An injury time effort from crafty midfielder Panni Nikas saw Sutherland Sharks beat Manly United FC 2-1 on Sunday at Cromer Park.
The Sharks deserved the three points, but they were made to work hard for the victory which now sees them equal leader of the competition.
10’ minutes in Nikas almost opened the scoring. A loose clearance from United keeper Dylan Mitchell saw the ball quickly make its way into the final third.
Striker Brad Boardman dummied to leave Nikas with the opportunity to fire his team into the lead, but Mitchell redeemed himself, cutting off the angle and blocking the goal bound effort.
The remainder of the half was a dour affair, with Manly content to give Sutherland the ball and look to break in numbers on the counter.
40’ minutes in Matt Sim fed Colin Iley, but the Englishman lost control at the vital moment and the chance went begging.
It proved costly with Nikas scoring 2’ minutes later. An errant pass from Danny Grant saw the ball eventually fall to the Australian beach football representative, who slotted home at the near post.
3’ minutes after the break Iley tried his luck from 25-yards, only to see it just clear the crossbar.
The away side should have doubled their advantage moments later. Nick Olsen was about to pull the trigger from six-yards, but Roberto Hamad was having none of it, sliding in to see the ball hacked away to safety.
The introduction of Sean Seavill on 53’ minutes saw Manly’s tempo raised instantly.
They enjoyed a good spell of pressure leading to the hour mark as they pressed for an equaliser.
When Boardman missed a simple header on 64’ minutes, it looked like it was going to be Manly’s time.
Moments later Brendan Cholakian almost levelled proceedings after whipping in a free-kick.
Gloveman Nathan Denham was up to the task, flicking the effort out for a corner.
With 82’ minutes played, the home side got the goal they craved.
Defender Josh Lawson headed home a Sim corner, and he could hardly contain his delight as he was mobbed by his teammates.
Sutherland then raised their game in the search for a winner, only to see Mitchell deny Nathan Elasi and Nikas within the space of 90’’ frantic seconds.
Sharks substitute Chris Naumoff almost stole the points with an effort which flashed past the far post.
Sim then had a half-chance, with the game really coming to life in the final 10’ minutes.
However it was Nikas who had the last say. Given too much room by the retreating Manly defence, he jinked his way into the area and fired home at the second attempt to silence the crowd in the Lucas Neill Grandstand – it was his tenth goal of the season and has become the leading scorer of the competition.
A relieved Robbie Stanton paid tribute to his team for their poise at the death:
“Manly were very compact, it took us a while to break them down,’’ the Sharks boss said.
“We had enough chances to win comfortably, we made life hard for ourselves, but I think we were deserving winners.”
His opposite Craig Midgley was shattered when reflecting on the game:
“We have a heartbroken team at the moment,’’ he said.
“Fair play to Sutherland, they kept coming at us.
“We will move forward and focus on our next game against Blacktown City FC.”
Manly United FC 1 (Josh Lawson 81’)
Sutherland Sharks 2 (Panni Nikas 43’, 90’)
Sunday 19th May, 2013
Referee: Adam Susz
Assistant Referees: Craig Fisher and Seb Brennan
Fourth Official: Daniel Stack
Manly United FC: 1.Dylan Mitchell; 14.David Cain, 12.Brendan Cholakian, 4.Graeme Forbes, 6.Danny Grant, (8.Sean Seavill 53’) 3.Roberto Hamad, (25.Dom Ferguson 72’) 10.Colin Iley, 5.Josh Lawson, 15.Jimmy Oates, (2.Leigh Egger 65’) 11.Matt Sim, 16.Josh Ward
Substitutes Not Used: Jack Park
Yellow Cards: Matt Sim 52’, David Cain 73’
Red Cards: Nil
Sutherland Sharks: 1.Nathan Denham, 9.Brad Boardman, (19.Chris Naumoff 80’) 7.Nathan Elasi, 17.Klim Gjorseski, (10.Jamie McMaster 66’) 6.Matt Gordon, 2.Nick Littler, 13.Reo Morinaga, 15.Perry Moustakas, 23.Panni Nikas, 8.Nick Olsen, 14.Nick Stavroulakis
Substitutes Not Used: 22.Andrew Depta, 4.James McKenzie, 3.Michael Stuart
Yellow Cards: Panni Nikas 66’
Red Cards: Nil
3 – Panni Nikas (SS)
2 – Dylan Mitchell (MUFC)
1 – Nick Stavroulakis (SS)
-By Andrew Prentice