Nuno Pires confident Port Kembla will advance

John Martinoski of Wollongong United, Ryan Suttle of Dapto Dandaloo, Nuno Pires of Port Kembla, Ben McGuiness of Bulli and David Stojic of South Coast United all have a hand on the IPL finals trophy. Picture: SYLVIA LIBER

John Martinoski of Wollongong United, Ryan Suttle of Dapto Dandaloo, Nuno Pires of Port Kembla, Ben McGuiness of Bulli and David Stojic of South Coast United all have a hand on the IPL finals trophy. Picture: SYLVIA LIBER

FOOTBALL

Port Kembla striker Nuno Pires believes a return to the form which saw his side claim the title double last campaign can guide them to victory in their elimination final against South Coast United on Sunday.

After a slow start to the year, the defending premiers have been on a tear in the second half of the season to rise from 10th at the half-way point to finish in fourth position.

And they meet this season's surprise packet, South Coast, in the first knockout match of this year's finals series.

Significantly, Pires is adamant if his improving squad can replicate their title-winning form -and they won't be taking an early 'Mad Monday'.

"It has been nine games now where we haven't lost so if we just keep up that form and that mentality I think we can go all the way," he said.

Among Port's impressive stretch in the second half of the year is a 5-1 demolition of United just over six weeks ago.

But Pires, who has overcame an ankle injury to be fit for the match, expects this Sunday to be tighter.

"It is always hard playing South Coast United. It is going to be a big challenge ... it's always a hard, physical game," Pires said.

Chances will be at a premium against a South Coast outfit whose defence has held three of their top-four rivals scoreless this season.

They only failed to shut-out the League Championship winners Bulli but should be buoyed by the knowledge the champions were never held scoreless in 2014.

"Defence as a unit [will be key]. We have started to set up more as defending from the front. Holding that middle third rather strong and not pushing forward too much," South Coast's David Stojic said.

"Our defence has always been strong which has been one of our key aspects. Hopefully that will get us through it."

Stojic quickly quashed any doubts his side were simply in final-five to make up the numbers after South Coast rose from a 10th-placed finish in 2014 to finish fifth on the ladder.

"Of course [we can win the competition]. We have proven it," Stojic said.

"We have beaten Wollongong [United] twice, compared to the best and beat Dandy [Dapto Dandaloo]. The only team we haven't beaten is Port Kembla which is a bit sad but I think we can do it [this weekend]."

The winner of Sunday's match will meet the loser of Wollongong United and Dapto Dandaloo next Sunday at Wetherall Park in another elimination final.

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