Round 17 of the Men’s NPL kicks off on Friday when Top Four Cup hopefuls Perth Glory and Armadale meet at Crazy Domains Stadium.
Three wins in their last four games have John O’Reilly’s side five points off fourth placed, which is currently occupied by Glory. With six rounds to play, Armadale’s highest finish in the NPL-era is still achievable.
As for Glory, a run of one defeat in 10 has seen them involved in the finals mix for some time.
It has been a largely successful start to Ruben Zadkovich’s time as Glory academy coach, having taken the role from current A-League coach Richard Garcia last October. The former Glory and Newcastle Jets player believes there is more to come from his young side.
“We’re still building and have areas to improve in which need work. But the way we want to play is slowly taking shape and coming together, and we have a pretty clear picture of what it should look like when we’re doing it well,” Zadkovich said.
“It’s a different challenge at Glory in the NPL space because the focus is to produce players who come out the other end as professionals. But I didn’t want to stand behind that. I want to try and win games, compete with the better sides and I think we’re doing that.
“If we play to our best then I’m confident we can get the job done on Friday, but I don’t underestimate Armadale and the way they go about their business.
“They’re a tough side who have some very good players, are well set up and it’ll be a challenge. But we won’t be taking a backward step - we’ll keep pushing, progressing and hopefully if we execute well on the night the points will be ours.”
Zadkovich brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to Glory. Capped three times by the Socceroos, he won an A-League championship with Sydney FC and played in the Asian Champions League.
As a coach, he has had success in the NPL Northern NSW where he led Broadmeadow Magic to a Grand Final win in 2018 and their first appearance in the last 16 of the FFA Cup. But his role in the west is far more encompassing.
“This role has been thoroughly enjoyable. I’m working alongside good people, good coaches and obviously Richie is someone I played with, so to see him carving out his career at A-League level and assisting him is something I take a huge amount of pride in,” he said.
“What we’re trying to build at the club is going to take a little bit of time, but I’m enjoying coaching alongside people with that ambition to make Glory the best it can be, and to put that home-grown feel back into it.
“I’m wearing a few hats at the moment, touching base with coaches from the 13s through to A-League level and assisting where I can. In the senior academy space, we all work closely together, but in the junior role it’s more about being there as a sounding board to those coaches.
“It’s giving them someone they can turn to on football matters, making sure the pathway and progression is smooth, managing players, training loads, harping on about the technical aspects we want to instil and then gradually opening them up to tactical awareness.
“When you think about it, there’s a lot that goes into it. It’s constant and we continue to work really hard to get to the level we need to be at. I inherited this role from good people who put good protocols already in place and It’s been a smooth transition so far.”
With Olympic football currently happening in Tokyo, it brings back memories for the midfielder who was part of the squad that went to Beijing in 2008.
Australia did not qualify from a group which included eventual winners Argentina, Ivory Coast and Serbia, but Zadkovich will always remember the tournament with great fondness.
“It was an amazing experience and one of the highlights of my playing career to be honest,” he said.
“We were the first team to qualify through Asia which was difficult and a long-drawn-out process. Once you’re at the Olympics it’s a flash in the pan which happens so quick, but some of those memories and moments stay with me forever.
“Playing and scoring against Serbia (the only goal Australia scored that campaign), then playing against Argentina, marking Messi and Aguero. They had Mascherano, Riquelme, Heinze too, it was a freak of a team, so for us to be able to compete with those players for 90 minutes was a great memory.
“At the time you don’t really realise it, but when you step back as your career progresses and you’re seeing these guys kick on with the careers they’ve had, it’s probably more of a stamp of how special it was to have that opportunity.”
Five fixtures complete Round 17 on Saturday. Floreat Athena will be looking to retain top spot and break a four-game winless league run at Cockburn City, who derailed their title dreams on the final day of 2020.
If Athena drop points, Perth can end the day top should they defeat Gwelup who have lost back-to-back matches.
Sorrento are four points off top spot and will aim to keep their title hopes intact when they host Rockingham City, who could end Saturday out of the relegation places if they win and Balcatta slip up against ECU Joondalup.
Finally, Inglewood are looking to close the gap on fourth when they welcome Bayswater City. The match will see Inglewood get to mark their 70th anniversary, after their initial celebrations were postponed due to June’s COVID lockdown.
Fixtures (3pm unless stated)
Perth Glory v Armadale (7.30pm)
Cockburn City v Floreat Athena
ECU Joondalup v Balcatta
Gwelup Croatia v Perth SC
Inglewood United v Bayswater City
Sorrento v Rockingham City
Image: Tom McCarthy