In honour of NPL NSW Heritage Round, this week’s blog will, where possible, feature heritage names for clubs instead of the names currently in use.
Although the corporate box catering was excellent, the lack of quality in the 0-0 draw between Toongabbie (Blacktown City) and Metropolitan Adriatic (Sydney United) meant I decided to take a week off from writing a blog. However, the opportunity to use a lot of heritage names in a self-indulgent manner meant I was never going to miss out on Heritage Round.
I started with a trip to recently-upgraded Popondetta Park for Saturday afternoon’s NPL 2 game between Lethbridge Park (Mt Druitt Town Rangers) and Canterbury-Marrickville (Bankstown Berries). The afternoon started off in an amusing manner when two kids attempted to charge me for admission to the game – I didn’t get a FNSW Media Pass so I could be hustled out of a small amount of money by a couple of young “entrepreneurs”.
After spotting WSW Academy Technical Director Ian Crook in the stands (presumably scouting ahead of next week’s NPL 2 clash between Lethbridge Park and WSW), I was disappointed to learn that the barbecue was no longer running, and after being offered a choice of leftovers from the U20s game I settled for a pie. They’d better have that sorted for next week – I would hate to feel the wrath of a horde of hungry WSW fans.
Lethbridge Park opened the scoring in the 18th minute when Kuag Reec finished from close range after Alex Vlismas played the ball into the six yard box, but Canterbury-Marrickville had some promising attacks, and were slightly unlucky to be behind at the interval after hitting the frame of the goal twice. After goalline clearances from both teams early in the second half, Lethbridge Park doubled their lead just after the hour. Again it was Kuag Reec with the goal, holding off a defender before firing low into the far corner.
With just over 15 minutes left Canterbury-Marrickville appeared to have been given a lifeline as they won a penalty, but instead we had the most controversial moment of the game. Daniel Fornito stepped up and dispatched the spot-kick into the bottom corner, only for encroachment to be ruled against Canterbury-Marrickville. Instead of a retake, the referee awarded an indirect free kick to Lethbridge Park.
Unfortunately, Canterbury-Marrickville completely lost their composure, and a minute later Domenic Hudap received a second yellow card for dissent, followed five minutes later by Perry Moustakas receiving a straight red card, also for dissent. With Canterbury-Marrickville down to nine men the game was effectively over as a contest, although there was still time for Lethbridge Park substitute Luke Grima (a recent acquisition from Melita) to make an impact. Grima got his side’s third after getting on the end of a great crossfield ball from Mitchell McLintock, and made it 4-0 in the 90th minute with a nice header after a scramble in the penalty box.
With the win Lethbridge Park move up to fourth in the table, behind WSW only on goal difference. They will be glad to have last season’s top scorer Kuag Reec back in the side (he has bagged three goals in four games after missing the start of the season) while new signings Kristopher Vlismas (from Metropolitan Adriatic) and Luke Grima also played well.
Four days later, Canterbury-Marrickville managed to overcome the suspension of two key players, beating Pan-Hellenic (Sydney Olympic) 1-0 in a major upset and reaching the FFA Cup Round of 32 for the first time. Despite not being too far from a finals spot (they’re only six points off sixth place), their main concern is avoiding relegation, with only local rivals Sydney Macedonia (Bankstown City) below them in the NPL 2 club championship.
Lethbridge Park 4 (Reec 18’ 61’ Grima 85’ 90’)
On Sunday afternoon it was back to the Gabbie Stadium corporate box for Toongabbie’s NPL 1 game against Eastern Suburbs (Hakoah). Toonie had been kept scoreless in their last two games, with Danny Choi’s season-ending injury a major blow. Meanwhile, Eastern Suburbs had to back up after requiring 120 minutes and penalties to defeat Illawarra Premier League outfit Wollongong Srbija (Albion Park White Eagles) five days earlier in the FFA Cup 6th Preliminary Round.
The opening stages of this contest were pretty quiet, and I was more interested in taking photos of food than watching the game. However, Toonie took control as the first half went on, and with just over ten minutes left until the break Mitch Mallia ended Toongabbie’s 232 minute goal drought with a piece of magic, curling a 25 yard free kick over the wall and into the top corner. After Mallia went close to scoring again, Zach Cairncross got on the end of Daniel Araujo’s cross to double Toonie’s lead. His fellow centre-back Grant Lynch almost made it three just before the break, but his shot was saved.
Toongabbie really should have extended their lead in the second half, but a number of chances went begging as Eastern Suburbs pushed forward and left space at the back. To their credit, Eastern Suburbs also went close to scoring a couple of times, with both Andre de Jong and Jack Green hitting the post.
