With three matches between teams in the top six, Round 14 of the NSW NPL competition was expected to be a big one, and the fans were not disappointed. Our featured game saw fifth placed Blacktown Spartans host league leaders Northern Tigers at Blacktown Football Park.
Match of the Round: Blacktown Spartans v Northern Tigers
Blacktown Spartans were keen to rebound following last week’s 3-0 loss to Sydney University, one which ended a run of nine matches without defeat.
On the other hand, Northern Tigers went into this contest on the back of four consecutive wins, the most recent being a 3-2 home victory over Macarthur Rams. Tigers forward Daisy Arrowsmith scored twice in that game to take her tally to 11 goals for the season, one behind league leading scorer Susan Phonsongkham.
The two sides could not be separated after an intense battle, with a 1-1 draw the final result. Maddie Bart’s early strike meant the Tigers looked set for another victory, but a spectacular 89th minute goal by Spartans midfielder Olivia Price ensured the teams would share the points.
Both goalkeepers, Casey Dumont for Spartans and Eliza Campbell for Tigers, remained untroubled in the opening stages as neither side was able to gain control.
The league leaders then went 1-0 up in the 13th minute. Arrowsmith created the opening by dispossessing Keisha Allen, finding Foletta in space on the edge of the six yard box. When Foletta’s shot was blocked, Bart reacted quickest in the resulting scramble to give her side a 1-0 lead.
Bart nearly turned provider on 20 minutes as she looked to play Arrowsmith behind the defence, but Dumont was quickly off her line to gather the ball.
At this stage, Northern Tigers had their tails up and were pressing the Spartans effectively, led by Arrowsmith’s constant running. In response, the home side would try to create from more direct play and set pieces. Crofts got on the end of Hannah Bourke’s long free kick, but a heavy touch allowed Campbell to claim the ball.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, they were dealt a blow just before the half hour mark when Bart fell heavily while attempting to tackle Allen. Defensive midfielder Michelle Brown was brought on in her place, with Emma Watkins shifted forward to replace Bart in the attacking midfield role.
Despite the enforced change, the away side continued to dominate proceedings. However, the Tigers were restricted to shots from outside the box, none of which were too difficult for Dumont.
The home team’s best move of the first half came in the 41st minute. Allen played an excellent long pass down the right wing to find Price, who then laid it off for Crofts, but her 20 yard shot flew wide of the target.
Spartans gained more of a foothold in the second half. A greater share of possession meant fullbacks Tanya Borazio and Tiarne Flavin were able to get forward for the first time in the contest. In particular, Price grew into the game, and five minutes after halftime she picked out Crofts from a corner, however the striker couldn’t direct the header goalwards.
Tigers then had a good spell, and were close to doubling their lead when the ball broke for Arrowsmith in the area, Allen making a desperate lunge to block the shot. The advancing Spartans fullbacks meant there was space on the wings for the Tigers to exploit on the counter, but the final ball was often lacking.
With just under 15 minutes left, Tigers centre back Servet Uzunlar was replaced by attacking midfielder Beth Bernardi, necessitating another reshuffle. Malia Steinmetz dropped from defensive midfield into centre back, and Watkins moved into a deeper midfield role to accommodate Bernardi.
Perhaps as a result of the changes, Spartans gained control of the remainder of the contest, as Tigers dropped deeper. The away team’s compact shape invited Spartans to look to the wide areas of the field, and Price looked to make inside-to-outside runs to take advantage of this space. However, their balls into the area let them down, as Campbell dealt with every cross that came her way.
Just as it looked like the league leaders would win again, the home side’s pressure paid off in the 89th minute. Price collected a pass from Bourke and weaved some magic, gliding past two defenders and sending a 20 yard rocket into the net.
After the goal, the Tigers seemed happy to settle for a point. There was one last opportunity in the third minute of stoppage time for the Spartans to steal all three points, but Crofts sent a 30 yard free kick well over the crossbar.
Despite conceding the late equaliser, Tigers remain at the top of the table as Sydney University failed to capitalise, drawing 1-1 with Sydney Olympic. Spartans move up one place to fourth, taking advantage of Illawarra’s 3-2 defeat to Macarthur Rams.
Next weekend, these two sides have opponents who are desperate to gain ground on the teams in the finals spots. Spartans host the Rams, who are currently in sixth, while Northern Tigers have an away fixture against seventh placed NWS Koalas.
Blacktown Spartans 1 (Olivia Price 89’)
Northern Tigers 1 (Maddie Bart 13’)
Blacktown Spartans: Casey Dumont, Tiarne Flavin, Keisha Allen, Hannah Bourke, Tanya Borazio, Kristy Rohrer (Natalie Vukovic 75’), Annabelle Daczko (Bianca Dobson 81’), Bethany Gordon, Olivia Price, Linda Dudek, Ashlie Crofts (c)
Unused substitutes: Regan Hill, Eden Carter
Northern Tigers: Eliza Campbell, Erica Di Sciascio, Servet Uzunlar (c) (Beth Bernardi 76’), Emma Smith, Josie Wilson, Emma Watkins, Malia Steinmetz, Maddie Bart (Michelle Brown 28’), Hannah McNulty (Aimee Phillips 60’), Daisy Arrowsmith, Isabella Foletta
Unused substitutes: Danielle Bartels, Sophie De Montemas
Around the Grounds
Emerging Jets 3 – 2 North Shore Mariners
Football NSW Institute 1 – 5 Manly United
Illawarra Stingrays 2 – 3 Macarthur Rams
NWS Koalas 2 – 4 Bankstown City
Sydney Olympic 1 – 1 Sydney University
|10||Football NSW Institute||14||5||0||9||21||37||-16||15|
|12||North Shore Mariners||14||1||0||13||15||54||-39||3|