It's Round 16 in the National Premier Leagues NSW Men’s competition, and the pressure is on with the finish line coming into sight.
Blacktown City leads the league heading into this week’s action but faces fierce competition in the premiership race from Sydney United 58 and Rockdale Ilinden.
The battle for finals football is also as tight as it has been all season, with five teams battling it out for the remaining two spots.
This week’s matches get underway on Friday night as Manly United host APIA Leichhardt.
Saturday will feature two matches with Sydney Olympic taking on Sydney FC in the early game before Mt Druitt Town Rangers go head to head with Sutherland Sharks later that night.
On Sunday, Rockdale Ilinden receives a visit from the top side Blacktown City and Sydney United 58 take on local rivals Marconi Stallions.
The match action spills into Monday during Round 16, with Northbridge Bulls closing the round against Wollongong Wolves.
Remember, you can catch all the match action across the weekend’s fixtures live on NPL.TV.
Manly United v APIA Leichhardt FC, 7pm Friday at Cromer Park
Manly United will be determined to spoil Paul Dee’s return to Cromer Park when they host APIA Leichhardt on Friday night.
Manly was at their brilliant best last week in a 3-0 victory against Rockdale Ilinden.
The win catapulted the Adam Griffiths coached side up to fourth on the ladder, a position they will be determined to defend over the final seven matches of the regular season.
One man looking for another big performance is young Manly shot-stopper, Sam Benton.
Benton was immense against Rockdale and set the platform for his side’s big win. He will be a tough man to beat between the sticks on Friday and has been a key in after succeeding over the recently departed Dylan Mitchell who held onto that coveted number 1 jersey at the club.
Luka Kmet was back among the goals in Round 15 and will be a player to watch out for this week, as will Finn Ashton.
Looking to cause an upset will be an APIA Leichhardt side battling to break into the top five for the first time this season.
A 2-0 win against Sutherland last week moved them up to sixth on the ladder, behind fifth-placed Sydney Olympic only on goal difference.
Friday’s match will have plenty of extra meaning for APIA coach Paul Dee as he returns to Cromer Park for the first time since departing the club.
APIA’s players are finding form after a slow start to the campaign and, with the talent on their roster, are capable of breaking open a fixture at any moment.
Live-wire attacker Peter Kekeris has quickly become a significant contributor for Dee’s side as well as a fan favourite amongst the APIA locals as the skilful star will be one to watch this week.
Another player to keep an eye out for is young right back Will Mutch, whose speed and delivery into the box could create plenty of headaches for the Manly defence while the club will welcome back experienced defender Josh Symons. It was Harry Callahan’s best performance since making the move from the Wolves this season with Dee hoping his good run can continue with this epic match-up.
This match is a thrilling clash to open the round and, with such a logjam on the ladder between third and seventh, a win could make a team’s finals chances.
Sydney Olympic v Sydney FC, 5.30pm Saturday at Belmore Sports Ground
Sydney Olympic will be determined to hold onto their spot in the top five with a win against Sydney FC at Belmore Sports Ground on Saturday.
Olympic delivered a breakout performance last week in a 5-1 thrashing of Wollongong on the road.
It was Olympic’s biggest win of the campaign, and coach Ante Juric will be hoping it is a turning point in his side’s season.
What would’ve been most satisfying for Juric is how his players finally found their groove in attack after struggling to find the back of the net at times this year.
Mo Adam’s scored a brace against Wollongong and will be fired up to add to his tally, while veteran Jason Madonis proved he could be a consistent source of goals by scoring his fifth of the season.
It was pleasing to see the return of promising young keeper Nick Sorras to the starting 11 at the Blues as well.
Olympic comes up against a Sydney FC team with renewed confidence after claiming an incredible 5-2 victory against Mt Druitt Town Rangers.
It was the Young Sky Blues first win since week three of the competition, and coach Jim van Weeran will be encouraging his players to take their game to another level.
Thomas Fay had a massive match against the Rangers, scoring a hat-trick in the win. He will be looking to back it up with another big game this week.
Olympic will be favourites for this clash, but if Sydney FC’s result last week said anything, it was that anything could happen inside 90 minutes.
Mt Druitt Town Rangers v Sutherland Sharks, 7pm Saturday at Popondetta Park
Mt Druitt Town Rangers will be out to bounce back with a big win against Sutherland Sharks at Popondetta Park on Saturday night.
The Rangers suffered a shock 5-2 defeat to bottom side Sydney FC last week despite leading 2-0 going into the halftime break.
It was a significant blow to Mt Druitt’s finals hopes and meant they dropped down to seventh on the ladder and have an almighty week ahead of them as following this match the club will prepare for their do or die FFA Cup Round 7 clash against Rockdale Ilinden at Popondetta on Wednesday at 7:30pm.
Coach Stewart Montgomery will be leaning on defensive leaders Tarek Elrich and Travis Oughtred to stiffen up the Rangers at the back after last week’s second-half capitulation.
Jack Stewart has been the man in attack this season, and he will need to add to his goals tally if the Rangers are to take the three points.
Sutherland’s opponents will be looking to replicate their 4-1 win against Mt Druitt back in round four.