So in the end, not the prettiest win but good to see Toongabbie back to winning ways. However, the number of missed chances in the second half suggests that we are still lacking a cutting edge, and that could prove to be the difference against the top teams.
Eastern Suburbs stay in seventh position after the loss. Despite being difficult to break down, they don’t seem to have the quality to make a serious push for finals. They are also 10th in the club championship, and with a decent buffer to both Avala (Bonnyrigg White Eagles) and Melita they’re looking good to consolidate their place in NPL 1.
Toongabbie 2 (Mallia 34’ Cairncross 42’)
Eastern Suburbs 0
On to Tuesday night and the FFA Cup 7th Preliminary Round game at Lambert Park between NPL 1 leaders Associazione Poli-sportiva Italo Australiana and NPL 3 side SD Raiders (who sadly do not have a heritage name as far as I can tell).
APIA (you didn’t expect me to type their full name out every time, did you?) had recorded victories over Leichhardt Saints Senior FC, Killarney and Avala to reach this stage of the competition, while the SD Raiders Cup run was highlighted by victories against Budapest (St George FC) and Mt Pritchard (Mounties Wanderers), both from NPL 2. In the 2016 FFA Cup Preliminary Rounds APIA had to come from behind to beat SD Raiders 3-2, so I was expecting a close game.
Unusually for the Preliminary Rounds of the FFA Cup, people were being charged admission for the game, though APIA had as much chance of getting money from me as those two kids at Popondetta Park on Saturday (Media Pass FTW). A decent crowd at Lambert Park meant that good vantage points were at even more of a premium than usual, and people were going to great lengths to get a better view.
From about the midway point of the first half onwards, this was not so much a game of football as a siege on the SD Raiders goal, and Raiders keeper Tomi Romic would end up having an extraordinary game. As APIA attempted to turn possession into goals, Sean Symons struck the crossbar with a free kick, while Corey Biczo’s 30 yard drive brought the best out of Romic.
Then, totally against the run of play, SD Raiders were awarded a penalty after Biczo’s challenge on Daniel Bittar. John Fahmi found the bottom corner to give Raiders the lead, and then the fun really began. APIA almost managed an equaliser before the interval when Sean Symons hit the post with an inswinging corner, and then Tasuku Sekiya pounced on the rebound, only to see his volley saved brilliantly by Romic.
The siege continued in the second half, with Raiders giving away a number of free kicks in dangerous positions. Sekiya hit the post from one of these dead ball situations, while a few minutes later Biczo’s dipping volley crashed off the crossbar.
Despite a seemingly endless supply of possession and chances, APIA couldn’t find the breakthrough. Tomi Romic was superb, saving multiple shots and dealing with countless high balls into the box. The SD Raiders defenders also played their part, hassling APIA’s attackers and challenging for every ball.
APIA’s poor finishing certainly didn’t help the blood pressure of their fans, but it was great for us neutrals as it only added to the drama. As the tension grew both sets of fans started chanting, although the ground announcer’s attempts to generate atmosphere weren’t as successful.
In the final minutes of normal time the game somehow managed to get even more frantic. Incredibly, APIA hit the post again thanks to Sekiya’s low drive. A couple of minutes later Romic made a miracle point blank save to deny Jordan Murray, and then Paul Galimi thought he had finally beaten Romic, only to see his header cleared off the line.
APIA finally broke through in the fourth minute of second half stoppage time when Sean Symons was brought down in the box by Mark d’Alessandro, with the defender dismissed for a second bookable offence. Matthew West took the responsibility, and with the last kick of normal time sent Romic the wrong way, sparking a mini pitch invasion from the APIA juniors.
Amazingly, Romic went to another level in extra time. The most notable of his extra time saves were when he came off his line well to block efforts from Murray and Sekiya, while he also somehow saved a Jordan Murray shot with his legs after initially diving the wrong way. When Romic couldn’t be on hand to save the day, his defenders intervened – with both Joseph Mensah and Shaun Irwin making vital clearances to prevent APIA from scoring into an empty net.
After a break in play due to a melee in front of the Raiders bench (which resulted in one of the APIA coaching staff being sent to the stands), APIA finally got the winner in the 123rd minute. Franco Parisi picked out a teammate with a free kick on the right flank, and although the header came back off the post (the sixth time in this game that APIA hit the frame of the goal), Paul Galimi’s stooping header sent APIA into the FFA Cup Round of 32 for the first time. The goal sparked a massive celebration, but unfortunately one person saw this as an opportunity to make snide comments on Twitter.
