The NRMA Insurance Western Sydney Wanderers take on Palm Beach Sharks in the Westfield FFA Cup round of 16 tonight. Here’s what to expect from the NPL Queensland side.
Although the Western Sydney Wanderers are still going through the customary pre-season motions, there is plenty of evidence to suggest Queensland NPL’s Palm Beach Sharks could be in for a tough evening ahead of tonight’s intriguing Round of 16 clash at Cbus Stadium.
Nevertheless, after reaching the quarter final stage of last year’s Westfield FFA Cup, Grae Piddick’s Sharks are beginning to build a reputation as cup specialist, and will no doubt look to raise their standards against the reigning Asian champions.
The 2014 NPL Queensland double-winners have endured a frustrating 2015 campaign after the highs of the previous season.
The Gold Coast club are guaranteed a fifth-place finish despite a game in hand and although their finals hopes were cut prematurely they have used this to focus solely on what they hope will be an almighty Westfield FFA Cup giant-killing.
Since then, the Sharks have ironically enjoyed their best run of the season, winning four out of their last five matches.
Grae Piddick’s men are an organised and resolute outfit who boast the third best defensive record in the league this season. Palmy aren’t renowned for leaking goals and have kept a far superior defensive record under Piddick in comparison to the majority of NPL Queensland sides.
Veteran centre-half Kristian Rees has a wealth of Hyundai A-League experience and is a large source of this steadiness at the back in a well-drilled defensive quartet. The former Hyundai A-League Premiership winner is a sizeable threat from set-pieces and has a respectable four goals to his name this season.
Predominantly a counter-attacking side, Palm Beach rarely seek to dominate the game through lengthy spells of possession and there is next to no chance Piddick will alter his approach tonight.
In previous matches they have targeted their attacking raids down the left in order to isolate the opposition fullback and create 1v1 scenarios. Nikola Mirkovic could be the likely beneficiary tonight: a dynamic ball carrier who will cause problems for the Wanderers right-back with his direct running.
Because the Wanderers are expected to play the majority of the game in the Palm Beach half, Grae Piddick might be inclined to deploy a different midfield configuration from a usual variation of 4-2-3-1 to soak up lengthy spells of pressure. But whatever the composition of the midfield, lynchpins Justyn McKay and Roman Hofmann will play important roles in screening the defence and providing much-needed cutting edge in the final third.
The pair of versatile midfielders have contributed over a third of Palmy’s 36 league goals, which on one hand is demonstrative of their importance to the side but also revealing of the Sharks underlying issue: scoring goals.
Outside of league whipping boys South West Queensland Thunder and strugglers Sunshine Coast, Palm Beach have the poorest goal scoring record in the league. Unless they can rectify their toothlessness in the final third, Palmy might have to battle to their fourth penalty shoot-out of the tournament in order to equal their quarter final feat of last year.