As it were, there were two critical kicks that decided the match, in a game that went the distance. The first, was in the 110′ and final minute of the match. Reyze Kelly was set free, galloping clear of the Manly United defence. He seemed certain to score, but Tonu Liiband made a fantastic save. The ball dropped to Andre Carle and with the goal open and a Grand Final place before his eyes, he blazed over.
The second, was the fifth and final penalty of the shootout that eventuated, as the match finished 1-1 after extra time. Daniel Rees turned his back to Liiband at the top of his run up. He turned back, ran in and struck his penalty firmly, but Liiband guessed the right way and palmed it away, sending his side into the Grand Final, when in reality his side should have been knocked out with the last kick of the match.
It was breathless denouement to a match that in truth, was too tense to be a great spectacle.
Manly United thought they’d taken the lead in the 15′ minute, when Dominic Ferguson bundled the ball into the back of the net, but he was flagged for offside. The ball broke to the Manly midfielder after Jesse Shewan made a stunning save to deny McGinley, but the raised flag prematurely ended Manly celebrations.
Nigel Mahoney’s side suffered a setback when in the 16′ minute, Leigh Egger was replaced due to injury with 15 year old Dejan Pandurevic going on. He would later show wonderful composure to net in the shoot-out.
Spartans wasted a glorious chance to go ahead in the 24′ minute and there was no real excuse for not taking the opportunity. Reid Taylor’s flick on allowed Carle to run at the Manly defence from the right. His intelligent cut back found the unmarked Mitchell Davidson, who was left with the simple task of controlling the loose ball and scoring.
With the goal gaping, his left footed effort came back off the far post. It was a guilt edged chance that would come back to haunt him and his side.
Neither Manly United or Spartans had managed to settle into the match effectively as the half hour mark ticked by with only Davidson’s chance any goal mouth action of note.
In keeping with the untidy nature of the match, it was an untidy goal that gave Manly United a 37′ minute lead.
Ferguson and Jack Green combined down the left, before a scramble ensued in the area. The referee ruled that a handball had occurred and awarded a penalty kick.
Manly’s top scorer McGinley stepped up to the spot and after a stutter in his run up, tucked the penalty into the bottom right hand corner, despite a decent touch from the unlucky Shewan. It was McGinley’s 15th goal of a prolific season, though his sure touch would desert him in the shootout, where he was denied by Shewan.
Corey Biczo’s brilliant run down the left nearly created an opportunity for Spartans to equalise before half time, but after beating four players and making it to the by-line, his square ball was cut out by a timely interception from Grant Brown.
Ferguson had the first opening of the second half but he failed to hit the target after a slip from Spartans defender, Tomislav Herceg. Ferguson was in on goal but dragged his shot horribly wide as the second half, like the first, stuttered trying to get into gear.
A foul by Green gave Spartans a set piece opportunity in the 62′ minute, but Davidson’s fierce left foot strike was straight at Liiband. The shot stopper had yet to be truly tested in the match so far.
Manly nearly doubled their lead in the 64′ minute when McGinley got the better of Harley Da Silva, but Ferguson thrashed his shot wide after being picked out by the Manly number 35.
Biczo volleyed well over in the 68′ minute after good work from Carle teed him up on the edge of the area, as Spartans looked to find a way back into the match.
A foul by Brown in the 73′ minute gave Spartans another dead ball situation in a dangerous position. Kelly took over from Davidson, but he fired the free kick straight into the wall.
Manly United then had a chance to put the game to bed in the 75′ minute when a break saw Nathan Simm release McGinley. Goalkeeper Shewan wasn’t far off his line but it didn’t stop McGinley trying an audacious chip that came back off the crossbar with the keeper beaten.
Spartans were getting desperate as the clock wound down, leaving them exposed on the break. Manly were keen to exploit the pace of McGinley and there was the feeling that Spartans were riding their luck.
They were rewarded for their audacity with their equaliser scored in spectacular fashion in the 83′ minute. Carle’s persistence was rewarded when he won a corner, expertly taken by Kelly. His high, curving delivery deceived Liiband and looped over his head, clipping the crossbar on its way into the back of the net.
Perhaps the low sun played a part, but the Manly goalkeeper would nonetheless be disappointed to concede directly from the corner with just seven minutes to go.
Taylor should have scored for Spartans in the 88′ minute when a beautiful cross from the left found him in space, but his first time volley flew high and wide. He had enough time to take a touch, which will only add to his disappointment.
The match headed to extra time and Taylor came so close to giving Spartans a 99′ minute lead. The youngster cut in from the right and caught the Manly defence napping by unleashing a left footed shot that crashed into the cross bar.
Legs were heavy and minds weary as the match drew to a close. Penalties seemed inevitable.
The thrilling conclusion though, couldn’t be predicted.
Blacktown Spartans coach Mark Zecchin was disappointed, given how close his side were to progressing.
“I thought we were a bit flat in the first half,” he said.
“We turned it around in the second half, but congratulations to Manly.
“We should have been in it (the Grand Final) before it went to penalties.
“What can you do?” he said of Carle’s late miss.
“He’s been one of my best players this year and also for first grade.
“In the end the penalty shootout is a lottery. It’s been a great season and I’m really proud of the boys.
“I wish Manly all the best in the final,” he said.
His opposite number Nigel Mahoney was relieved after their late escape and subsequent coolness under pressure in the shootout.
“It was a good game overall,” he said.
“It was sad to see it go to penalties, is all.
“Both sides could have won in normal time and in extra time, especially those two chances right at the end,” he said.
“We played good football, but in the second half they came out all guns blazing, they were playing four up front.
“We dealt with it, just about. I was happy with our individual performances, especially the young lads.
“Dejan (Pandurevic) was outstanding when he came on. He’s only 15 years old and he scored in the shootout.
“If that’s the future of Manly United, then things are looking good,” Mahoney added.
Manly United FC 1 (Michael McGinley 37′ (PEN))
Blacktown Spartans 1 (Reyze Kelly 83′)
Saturday 22nd September, 2012
Marconi Stadium, Bossley Park
Referee: Nathan Roberts
Assistant Referees: Thomas Lee and Lance Greenshields
Manly United FC: 25.Tonu Liiband, 28.Joshua Ward, 29.William Pritchard, 30.Jack Green (31.Max Boganovic 81′), 32.Jamie Craig, 33.Grant Brown, 34.Nathan Simm, 35.Michael McGinley, 27.Harry Sweeney, 20.Leigh Egger (19.Dejan Pandurevic 16′), 18.Dominic Ferguson (22.Michael Willis 96′)
Substitutes Not Used: 15.O Green, 24.Tommy Manos.
Yellow Cards: William Pritchard 28′, Harry Sweeney 95′
Red Cards: Nil
Blacktown Spartans: 40.Jesse Shewan, 18.Mitchell Davidson, (32.Damien Smith 81′) 20.Reid Taylor (31.Cameron McKinnon 106′), 24.Mark Puskarcuk, 25.Corey Biczo, 26.George Yousif, 28.Andre Carle, 30.Kieran Dalton, 33.Reyze Kelly, 35.Harley Da Silva (37.Daniel Rees 105′), 38.Tomislav Herceg
Substitutes Not Used: 1.Daniel Sadaka, 21.Justin Cootes.
Yellow Cards: Mark Puskarcuk 32′, Tomislav Herceg 46′, Reid Taylor 50′, Kieran Dalton 89′, Daniel Rees 110′
Red Cards: Nil
-By Matthew Connellan