APIA coach Danial Cummins then decided to use his final sub for the purposes of time-wasting (why wouldn’t you use that sub to try and change the game beforehand?). However, the drama hadn’t finished, as SD Raiders won a free kick on the edge of the APIA box in the 125th minute (!). Unfortunately for Raiders, Mitsuki Nakada’s shot went straight into the wall, and although his follow-up volley was deflected over, referee Kris Griffiths-Jones called an end to proceedings. The final whistle sparked a pitch invasion from the APIA juniors in attendance, as well as more cynicism on Twitter.
There’s no denying the fact that APIA’s finishing was poor, but at the end of the day they won, which is all that really matters. Despite my Twitter cynicism, I’m always happy to see new teams qualify for the FFA Cup Round of 32 (as long as the orange team never makes it through the qualifiers).
SD Raiders were heroic in defence, with Tomi Romic the standout performer. After beating two NPL 2 sides and almost taking the NPL 1 leaders to penalties, they can take a lot of confidence from this year’s Cup run, and their Cup performances suggest that they will be able to consolidate their place in NPL 3.
APIA 2 (West pen 90+6’ Galimi 123’)
SD Raiders 1 (Fahmi pen 41’)
What kind of lunatic travels from western Sydney to Wollongong (and back) on a Wednesday night? Due to a combination of a desire to visit new grounds, a sense of adventure, and the Magic Of The Cup™, I somehow found myself at Balls Paddock to watch the FFA Cup 7th Preliminary Round game between Bulli and Toongabbie.
I was under no impression that this would be an easy game – Bulli are currently undefeated and top of the Illawarra Premier League, while they have also developed a reputation for knocking off more fancied opposition in the FFA Cup Preliminary Rounds. This year’s Cup run includes victories over NPL 2 outfit Campbelltown City and Districts (Macarthur Rams), as well as State League side Nepean FC, while in 2016 they defeated NPL 2 side Spirit FC and NPL 3 team Majors Bay (Inter Lions), before a narrow loss to NPL 1 outfit Wollongong City (Wollongong Wolves). Toongabbie, on the other hand, had a fairly straightforward path to Round 7, with victories over Kirrawee Kangaroos and Lokomotiv Cove followed by a gritty extra time victory over Lethbridge Park.
After tucking into a delicious steak roll from the canteen (good value at only $5), I was pleased to see that Toongabbie were paying Bulli the proper amount of respect by naming a full-strength lineup. James Andrew was troubling the Bulli defence with his pace, and in the first half had a couple of penalty shouts which were ignored by the referee. Therefore it was no surprise when Andrew opened the scoring after a nice turn and finish, and he could have had a second after a nice ball from Roberto Speranza, but he shot straight at the keeper.
Toongabbie’s defence had been untroubled in the opening stages, but on the half hour they almost gifted Bulli an equaliser. An underhit backpass saw Tristan Prendergast beaten to the ball by Ben McDonald, whose ball into the middle should have set up Lewis Clements for a tap in – Clements somehow blazing over the bar with an open goal beckoning.
Just before halftime Mitch Mallia blazed over from a good position, but he didn’t have to wait long to double Toonie’s lead. Early in the second half, after Bulli had a penalty shout of their own turned down, Toonie countered down the right flank, and when James Andrew played the ball across the penalty area Mallia had a simple finish to make it 2-0.
Bulli responded with their best spell of the game, and would have made it 2-1 almost straight away but for a wonderful save from Tristan Prendergast. More nervous moments followed, with a free kick just outside the box being blasted over the bar, before a penalty box scramble resulted in another shot flying over the target. Bulli then had another penalty shout, but once again the ref chose to ignore the appeals.
However, that was as good as it got for Bulli, with Toonie dominating the remainder of the contest. A few minutes after a Joey Gibbs header produced a nice save from Bulli keeper Yuya Kuwada, Toonie put this game to bed. Good pressure high up the park from Giorgio Speranza saw the ball fall to Mallia, who fired through the keeper’s legs to make it 3-0. All that was left was to see if Mallia could get a hattrick, and he had some half chances but couldn’t add to his tally for the evening.
So Bulli’s Cup run finally came to an end, but as in last year’s competition, it took an NPL 1 team to stop them. Bulli showed good defensive discipline, and Toongabbie certainly had to work hard for their goals. They also have a nice scoreboard – while it’s not electronic, it’s more reliable than the one at Lambert Park.
It was good to see even more tactical flexibility from Toonie – in this game they played 4-4-2 with a diamond shape in midfield, as well as plenty of rotation from both the midfield and the forwards. With this victory, Toongabbie became the second club (after Metropolitan Adriatic) to qualify for the FFA Cup Round of 32 four times, and I really hope that we’ll face either an A-League side or a side from another state – which means we’ll probably get an NPL NSW side again.
Toongabbie 3 (Andrew 17’ Mallia 49’ 70’)