The finals series is less than a month away, and Round 20 of the NSW NPLW saw the top five teams jostling for position. Just seven points separate second and fifth as the final two rounds approach, and this weekend saw some predictable results—a tight draw between two of the top four teams, and three convincing performances by top half sides trying to boost their goal difference. There was one result this weekend, however, that might go down as the upset of the season.

Match of the Round: North Shore Mariners v Macarthur Rams

 

 

With their finals chances already hanging by a thread, last season’s Champions Macarthur Rams saw their hopes of a repeat title dealt a huge blow as they were beaten 4-1 by an impressive, if bottom-placed, North Shore Mariners side. This result means the Rams are almost certainly out of finals contention for the first time in at least 9 years.

The warning signs were there early, with the Mariners pressing high and cutting off passing options as the Rams tried to settle into their traditional possession-style game. The high press almost paid off for the home side in the second minute as a poor backpass from Rams midfielder Caitlin Campbell was pounced upon by Gabrielle Marzano.  The Mariners forward raced past defender Claire Walsh and was through on goal, but goalkeeper Sham Khamis saved well, palming Marzano’s shot out for a corner. A few minutes later, a quick Mariners counter attack down the right saw a perfect cross delivered to striker Rochelle Johnson, but her header was straight into the keeper’s arms.

That’s not to say the Rams didn’t create opportunities of their own. Following a first minute interception by Leena Khamis that was scuffed just wide of the post, the striker had two more chances in the opening half hour. Both moves started from wide areas—one from the right with Nikola Orgill, and the other from the left through Rosie Galea. However, Khamis’ shots were either straight at goalkeeper Katie Offer, or off target entirely.

On the 25 minute mark, just as the Rams were starting to get a foothold in the game, the Mariners scored. A poor pass from Renee Rollason was intercepted by Mariners winger Camilla Arentoft and she took off down the right side, squaring a peach of a ball across the six yard box to the omnipresent Marzano, who tapped home at the back post. 1-0.

Seven minutes later, the Rams would equalise following a lovely passing move between Kylie Ledbrook and Galea down the left wing. In a carbon copy of the Mariners’ first goal, Galea got in behind her defender and squared perfectly for Orgill at the far post, who tucked the ball into the net. 1-1.

The Rams could have had a second on 37 minutes after Ledbrook flicked a lovely pass to Khamis, who had broken the offside trap. Khamis’ initial shot came off the on-rushing keeper, but Offer couldn’t hold onto the ball, and Khamis had a second go—toe-poking the ball beneath the keeper, only for Mariners defender Maddy Mirkovic to just stop the ball from trickling over the goal line.

It was a missed opportunity that would come back to bite the Rams not long afterwards.

Two minutes later, the Mariners extended their lead. After a poor touch from left back Kirrilee Cameron saw the ball spin in behind her, Arentoft pounced once more, driving into the box and rifling a low shot past Khamis into the far bottom corner of the net. 2-1.

The whistle signalling the restart had barely sounded before the Mariners added another to their tally, thanks once again to their high pressing game. Rams centre back Claire Walsh was dispossessed deep in her own half and the ball was slid into a completely free Marzano in the centre-left channel. Her easy slot past Khamis made it three.

Then, just before half-time, the Mariners had their fourth. After yet another Rams dispossession in the middle of the park, Marzano found herself free near the top of the box, firing a shot low and hard to Khamis’ left. While the keeper did well to palm the initial strike away, her defenders let her down by not following through. Instead, the deflected ball found Mariners midfielder Gemma Gray at the back post, who tucked it home to make it 4-1 going into the sheds at the break.

Now that their season was seriously on the line, the Rams threw everything but the kitchen sink at this resolute Mariners side, with four consecutive chances on goal either saved, blocked, deflected off the post, or skimming over the crossbar in the opening ten minutes.

But the Mariners, to their credit, weren’t interested in shutting up shop and putting 11 players behind the ball. Instead, they continued to play a counter attacking game, with the speed of Arentoft, Marzano, and Johnson still at their disposal. It almost paid dividends once again in the 60th minute after the Rams were dispossessed centrally, the ball finding Marzano down the left in plenty of space as the Rams defence had stopped, thinking she was offside. However, her shot was well saved by Khamis, keeping the score at 4-1.

It was around the hour mark that the Rams had some of their best opportunities, particularly through Orgill down the right side and through Galea, who had moved into a more central position. Galea’s backheel flick to Khamis, whose volley went just over the crossbar, was one of the more spectacular chances. This was followed by an under-7s-like scramble in the Mariners box with various players bashing at the ball, before it eventually trickled out for a goal kick.

The Rams’ frustration began to show in the closing 20 minutes of the match, as several hopeful long balls were sent upfield for Orgill and Khamis to try and collect. Then, on 75 minutes, the Rams would find themselves down to 10 players after midfielder Caitlin Campbell was given a straight red card for pulling back Mariners striker Rochelle Johnson, who had raced in behind Campbell to latch onto a lofted through ball.

The final ten minutes would see the Rams try everything they could think of to claw their way back into the game, but it also saw decent chances for Orgill, Khamis, Ledbrook, Galea, and Rollason go begging. The full-time whistle not only signalled one of the greatest upsets of the 2019 season, but also probably signalled the end of the finals road for the reigning Champions.

 

North Shore Mariners 4 (Marzano 27′ 39′, Arentoft 38′, Gray 45′)
Macarthur Rams 1 (Orgill 32′)

 

Teams:

North Shore Mariners:

Jordan Evans; Zoe Halpin; Hannah Brewer; Maddy Mirkovic; Jasmine Maguire; Rochelle Johnson; Gabrielle Marzano; Camilla Arentoft; Nadia Nisbet; Gemma Gray; Ciara Casamento; Tessa Clout; Sara Piriz; Katie Offer.

Macarthur Rams:

Sham Khamis; Claire Walsh; Nikola Orgill; Elizabeth Ralston; Kirrilee Cameron; Leena Khamis; Kylie Ledbrook; Rosie Galea; Caitlin Campbell; Renee Rollason; Caitlin Orridge; Brianna Clarke.

Red card: Caitlin Campbell (75′)

 

Around The Grounds:

Blacktown Spartans 6 – 1 Bankstown City

Manly United 0 – 4 Sydney University

Illawarra Stingrays 1 – 1 Northern Tigers

Sydney Olympic 5 – 0 Emerging Jets

North Shore Mariners 4 – 1 Macarthur Rams

 

Ladder:

Pos Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Sydney University 20 14 5 1 49 11 38 47
2 Sydney Olympic 20 13 3 4 57 27 30 42
3 Northern Tigers 20 12 4 4 36 14 22 40
4 Illawarra Stingrays 20 10 7 3 41 20 21 37
5 Blacktown Spartans 20 11 2 7 38 28 10 35
6 Macarthur Rams 20 9 2 9 44 43 1 29
7 NWS Koalas 19 7 7 5 34 24 10 28
8 Football NSW Institute 19 7 1 11 26 44 -18 22
9 Bankstown City 20 6 2 12 34 55 -21 20
10 Manly United 20 5 3 12 27 38 -11 18
11 Emerging Jets 20 4 2 14 25 54 -29 14
12 North Shore Mariners 20 2 0 18 21 74 -53 6