Schoolboy sensation Jared Muller proved the difference as Newcastle Olympic rose to outright third place with a 1-0 victory over defending premiers Maitland at Cooks Square Park on Sunday.
Muller scored in the 29th minute after a run to the near post to hit a crisp header off a corner, taking his season tally to a club-leading six goals in the Northern NSW NPL campaign.
"This is his break-out year and I think going forward, as he gets older and stronger, God knows what he could offer this competition," Olympic coach Alex Tagaroulias said. "We might have the marquee striker in the league but we don't know it yet."
The win took Olympic to 17 points, three clear of Jaffas, Azzurri and Weston, with three games each to go in the fight for a top-five finish. Edgeworth (27) and Broadmeadow (22) look to have already secured two finals places, making Sunday's result crucial. Maitland are now seventh on 13 points.
Tagaroulias praised the resolve of his side.
"We lost Reece Papas, who has been a giant this year, through the week to a hammy at training and this morning we lost Dino Fajkovic [illness], who was man of the match last week," he said.
"We haven't put the same 11 on the park in consecutive weeks this year but the guys keep turning up.
"Jared Muller was immense this week, Kyle Hodges came back and had a real whale of a game and young Tom Stewart, who came in for Papas, he was great.
"They worked their socks off. Maitland threw everything at them, and they've got some quality players, especially bringing Joel Wood and Ryan Clarke off the bench. That's outstanding quality."