New National Premier Leagues WA leaders Perth SC head into a second successive “Italian derby” with coach Ramon Falzon impressed by his players’ growing maturity.
The Azzurri face improving Balcatta at Dorrien Gardens on Saturday, six days after winning 2-1 at previous frontrunners Bayswater City.
And while Falzon has been around long enough not to get too excited by early season form, he recognises that his players took a big step forward last weekend.
“We have never won away against Bayswater before in the NPL so it’s of big significance for the club,” Falzon said.
“But we are not getting carried away. Every game is worth three points – if it’s against Bayswater or Balcatta, the objective is to get three points.
“It’s good to be on top at the moment but Bayswater will be up there come crunch time.”
What pleased Falzon most in the victory at Frank Drago Reserve was how his side reacted following Luke Salmon’s 78th-minute equaliser. He compared it to last season’s Round 16 match against Floreat Athena when, after letting in a late leveller, Perth lost their composure and then the match.
“We said we wanted to see more maturity and I think the players are showing it,” he said.
“Most of them are in their third or fourth year of first-team football so it’s still quite a young squad.
“They tasted success (when winning the league) in 2016 and last year we missed out by two points.
“Last season we played a game against Floreat. They levelled and we stopped doing what we had been and we let in another goal.
“Last weekend Bayswater levelled but we remained calm and stayed focused.
“Small things make a big difference.”
Perth’s hero last week was Gustavo Catarcione, who ended a dry run with two crucial goals. “Gustavo hadn’t scored for a few games but like every good striker, the goals will come,” Falzon added.
Now the coach’s attention is on the visit of Balcatta. Goran Stajic’s side took just one point from their first five games but since then have chalked up three straight league wins and an FFA Cup victory, lifting themselves to eighth on the ladder and the same points as sixth-placed Inglewood.
Falzon added: “They have turned things around and have moved away from the bottom. They’ve beaten teams in the same situation and they are going to be very confident now they are not stuck in a relegation battle and feeling less pressure.
“Not many teams get anything from Dorrien Gardens so Goran will probably tell them anything they do get is a bonus.
“And it’s another Italian derby, like with Bayswater, so there’s often a bit of extra spice.”
Just like Falzon, Stajic is another coach keeping things in perspective.
He said: “I keep repeating myself but yes, we are doing better in regards to the scoreboard but we have been playing some pretty good football for most of the season. In some of the earlier games we’ve been unlucky or not been converting our chances.
“Now we have turned it around but those games we’ve won have been at home. At first nearly all our games were away because we didn’t have access to the ground.
“It’s interesting. As a club we really know where we are heading and what we are trying to achieve. When were were losing there was no pressure from the top or from the side. We knew it was going to come, so long as we followed our process.
“We set out to win every single game and the boys like the winning feeling. But even when we were losing they knew they shouldn’t have been
“But it’s also about how we want to win. We won last week but we were a bit disappointed that we didn’t go on with it.”
Turning his focus to this weekend, Stajic sees it as an opportunity for his players to measure themselves against one of the league’s big guns.
“Saturday is a great chance to see where we are at,” he added.
“Perth have picked up where they left off. He’s a great coach, Ramon, and it’s a club that prides itself at being at the top end. It’s a chance for our players to measure themselves individually against their opponents.
“Because it’s a derby there’s a little bit more incentive. There’s the bragging rights, although the boards like it a little bit more and the supporters, but for us it’s a game against a side on the top.”
All of this weekend’s matches take place on Saturday. Bayswater City, now a point behind Perth, will be confident of bouncing back from last weekend’s loss when they host second-bottom Floreat, while third-place Perth Glory go to Stirling Lions on a high from their 6-1 demolition of Sorrento in the Regional Cup clash in Kalgoorlie-Boulder.
Things don’t get much easier for Jamie Harnwell’s Gulls, who are away at Cockburn City. Armadale are at home to Subiaco and Inglewood United take on Forrestfield.
Saturday’s late match sees ECU Joondalup, who suffered their first defeat of the campaign last week, face bottom-of-the-table Joondalup United
In a sign of how tight the competition is behind the leading pack, just three points separate Inglewood in sixth and Floreat in 13th.
Saturday, April 21
Armadale v Subiaco (Alfred Skeet Reserve, 3pm)
Cockburn City v Sorrento (Dalmatinac Park, 3pm)
Perth SC v Balcatta (Dorrien Gardens, 3pm)
Bayswater City v Floreat Athena (Frank Drago Reserve, 3pm)
Stirling Lions v Perth Glory (Macedonia Park, 3pm)
Inglewood United v Forrestfield United (Perth Plasterboard Centre Stadium, 3pm)
Joondalup United v ECU Joondalup (Percy Doyle Reserve, 6.30pm)