NPL NNSW Men's Round 20 Preview

Match of the Round 
Lambton Jaffas FC v Charlestown Azzurri FC  
Arthur Edden Oval, Saturday 2:30pm 

Arthur Edden Oval will host this weekend’s Match of the Round when Lambton Jaffas host Charlestown Azzurri in a mouth-watering clash between two premiership hopefuls on Saturday. 

Charlestown are on top of the table with just three rounds remaining and will stay there with a win in Round 20. They are on 41 points, just two clear of second-placed Maitland (39) and four clear of their third-placed opponents Lambton (37).  

Any result other than a win would see Azzurri drop to second if Maitland are able to score their 11th consecutive victory when they take on Cooks Hill away from home, while a Lambton win would see the Jaffas move within one point of Charlestown. 

Azzurri bounced back from a two-game winless streak last Saturday when they edged out Newcastle Olympic 2-1 on home soil at Lisle Carr Oval. But they were dealt a significant blow as skipper Nigel Boogaard limped from the field early in the second half with a knee injury. 

Charlestown’s coach James Pascoe is hopeful that the veteran centre-back will return in time for the finals. His replacement at the back next to Taylor Regan this Saturday at Arthur Edden Oval could include Rene Ferguson, who played when Boogaard was suspended for the match against Weston a week earlier, or Callum Bower, who has missed the past two games through suspension and is returning on Saturday. 

Lambton are one of the in form sides in the competition at the moment and pose a huge threat to Azzurri’s premiership hopes. The Jaffas have won their past four matches and haven’t lost in their past seven. 

Coach David Tanchevski recently challenged his side to be better in the opening 30 minutes of contests, starting this weekend against Charlestown, after they were chasing the game again last Saturday against Valentine.  

“Teams work really hard against us. We’re the premiers, so teams are always coming in playing their grand final,” Tanchevski said. 

“Teams will run with us in the first half and then we’ll wear teams down and hopefully win the game in the second half. We’ve just got to be patient. 

“In the first half an hour of every game, teams are probably out-working us and out-enthusing us, but they can’t keep that momentum up the whole game. In the second half, it drops off and space opens up and we play football and we normally capitalise. 

“For us, it’s just a matter of trying to keep a clean sheet in that first half an hour. We’ve probably let a few too many soft goals in for the season in that first half an hour. 

“We have a good enough squad that we can come back and win games, but we don’t want to be doing that every week.”  

The Jaffas welcome back Riley McNaughton for this Saturday’s match after he was away in Round 19, giving Tanchevski a selection headache as everyone who played in the victory against Valentine is right to back up. 

The Jaffas picked up three points when they last met Charlestown back in Round Nine at Lisle Carr Oval. 

Both sides will throw everything at one another at Arthur Edden Oval this Saturday during a match that could make or break their premiership hopes. 

Newcastle Olympic FC v New Lambton FC 
Darling Street Oval, Saturday 3pm 

Newcastle Olympic will play on home soil at Darling Street Oval for the last time this season on Saturday when they host the New Lambton Eagles. 

Olympic’s finals hopes are hanging by a thread following five losses in their past six games, which have seen them go from being in the premiership battle to struggling down in seventh.  

Olympic sit six points behind fifth-placed Weston with just three rounds to go, meaning they will need to win all three of their remaining games if they are to scrape into fifth.  

Joel Griffiths’ men went down 2-1 against league-leaders Charlestown Azzurri away from home last Saturday, but it was a positive effort that saw them push the top-ranked side all the way to the final whistle. They are now focused on returning to winning ways to keep their chances of playing finals football alive. 

Their Round 20 opponents, New Lambton, have not won since Round 11 and are hoping to end their nine-game winless run this Saturday. They have only picked up one point in those nine games but are now determined to finish their season on a high during the final three weeks as they sit in second last spot on the 12-team ladder. 

It was a close contest when these two sides last met back in April when Olympic prevailed 2-1 at Alder Park, and another tight one looks to be in store when they meet again at Darling Street Oval this Saturday.  

Cooks Hill United FC v Maitland FC  
Fearnley Dawes Athletics Field, Saturday 3pm 

It’s a battle of two impressive winning streaks at Fearnley Dawes Athletics Field this Saturday when Cooks Hill hosts Maitland. 

A month ago, it would have been almost unthinkable that Cooks Hill would be in a position to go into this game on a four-game winning streak.  

Cooks Hill knocked off former finals hopefuls Newcastle Olympic, league-leaders Charlestown Azzurri and traditional heavyweights Edgeworth before scoring a miraculous comeback victory against rivals New Lambton last Saturday.  

Cooks Hill are now flying though as coach Chris Zoricich and his young team have turned their season around and are determined to take some serious momentum into 2024. 

But Zoricich's side will face what will be their toughest task all season this Saturday when they line up opposite the Maitland Magpies. 

Mick Bolch’s men are playing some red-hot football at the moment and they stretched their winning streak to 10 games when they downed Edgeworth 4-0 last Saturday. 

Braedyn Crowley can’t stop scoring as he bagged a double against the Eagles to move to 28 goals in an injury-affected season, which is 12 more than Broadmeadow’s Riley Smith who is next best on 16.  

The former A-League player is making a serious case for entering the conversation of being one of the best to ever lace up the boots in the NPL, as he now has 102 goals in 101 appearances. 

Behind Crowley, the rest of the Magpies are now absolutely firing after their season started off slowly as they only earned nine points from their first nine games. 

