The last blog didn’t have any Blacktown City games … time to fix that.
I made the trip down to Bonnyrigg Sports Club for the midweek catch-up game between traditional rivals Bonnyrigg White Eagles and Blacktown City. The game had been postponed due to the spell of poor weather in Sydney, and it looked to be the right call as the pitch was in reasonably good condition, and held up fairly well for this game.
Blacktown raced out of the blocks, and Bonnyrigg keeper Stevan Savicic had to be alert, tipping a Danny Choi shot onto the bar in the first minute, before tipping a Joey Gibbs free kick onto the post a couple of minutes later. However, in the tenth minute it was Bonnyrigg who took the lead with their first meaningful attack, as Ray Miller’s cross from the right eventually found its way to David Vrankovic, who sidefooted past Blacktown keeper Tristan Prendergast.
Blacktown’s James Andrew then began to make his mark on the game, first ending a decent run by firing off target, before levelling the scores. Bonnyrigg failed to deal with a long ball forward, and Andrew took advantage, retrieving the ball before dashing past two defenders and beating Savicic at his near post. It was a special moment for Andrew: not only his first goal in a competitive game for Blacktown but also his first competitive goal in any first grade match.
Demons really should have taken the lead when Andrew got in behind the defence again, but he butchered a simple pass that would otherwise have left Choi with an open goal. A minute later Blacktown hit the woodwork for the third time, Connor Evans striking the base of the post from 25 yards with Savicic well beaten.
Barely a minute after Evans went close, Bonnyrigg were back in front. This time the goal came from young forward Hassan Jalloh, who got the better of both Blacktown centrebacks before smashing the ball past Prendergast.
Despite the way this blog reads, Bonnyrigg were actually pretty good value for their halftime lead, as Hassan Jalloh was causing all sorts of problems for the Blacktown defence. Whatever adjustments Blacktown coach Mark Crittenden made at halftime clearly worked, as not only did Blacktown keep Jalloh quiet in the second half, but they also quickly got back into the contest.
A few minutes after the restart Bonnyrigg were forced to clear the ball off their goalline following a set piece. Bonnyrigg didn’t heed the warning, and soon after Blacktown equalised for a second time, Shayne d’Cunha finding the net with a towering header off Danny Choi’s corner kick. With 20 minutes to go Bonnyrigg had a shot deflected wide, but that would be as good as it would get for them in the second half. Blacktown scored the decisive goal a couple of minutes later, substitute Daniel Araujo finishing emphatically after Matthew Lewis found him with a neat backheel.
It could have been more for Blacktown but for a string of excellent saves from Stevan Savicic, who denied Choi, Lewis Beumie and Araujo in quick succession. Araujo was excellent in his 25 minute sub appearance, also setting up a counter after beating two defenders on the left and playing a pinpoint through ball to Mitch Mallia, although Mallia couldn’t beat the last defender.
Blacktown showed good spirit to come from behind twice, and the halftime adjustments and/or absolute bollocking from Mark Crittenden meant that Bonnyrigg (and Hassan Jalloh in particular) were much less dangerous in the second half.
This was a good effort from Bonnyrigg, with Savicic showing that he has the talent to adequately replace the injured James Chronopoulos. I would have said that they’ll be ok this season, but their 4-0 capitulation away to APIA four days later is very concerning – they can’t afford to wait until their injured players are back to start collecting points.
Bonnyrigg White Eagles 2 (Vrankovic 10’ Jalloh 36’)
Blacktown City 3 (Andrew 26’ d’Cunha 52’ Araujo 72’)
Three days later, Blacktown would face off against Wollongong Wolves, who look vastly improved from last season.
I will start by giving the first half the coverage it deserves.
On to the second half, and Blacktown were almost immediately on the front foot, with Choi forcing Wollongong keeper Justin Pasfield into a good save. From the resulting corner Shayne d’Cunha somehow managed to head 15 yards wide from six yards out, but he keeps getting on the end of these corners so we should see more goals from him this season. The woodwork then came to Wollongong’s rescue twice in quick succession, as Joey Gibbs rattled the crossbar from 25 yards, before Pasfield tipped Roberto Speranza’s curling shot onto the bar.
