Reigning NPL champion Bentleigh Greens looks poised to add the Premier’s Plate to its trophy cabinet when it hosts Heidelberg United in a Rd 24 NPL 1 clash on Saturday night.
With just three rounds remaining, the Greens lead the second-placed Bergers by seven points, and a win or even a draw will put them in an unassailable position to land the trophy they just missed out on to South Melbourne last season on goal difference.
But first they’ll have to get past an in-form Heidelberg United, which has won its last six matches and only lost once in the second half of the season, to overtake South Melbourne and occupy second spot.
Heidelberg United coach George Katsakis believes tonight’s game will be a match between “by far the two best teams in the league”.
Comparing the two teams’ styles, Katsakis says: “We’re a little bit more direct that what Bentleigh is, whereas Bentleigh’s a little bit more patient and they get their rotations happening very well through the middle of the park, which is something we’re going to have to combat. But of late the other strength we have, we’re able to win games 1-nil or 2-1, the one goal difference. That’s something we’ve changed to our game, because previously last year and the year before that we couldn’t win those sort of games. Now we’re grafting and holding on to those one goal difference games.”
Finishing in the top two means a much easier finals series route to the grand final. In effect, a side finishing in the top two only has to win one finals match to qualify directly for the grand final compared to the two wins required by the rest of the teams in the top six.
“We’re definitely going there to win three points,” Katsakis says, “because in order for us to finish second, we need to win two of the last three, possibly all three of our remaining games. I don’t think there’s any room for a draw at the moment. We’re going to have to go all out to win.”
A slip up by the Bergers at this late stage could give South Melbourne the chance to regain second spot, although Souths will have to overcome defensive frailties which have proven its downfall several times this season, including last week’s surprise 3-1 home loss to struggling Avondale.
This Sunday, Souths hosts traditional rival Melbourne Knights.
The football continues on Monday night when Oakleigh Cannons hosts Green Gully in what could be a finals preview.
Gully will be on a high after a great win in the FFA Cup to knockout Central Coast Mariners, and the visit will make Gully coach Arthur Papas’ first return to his former club since his departure at the end of last season. Both teams will be looking to bounce back from defeats in the previous round.
At the other end of the table, Northcote City will be fighting for its life when it visits Hume City on Saturday night, after last week’s devastating 1-3 loss to Richmond. Northcote were 10 minutes away from clinching all three points having led from a Karvouniaris goal. But conceding three unanswered goals to Richmond in the last 10 minutes sent it back into the automatic relegation position. With a tough run home, its chances of survival look grim.
In NPL 2E, Kingston City have drawn level with league leader Dandenong Thunder on points, thanks to Brunswick City’s 1-nil win over Thunder last week. This Saturday, Brunswick City will be hoping to keep its excellent run going when it travels to Whittlesea Ranges whilst Kingston travels to Sunshine George Cross. Box Hill United is away to Melbourne City on Sunday afternoon.
Meanwhile in Sydney, with just two rounds of the NPL season to go, a win to Sydney Olympic this Sunday at home against fourth placed Rockdale City Suns, will be enough to clinch a spot in the final five for fifth-placed Olympic.