominated the remainder of the game. The men (who used to be) from Christie Park equalised midway through the first half when Chris Godoy Bascur was played in behind the Tigers defence, finishing neatly with the outside of his boot. Spirit then almost took the lead when Louis Bozanic beat Tigers keeper Harrison Devenish-Meares to a through ball, but Bozanic had been forced wide, and his cross was headed over by Godoy Bascur.
Spirit continued to be the better side after the break, and took a deserved lead just after the hour when Chris Gomez’s strike was deflected past Devenish-Meares. Soon afterwards Yuya Samba almost made it three, crashing a 30 yard volley off the crossbar. There was a mild level of excitement when the Tigers keeper went up for a late corner, but nothing came of it, and Spirit eventually made the game safe in stoppage time via a header from substitute Bradley Gibson.
It’s hard to know what to make of Northern Tigers – they’re doing well in the league but every time I’ve seen them they’ve been below par, something that will need to be rectified in a hurry as their next game is against the Fairfield Galacticos. Spirit FC were much better defensively than the last time I saw them (the 5-2 loss “away” to Mounties), and despite being second last on the table, they have plenty to play for, as they are only three points off a finals spot. Like Tigers, Spirit also have a tough test next week – they are away at 3rd-placed St George FC.
Spirit FC 3 (Godoy Bascur 22’ Gomez 62’ Gibson 91’)
Northern Tigers 1 (Brown 10’)
Sunday afternoon brought another trip to the cramped confines and obstructed sightlines intimate surroundings of Lambert Park for the NPL 1 clash between Associazione Poli-sportiva Italo Australiana and Blacktown City. APIA were coming off a 4-2 loss away to Manly United, while Demons had a short turnaround after Wednesday night’s heroic extra-time FFA Cup victory against Mt Druitt Town Rangers. Star winger Danny Choi was injured in that game, and unfortunately it looks as though he will be out for quite a while.
While walking to the ground I spotted Blacktown City legends Travis Major and Sean Rooney – unfortunately, that was the highlight of the afternoon. APIA started with great intensity, pressing Blacktown high up the pitch and making it very difficult for them to play out from the back, resulting in a lot of aimless long balls. Blacktown didn’t help themselves by conceding a lot of set pieces in dangerous positions – APIA were able to win headers from their set pieces, but couldn’t get them on target.
The two clearest chances of the game came towards the end of the first half. First, Blacktown forward James Andrew outpaced the APIA defence to get to Mitch Mallia’s through ball, but keeper Ivan Necevski (making his debut for APIA) managed to stay big just long enough to deflect his shot wide of the target. Then the game’s decisive moment came a few minutes before the break – Mallia inadvertently played APIA forward Jordan Murray in on goal, and when his shot was saved by Tristan Prendergast, Tasuku Sekiya was on hand to curl the rebound past Prendergast from just outside the box.
The second half didn’t turn out to be any better for Blacktown, and although APIA sat deeper as the game went on, their defending was superb, hunting in packs whenever a Blacktown player got into a moderately dangerous position, as well as winning almost every header. There was an optimistic penalty shout in second half stoppage time after contact on Mitch Mallia, but it would have been harsh on APIA if they had conceded a late equaliser – they had been the better team (despite not creating too many chances themselves).
Blacktown looked flat and misplaced a lot of simple passes, but that’s understandable, as seven of the starting lineup played 120 minutes in the midweek FFA Cup game against Mt Druitt. They are still top of the table, and with more time to recover they should be better in the next game. The main concern is that this season Danny Choi has looked like the difference maker for them, and without him they might struggle to create against the top teams. Up next for Blacktown is a game at Gabbie Stadium against in-form Sydney United – why couldn’t we have played them when Davor Bajsic was still in charge?
As for APIA, they clearly won the battle, and played just enough football to win the game. APIA are now equal-second with Sydney United, and will take confidence from the fact that they’ve beaten the other two teams in the top three. Their next match is away against Rockdale, where they will once again have the benefit of playing a team recovering from a midweek fixture.
APIA 1 (Sekiya 42’)
How powerful is the Magic Of The Cup™? Powerful enough for me not to think twice about battling rush-hour traffic to travel to Rockdale for their FFA Cup 6th Preliminary Round match against Marconi. Rockdale’s season appeared to have hit a stumbling block after a very good start, suffering two consecutive losses after going undefeated through the first eight league games of the season. On the other hand, Marconi were undefeated in their last six league games, with their last loss coming against North Shore Mariners on April Fools Day.
After going through my usual pre-game ritual of eating a kebapi roll, I noticed that Fox Sports had sent some people over to film the game. I presume that they want to use the footage as part of their FFA Cup coverage later in the year, but a small part of me wants to believe that they were there solely to film the adventures of Mirjan Pavlovic, the greatest Galactico of them all.
The Galacticos dominated the first fifteen minutes, taking the lead when Samuel Burfoot beat Rockdale keeper Ante Covic from 25 yards. Marconi almost had a second soon afterwards, but Marko Jesic fired wide after Pavlovic’s effort was blocked by Covic. There wasn’t much to speak of for most of the rest of the first half, but out of nowhere Rockdale took a halftime lead after two goals just before the interval. The first came when Harris Gaitatzis beat the offside trap before squaring it to Alec Canak, who skinned a defender inside the box before drilling it low into the net, and the second came when Canak played a nice one-two with Figon before scoring with another low drive.
Rockdale continued their momentum into the second half, creating a number of chances. They almost added a third when Alec Urosevski hit the post, but they didn’t have to wait long to double their lead, as a few minutes later Urosevski got on the end of a diagonal ball before finishing well.
Marconi had a brief period where they looked like they could get back into the game, and Ante Covic made a couple of good saves, first saving to his left from a Jesic volley, before saving to his right soon afterwards to prevent a Paul Reid own goal. However, Rockdale soon reasserted their control of the game, and Alec Canak completed his hat-trick with just under 20 minutes left. That goal effectively killed the game off, although Ante Covic was not able to save them all night – Sean Rooney grabbed a consolation goal late on after good work on the right flank from Brandon Vella.
In the end it was a fairly easy victory for Rockdale, despite the slow start – they will play either Hakoah or Albion Park White Eagles (at Ilinden Sports Centre) for a place in the FFA Cup Round of 32. Marconi won’t create any Magic Of The Cup™ this year, but there’s still plenty to play for – they are currently first in the NPL 2 club championship and looking good for a return to the top tier.
Rockdale 4 (Canak 39’ 43’ 72’ Urosevski 57’)
Marconi 2 (Burfoot 9’ Rooney 89’)