The Sharks have slumped to the bottom of the ladder after suffering a 2-0 loss at home to APIA last week.
It was Sutherland’s seventh straight week without a win, and coach Nick Dimovski will be calling on his players to find a winning edge to end the streak.
Jonathan Grozdanovski had a couple of great chances to score last week and will be itching to add to his tally after going so close against APIA after coming on as a substitute while James Andrew is looming once again as the Shire’s go to man along with midfield hard-man Chris McStay.
Anthony Bouzanis also had a solid game last week, making several vital saves. His performance between the sticks this week could be the difference between a win or a loss for Sutherland.
Mt Druitt will be favourites at home; however, Sutherland has shown they know how to win against the Rangers.
It is sure to be an entertaining contest.
Rockdale Ilinden v Blacktown City, 3pm Sunday at Rockdale Ilinden Sports Centre
Rockdale Ilinden will be desperate for a return to form when they host competition leaders Blacktown City this Sunday.
A recent run of poor form, Rockdale needs a win against the league frontrunners to keep their premiership defence alive after slipping further behind.
A 3-0 loss to Manly last week was their latest defeat, and coach Steve Zoric will be pushing his side to rediscover the form, which helped them climb to the top of the ladder earlier this season.
Club talisman Alec Urosevski will need to deliver a vintage performance in this match to inspire his side against the league’s best while the hard working Daniel Araujo will be a player that will need to be at his best in holding the midfield fort.
Defensively Zoric’s side will need to put its faith in the struggling backline as they take on an attack firing on all cylinders.
Blacktown comes into this week’s match at the height of their powers but will be desperate for victory, with second place Sydney United 58 only two points behind them on the ladder.
The return of Sean Rooney has given Blacktown a wealth of riches in attack, but most importantly for coach Mark Crittenden, it takes the pressure off star striker Travis Major.
Daniel Collins goal last week made him the eleventh player to find the back of the net this season for Blacktown while the resurgence of young gun defender Jak O’Brien has really caught the attention of many.
Blacktown City will favour this game, but with vital points in the premiership race on the line, this match could go any way.
Sydney United 58 FC v Marconi Stallions, 3pm Sunday at Sydney United Sports Centre
Sydney United 58 will be fighting to reclaim first place on the ladder with a win against local rivals Marconi Stallions at Sydney United Sports Centre on Sunday.
United 58 dropped to second after they suffered a 2-0 loss at the hands of Blacktown City last week.
The Tomi Vidovic coached side will throw everything forward this week to keep their premiership pursuit on track.
Goals were at a premium for United 58 last week, with strikers Patrick Antelmi and Chris Payne unable to find the back of the net.
They will be fired up to add to their tally once more this week.
Defender Jacob Poscoliero will play a significant role in tying down a shifty Marconi attack, with the former Central Coast Mariners stopper’s considerable experience a considerable advantage.
Marconi comes into the match after an incredible tenth draw of the season as they fought back to claim a 2-2 interest against Northbridge.
It was a drama-filled clash with Anthony Frangie sent off and, as a result, will not be available for this week’s match.
The Stallions have been unable to consistently put together a full 90-minute performance this season, with their moments of brilliance enough to help them snatch a point more often than not.
Coach Peter Tsekenis will once again try to unlock his side’s potential, leaning on veterans such as Marko Jesic to lead the charge.
Mitch Mallia was back on the scoresheet again in Round 15, and he will be hoping to carry on his recent solid form this week.
Marconi played arguably its best match of the season against United 58 when they snatched a 2-0 win back in round five.
United 58 will be favourites, but that round five wins is proof Marconi knows what it takes to defeat their rivals.
Northbridge Bulls v Wollongong Wolves, 3 pm Monday at Sydney United Sports Centre.
Northbridge Bulls will be looking for all three points when they host Wollongong Wolves at Sydney United Sports Centre on Monday.
The Bulls were held to a 2-2 draw with Marconi last week in a drama-filled clash which included their coach Mile Sterjovski being sent off.
Northbridge is on a five-game unbeaten run with four draws and a win from their past five matches.
Their free-scoring ways have them tied for the highest-scoring team in the competition and will surely be on display this week against the Wolves.
Rory Jordan’s four strikes this campaign leads the tally for the Bulls, and he will be crucial to their chances this week. He really has been the star of the show at the Bulls and has handled himself as one of the best young talents in the league.
Stephan de Robillard is another player who plays a big part for the Bulls and will be on to watch.
They face off against a Wollongong team which suffered a 5-1 thrashing at home against Sydney Olympic.
It was a major reality check for the Wolves, who slumped to their second consecutive defeat.
Coach Luke Wilkshire will be determined to help his side find the consistency they need to make it into the finals.
Captain Lachlan Scott scored his side’s only goal last week and will again lead from the front to lift the Wolves to victory.
He will need the support of star recruit Leroy Jennings if Wollongong is to taste victory with the skilful attacker just the man to break through a leaky Bulls backline.
Both sides are equally matched, with a moment of brilliance likely the deciding factor in this contest.
IMAGE: Photos by Loopii