As on Wednesday night, it was a Blacktown substitute who would swing the contest in their favour. After being on the pitch for only a few minutes, James Andrew beat Wollongong defender Chris Price to a ball over the top, and was brought down inside the box / cynically dived to win a penalty (depends on your point of view). Price received a red card for denial of a clear goalscoring opportunity, and Joey Gibbs got off the mark for 2017 by converting the spot-kick. With four minutes left in normal time Andrew sealed the win for Demons, running past the Wolves defence before slotting the ball past Pasfield.
This was a top effort by Demons, especially considering that they played three days earlier and there was only one change to the starting lineup. It’s also good to see that James Andrew has carried his preseason goalscoring form into the real stuff. Blacktown have another game on Tuesday in the FFA Cup Qualifiers, expect them to make changes 1) because of their heavy schedule 2) they have a big game against Sydney FC next Saturday 3) Kirrawee Kangaroos will not be expected to pose any real threat.
Wollongong will be a difficult opponent this season, and it was only some basic and preventable errors (failing to deal with balls over the top) that cost them – I wouldn’t expect them to make those kinds of mistakes too often. Josh MacDonald was very good in a game where the attackers were mostly denied space to work with – in more open contests he will be a threat to anyone in this division.
Blacktown City 2 (Gibbs pen 76’ Andrew 86’)
Wollongong Wolves 0
On Sunday afternoon I decided to leave my Western Sydney comfort zone and make the journey to Cromer Park for Manly United v Sydney FC. After a trip which took longer than my trip to Pluim Park earlier in the season (and Lisarow isn’t even in Sydney) I arrived to find a decent crowd, no doubt boosted by the presence of A-League (Academy) opposition.
Unlike the Blacktown-Wollongong game, this game got off to an incredibly fast start, with three goals in the first 14 minutes. In the second minute, good work from Sasa Macura and Dylan MacAllister set up Scott Balderson. There was an element of good fortune, as Balderson mishit his volley straight into the ground, before it looped over Sydney FC keeper Thomas Heward-Belle and into the net. If their first goal had a bit of luck, then Manly’s second was like winning the lottery (if you don’t buy a ticket, etc.), coming after a Balderson shot which was going out for a throw in took a massive deflection and left Heward-Belle stranded again. However, Sydney FC would soon get themselves back into the contest, as Chris Zuvela scored from the edge of the box after cutting in from the right flank. The game calmed down after the frantic start, but Sydney kept getting themselves into trouble with cheap turnovers, one such turnover on the half hour resulting in Dylan MacAllister hitting the post.
Sydney FC coach Robbie Stanton clearly wasn’t happy, and made two changes at halftime. One of the subs made an immediate impact, as Cristian Gonzalez levelled the scores after a corner wasn’t cleared properly. However, any hopes that Sydney FC could repeat their midweek heroics at Melita Stadium were soon dashed. Nikola Taneski had been causing them problems all game, and when his run down the right wasn’t dealt with he found MacAllister with a pinpoint cross, the big striker beating Heward-Belle with a tidy header at the near post.
As in the first half, things settled after the early second half goals. Despite Sydney chasing the game, it was Manly who looked more likely to score again, save for one long run and shot from Bai Antoniou which brought a good save from Manly keeper Dylan Mitchell. Manly saw out the game relatively comfortably, save for a few nervous moments in stoppage time: a scramble in their own penalty box, and then having to defend a long throw with nine men after two of their players got injured in the same passage of play.
I left this game with a weird feeling. Both halves started off with a bang and then calmed down, so despite lots of goals and the generally attacking mindset of both sides the game kind of felt anticlimactic. Manly showed that they are a counter-attacking threat, and they pounced whenever Sydney’s defenders made a bad pass. Nikola Taneski was excellent, particularly in the second half, and it’s good to see him getting more game time after all those seven minute substitute appearances for Sydney United last season.
Sydney FC can score goals, but defensively they were a bit of a worry in this game, and Robbie Stanton will be keen to ensure they tighten up at the back so they can start chasing a finals spot. The loss of concentration to concede soon after dragging the score back to 2-2 will be a concern, but if they have defensive and concentration issues again next weekend I won’t be complaining.
Manly United 3 (Balderson 2’ own goal 11’ MacAllister 54’)
Sydney FC 2 (Zuvela 14’ Gonzalez 48’)
PS: I normally only report on the games I attend, but I would like to point out that Spartans lost on the weekend.