Sunday, May 09, 2010


The Halfway Marc

The 2010 NSW Premier League has reached its halfway point, and perhaps the only surprise is that Marconi, last season's losing grand finalists, are two points clear at the top of the table. Behind them is a pack of three, all of whom were considered likely to thrive this year, with the rest of the field trailing by a considerable distance. As usual, your tragic correspondent has been taking in plenty of NSWPL action, and below are some reflections on the top four...and brief comments on the rest.


For Marconi to be anywhere near the top of the pile, let alone out in front, at this point is a great tribute to Lee Sterrey and his men, given the blow they were dealt at the start of the season. Last season saw the club from Bossley Park invest in some foreign talent, and two young Ivorians in particular, Messrs. Ousmane Toure and Vamana Diarra, were impressive throughout the 2009 campaign. Marconi's other overseas star of 2009, Iraqi refugee Ali Abbas Al-Hilfi, went on to join the Newcastle Jets.

Toure and Diarra were set to adorn the NSWPL again this season, but Marconi found themselves caught up in red tape. The sorry tale has been related elsewhere, notably by Mike Cockerill in the SMH. Although the story is probably a little more complex than Cockerill makes out, the FFA were undoubtedly short-sighted not to supply a supporting letter; these two youngsters could have been crowd-pullers in the A-League.

Nevertheless, Marconi have picked themselves up and gotten on with the job this term. The team revolves around their thoughtful and vastly experienced captain, Nahuel Arrarte, who has been playing with typical acumen in central midfield. Two young wingers, Mitchell Mallia and the very quick Nathan Jagelman, have shown some impressive form, while former Newcastle Jet Jason Naidovski has been a good addition up front.

Although the absence of their foreign brigade has meant that they offer a tad less flair this season, they are still effective and hard to beat.

Sydney United

Last season's premiers also survived an off-season blow, with the departure of player-coach Ante Milicic to the new Melbourne Heart franchise. Another former Socceroo striker, David Zdrilic, stepped into the hot seat, and after an uncertain start his methods appear to be working well. Mirjan Pavlovic has been snapped up from the Newcastle Jets, and the burly frontman has slotted neatly into the lone striker role vacated by the out-of-form Luka Glavas.

On either side of Pavlovic in United's 4-2-3-1 system are Elsid Barkhousir, whose pace and finishing have netted United plenty of goals already this season, and an outstanding young prospect in the teenager Ante Tomic, who has quickly become Edensor Park's new golden boy. A fulminating goal against Sutherland, and an astonishing run along the byline to make a goal for Pavlovic against Bankstown, have been the highlights of his season so far, but there have been many such moments. A definite star of the future, although his decision-making is still a little hit-and-miss.

Elsewhere, the team has been typically solid, although a lack of pace at the back was discernible in their 3-2 loss at home to Blacktown, when Tolgay Ozbey ran riot at times; Joe Vrkic and Damon Collina will undoubtedly be targeted by other pacy forwards this season. Pete Markovic, such an important contributor to United's 2006 title success, has returned to the first team at right-back after a long spell on the sidelines.

Blacktown City

With the return of Aytek Genc, as well as Tolgay Ozbey, Luke Roodenburg and other heroes of 2006 and 2007, all the stars aligned for a much improved Blacktown performance in 2010, and so it has proved. Ozbey has not been the only force to be reckoned with up front, however; Mitchell Long, recently of Penrith-Nepean United, is a clever little striker who has suitably complemented the searing pace and trickery of Ozbey.

Blacktown are grimly effective at the back, with Mirko Jurilj in far better form than last season (a common phenomenon for players leaving Sydney Olympic). It's hard to see Genc's men dropping out of the top four: they are the Blacktown hard men of the mid-noughties brought back to life, fiercely competitive and modestly creative.

Bonnyrigg White Eagles

The "Chelsea of the NSWPL", as Olympic's then-coach Pat Marando aptly dubbed them, have not quite gelled fully. A side featuring former Sutherland goal machine Brad Boardman and free kick specialist Daniel Severino was bound to rack up plenty of goals, especially with the likes of Jamie McMaster, Shane Webb and now Nathan Elasi in support.

They did indeed look like worldbeaters early in the piece, gaining a much-desired victory over eternal rivals United, but a loss to Blacktown in Round 7 took the wind out of their sails, and they have since conceded draws to Manly and, this afternoon, the West Sydney Berries. They were, in fact, very lucky to take a point away from Homebush, with the Berries missing several excellent chances to seal the points against a sluggish-looking Bonnyrigg.

The question remains: will it be Ranieri-era or Mourinho-era Chelsea?

The Others

Promoted Rockdale have had an excellent start to the season. Despite fielding a team with no real stars (in fact, with few players even considered NSWPL regulars), they have battled their way to several good results, including wins over Bankstown and Olympic and a very creditable draw away to Blacktown. They are a compact counter-attacking side fully aware of their limitations, and capable of making light of them.

The omens did not look good for Sutherland this season: Brad Boardman gone to Bonnyrigg, Panny Nikas to the Mariners, and Mike Katz out for the season with a knee reconstruction. But they have managed to reach the halfway mark in equal fifth place, and Nikas has returned to add his vision and drive to the midfield.

APIA have picked themselves up well after a horror start. Manly United have had a wretched time of it considering their successes of the last few seasons; local talent has not been quite enough this time around, with Robbie Cattanach still working his way up to full fitness. Bankstown have found this a season too far for their creaking defensive line, with the fans at Jensen keen for player-coach Peter Tsekenis to stick to the bench rather than directing traffic from the centre of defence. The South Coast Wolves (the re-named Wollongong FC) and the Berries presumably came into the season with limited expectations, and they have not exceeded them.

And Sydney Olympic? Two words...don't ask.

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