WITH four rounds to go, things are no clearer at the top, the bottom or in the resolution of who will play semi finals football in the IGA NPL NSW Mens 1.
Blacktown City have a three point lead at the top of the table, with Blacktown Spartans in second place. Bonnyrigg White Eagles is still in the mix for the top three, while Sutherland, Rockdale City Suns and Sydney Olympic are playing for fourth and fifth.
MATCH OF THE ROUND
Sutherland Sharks v Sydney Olympic, 7.30pm Saturday at Seymour Shaw Park
Sutherland Sharks are sitting in fourth place on 29 points and seem locked in a three way battle for the final two places in the top five. As it stands, they hold a slender one point advantage over fifth placed Rockdale City Suns, and they are three points clear of sixth placed Sydney Olympic, their opponents this weekend.
It promises to be a big match with plenty on the line. A win for Sutherland and for Rockdale would make the task that little bit harder for Olympic, but if Grant Lee's men can overturn the Shire boys, they will be right in the mix when the whips really begin to crack.
Sutherland was much improved last week and all the better for having Nick Stavroulakis and Panni Nikas reunited in midfield. There is little doubt that Stavroulakis is the heartbeat of the team while Nikas is their number one goal threat.
There will be a gaping hole in defence though after Perry Moustakas returned to Cyprus after last weekend's win over Manly United, to continue his football in their second division.
Olympic went down to competition leaders Blacktown City, which is certainly no disgrace. Harris Gaitatzis' goal added another to his growing tally this season and if Olympic are to get the points in Miranda, they will need him, Evan Kostopoulos, Go Shirai and Taiga Soeda to be on their best form.
Round 19 Preview
Manly United v South Coast Wolves, 7.30pm Saturday at Cromer Park
Manly United host South Coast Wolves on Saturday night on the northern beaches.
Paul Dee's side didn't have the quality to match it with Sutherland last weekend at Seymour Shaw but they showed their capability the week before when they beat Blacktown Spartans at Cromer and they are two points clear of bottom placed St George Saints.
South Coast meanwhile went toe-to-toe with Spartans and managed a point in a thrilling 3-3 draw. Wolves showed their spirit, clawing their way back from 2-0 down to level at 2-2, and then from 3-2 down to nick a point in stoppage time.
They are a well put together side and would head to Cromer as favourites, but Paul Dee's men are more than capable on their day.
Marconi Stallions v Sydney United 58 FC, 7.30pm Saturday at Marconi Stadium
Marconi Stallions and Sydney United 58 FC go head-to-head in a match-up reminiscent of their glory days in the National Soccer League.
Marconi are in seventh, five points in arrears of Sydney Olympic and it is probably a stretch too far to say that they could claw their way into the semi finals come season's end. They went down 2-1 at home to Bonnyrigg White Eagles last weekend and have been too hot and cold this season to pose a serious threat to the teams above them.
Sydney United 58 meanwhile have struggled to make any impression on the back of their impressive premiership winning campaign in 2013. But they did return to the winner's circle last weekend, beating St George 2-1 at home.
They have the quality in their squad to go back-to-back this weekend up the road at Marconi, but they will need to put their best foot forward to end this disappointing campaign on a high over the next four weeks.
Blacktown City v Rockdale City Suns, 3pm Sunday at Lilys Football Centre
Blacktown City are top of the table and loving it and the premiership is in their hands over the final four weeks of the season. Their three point buffer gives them a modicum of breathing space, but a home clash against Rockdale City will be a test of their mettle.
The Suns have struggled to play at home on a pitch that needs a bit of attention, but their game should be suited by the surface at Lilys Football Centre. Pass-master Paul Reid in particular should benefit.
Askin Oygur and Paul Kohler at the back have a big job to do though, as they have to try and contain Travis Major and Ryuji Miyazawa.
The Blacktown City attackers have been prolific this season and Major particularly has been a revelation in the number nine role this year. He has scored goals for fun, ably supported by Miyazawa and the lively Mitchell Mallia, who has been a useful mid-season addition.
Mark Crittenden's side are favourites to be first past the post, but they must first negotiate this tricky looking fixture.
St George v Blacktown Spartans, 3pm Sunday at Seymour Shaw Park
St George host Spartans again down at Seymour Shaw instead of WIN Jubilee.
It is hard to tell whether it is a good or bad time to play Ben De Haan's side, who are two games without a win after a defeat to Manly United and a draw with South Coast Wolves. They may pack some punch this weekend as they look to bounce back and it is crucial that they gain three points here, to keep the pressure on Blacktown City at the top of the table.
They certainly have the players to do so, it is now a question of whether they have the mental fortitude to put two poor results behind them and try and chase down the league leaders.
St George is stranded at the bottom of the table, unable to thus far secure the results they need in their maiden Mens 1 season.
They went down to Sydney United 58 FC last week, scoring only a late consolation goal by Bruno Pivato, but they will be determined to prove that they belong in this company and there would be no better way of doing that than by knocking over Spartans and hitting them when they are most vulnerable.
APIA-Leichhardt Tigers v Bonnyrigg White Eagles, 5pm Sunday at Lambert Park
APIA host Bonnyrigg White Eagles in the last match of round 19, at Lambert Park.
APIA have been so hot and cold this season it is worthless trying to pick which side will turn up. Will it be the one that beat Spartans at Blacktown Football Park, conquered Sutherland 5-4 at Seymour Shaw and outfought Rockdale City Suns last weekend, or will it be the side that was so poor in losing 6-1 to Sydney Olympic only a fortnight ago?
If is the former, then Bonnyrigg White Eagles are in for a tough night. If it is the latter, it will be Brian Brown's dream come true.
APIA do possess the league's in-form goalkeeper in Andrew Bazi, but if the ten in front of him don't perform, then even he can't perform that many heroics. Michael West's return stabilised the defence last weekend and Stephen Kayes was superb just in front of the back four.
Bonnyrigg White Eagles showed their quality, coming from 1-0 down to beat Marconi at home, thanks to a double from the ever-dangerous Robbie Younis. The number 9 even missed a penalty, a rare event, but made up for it with two goals, the second a spectacular winner in the 97' minute.
It sets Bonnyrigg in good stead for a potentially tricky trip to meet the Tigers.More information about the competitions can be found at www.nplnsw.com.au