FIRST plays second this weekend as the season really begins to hot up.
Blacktown Spartans host Bonnyrigg White Eagles in the Match of the Round, and if Bonnyrigg win, they will draw level with Spartans at the top of the table on 33 points.
Meanwhile the race for the semi-finals is well underway, with a number of teams just outside the top five beginning to string together some decent runs of form, keeping the incumbent top five honest.
MATCH OF THE ROUND
Blacktown Spartans v Bonnyrigg White Eagles, 7:30pm Saturday at Blacktown Football Park
It seems now to be a race in three for the premiership and the top two go head-to-head on Saturday evening in Rooty Hill.
Spartans ground out a win against Rockdale City last weekend and kept their noses in front of the chasing back thanks to Corey Biczo’s goal.
Bonnyrigg meanwhile came from behind to beat Sydney United 58 FC 2-1 at home, their dominant performance after conceding early doors only serving to characterise what is fast becoming a productive season.
The only surprise was that their defence was breached at all, given the amount of clean sheets they have kept lately, and their back four and goalkeeper will have to be on red alert this weekend.
Spartans looked like they would run away with it early in the season, especially given the irresistible form of Biczo, Greg Kondek and David Gullo.
But as the season has worn on, they have shown that they can be beaten and this match now takes on paramount importance.
Round 15 Preview
Manly United v Sydney United 58 FC, 7:30pm Saturday at Cromer Park
These two strugglers meet at Cromer Park on Saturday evening, as both sides desperately seek a spark.
Manly’s may come in the form of their qualification for the Waratah Cup Final, and by extension the inaugural FFA Cup. Paul Dee has been hard at work to shore up their frail defence that has shipped far too many goals this season.
United’s season has been plagued by injury and inconsistency and although they had the perfect start against Bonnyrigg last weekend, they couldn’t make it count.
Mirjan Pavlovic has added mongrel and goals to their front line, but Luka Glavas’ form is a worry and the captain was missing entirely last weekend, as was goalkeeper Diego Barcena, with his replacement Anthony Costa inspiring little confidence so far.
Joel Chianese’s signing is a bit boost though and the former Sydney FC forward could be the difference.
APIA-Leichhardt Tigers v Blacktown City, 7:45pm Saturday at Lambert Park
APIA-Leichhardt still harbour hopes of making the top five but they need to prove that they can take some of their chances, especially against the big boys.
Michael West’s absence means that Travis Oughtred will get another chance at the back, while Marc Warren’s move to midfield may be short lived, given that David D’Apuzzo will be out.
Blacktown City’s title chances took a hit when they lost to Marconi last weekend. Usually formidable at home, Blacktown couldn’t breach the Marconi defence and eventually a Mitchell Thompson free kick gave the Stallions all three points.
They will go to Lambert Park confident that they can get back on the bandwagon, but APIA are a better side than results suggest and will be no easy opposition for Mark Crittenden’s side.
Marconi Stallions v Sutherland Sharks, 7:30pm Saturday at Marconi Stadium
Marconi shocked Blacktown City last weekend, scoring a 1-0 win away from home.
It was a welcome boost for Paul Carter’s side who have been inconsistent this season, but have also demonstrated the odd flash of brilliance.
They will have their hands full when they welcome Sutherland Sharks to Marconi on Saturday night.
Chastened by back-to-back defeats, Sutherland hit back by beating St George last weekend, scoring a 2-1 win after going behind by a goal.
It was the result Robbie Stanton needed to get his side back on track and he will hope it is onwards and upwards from here.
St George v Sydney Olympic, 3pm Sunday at WIN Jubilee Oval
St George are second from bottom and three points clear of last placed Manly United. But they have an opportunity on Sunday afternoon against Sydney Olympic, another inconsistent side.
St George had made a decent fist of their debut Mens 1 campaign with three wins so far and David Talevski has been in good form.
Olympic’s young brigade can’t seem to string together a run of results, but they too harbour hopes of breaking into the top five.
Evan Kostopoulos’ impact can’t be underestimated and he has been the perfect foil for Harris Gaitatzis in attack.
When Olympic turn it on they are as capable as any, the only question is whether they will.
South Coast Wolves v Rockdale City Suns, 3pm at WIN Stadium
Wolves have been a different kettle of fish lately and much credit must go to rookie coach Nahuel Arrarte, who has galvanised a seemingly despondent group of players.
They will be missing their talisman Ricky Zucco, but are still capable of making chances and perhaps it could be a chance for Peter Simonoski to prove his worth after spending a lot of recent time on the bench.
Young goalkeeper Thomas Hamilton, deputising for the injured Daniel Collison, has been in superb form.
Rockdale travel south having lost to Spartans at home last weekend. The playing surface in Wollongong will aid them more than their own though and Branko Culina will no doubt have been hard at work to sharpen the edges of his Suns side.
They have the players to give the competition a shake, but they do need to find the consistency.