They have picked up a maximum 30 since, and are just two points behind top-of-the-table side Charlestown Azzurri and are well aware they could finish this weekend in first place with just two games to play. 

Maitland have set the bar in both attack and defence so far this season, scoring a league-best 58 goals and conceding a league-best 19. Their for and against difference of 39 is the best in the competition by 15. 

The Magpies have only been kept scoreless twice all season, and one of the teams that managed to achieve that was Cooks Hill back in April when their Round Nine clash finished locked at 0-0 in Maitland. 

This Saturday’s return fixture has potential match of the year written all over it as some of the brightest young talents in Northern NSW go head-to-head to keep their winning streaks alive. 

Broadmeadow Magic FC v Adamstown Rosebud FC  
Magic Park, Sunday 2:30pm 

Broadmeadow Magic are on a roll at the right time of the season and will be out to continue their momentum on home soil on Sunday when they host Adamstown at Magic Park. 

There’s a lot to like about this Broadmeadow Magic side in 2023 – young, enthusiastic, and getting the job done in the front third.  

Magic became just the second side to net 50 goals this season when they beat Lake Macquarie City 6-1 last Saturday.  

While John Bennis’ men will be keen on continuing their impressive goal-scoring form heading into the finals, they’ll also be focusing on the other end of the field. 

Magic have not kept a clean sheet since May during a rescheduled Round Seven midweek match against New Lambton. 

It’s hardly cause for panic, given they have only conceded one goal in each of their past six games, but it’s something they’ll be hoping to have tightened up by the time the knockout games arrive. 

This weekend’s match against Adamstown offers Broadmeadow a chance to make ground in the premiership race, sitting on 36 points, just five behind Azzurri (41), three behind Maitland (39) and one behind Lambton (37).  

Azzurri and Lambton will play against one another on Saturday, so Magic could finish in the top three on Sunday or could end the weekend within two or three points of top spot. 

Adamstown cannot finish any higher than ninth in 2023, but as they showed last weekend during a 2-2 draw away from home against Weston, they are not going to go down without a fight.  

Three of Rosebud’s last four opponents are teams either fighting for the premiership or a spot in the finals, and they are definitely going to make those teams work for the three points.  

Adamstown are coming to Magic Park, a ground their gun front man Dino Fajkovic once called home, to turn it around this weekend. 

Edgeworth FC v Valentine FC  
Jack McLaughlan Oval, Sunday 2:30pm 

Edgeworth will host Valentine at Jack McLaughan Oval on Sunday in what is a must-win match for the Eagles. 

There’s a lot of anticipation at Edgeworth at the moment, with the NNSWF Men’s State Cup final against Broadmeadow Magic and an Australia Cup Round of 32 knockout match against A-League side Western United on the horizon. 

But all the focus is currently on this Sunday’s game as the Eagles play to keep their finals hopes alive. They finished last weekend two points outside the top five with just three rounds remaining.  

The Eagles are going to need to pick up nine points from their final three games to even be in with a shot of reaching the post season. 

Their coach Peter McGuinness challenged his side to put last Saturday’s loss behind them and prepare well for this Sunday’s do or die clash. 

“We need to get back in and lift our spirits,” McGuinness said.  

“We need to knuckle down and have a big week and take that into the weekend against Valentine. 

“Hopefully we get a couple of players back, but Jordan Lennon and Jacob Pepper are still doubtful.” 

The Eagles will be without goalkeeper Shayne Van As this weekend after he received a red card against Maitland but they will be boosted by the return of Ben Conway between the sticks after he missed that match with illness. 

Valentine’s finals hopes evaporated a few weeks ago, but they are hoping to earn nine points from their last three games and end their season on a high.  

Close games have been the story of Valentine’s season, and their past nine games have either ended in a draw, a one-goal loss or a one-goal win.  

Another tight contest is more than likely in store in this one, but who will come out on top is anyone’s guess. 

Weston Workers FC v Lake Macquarie City FC  
Rockwell Automation Park, Sunday 3pm 

Weston are hoping to put a frustrating four weeks behind them when they host the struggling Lake Macquarie City at Rockwell Automation Park on Sunday afternoon.  

The last time the Bears won was back in Round 15 when an Aaron Niyonkuru hat-trick guided them to a 3-0 victory against Newcastle Olympic at Darling Street Oval. 

A run of five consecutive home games, which the Bears hoped would help continue their positive form and solidify their spot in the premiership race during the run home. 

But the Bears have had two losses and two draws picking up just two of a possible 12 points over the past four weeks and slide down the table to fifth.  

Weston are now eight points behind top-ranked Charlestown Azzurri but just two ahead of the sixth-placed Edgeworth Eagles. 

The Bears are determined to put that behind them on Sunday and farewell Rockwell Automation Park in style as they host their final home game of the regular season. 

A draw or a loss could see them drop out of the top five with the Eagles hot on their heels, but Weston will be solely focused on returning to the winner’s circle to improve their chances of playing finals football for the first time since 2014.  

For Lake Macquarie City, the last three games are all about restoring pride in the jersey. They finally scored their first win of the campaign early last month when they beat Adamstown 4-1 in Round 15.  

The Roosters have lost their past five games a combined 30 goals to two. It won’t get any easier for them this Sunday when they head out to Rockwell Automation Park to challenge a Weston team that beat them 4-0 at Macquarie Field earlier this season back in April.