It was billed as a blockbuster. What followed was a chess match.
Two decisive moves decided it in Sutherland’s favour. The first came in the 70′ minute when Nathan Elasi found the bottom corner from the edge of the area.
The second arrived in the dying embers of the match, Nik Tsattalios rifling home after a nice dink over the defence from Panni Nikas.
That, however, doesn’t tell the whole story.
Blacktown City FC had two wonderful chances after Elasi’s opener. The first saw Sutherland survive by the skin of their teeth, the second confirmed that it must be their night.
A shot from the energetic Harris Gaitatzis came back off the post and with Sean Rooney poised to score, Sharks ever consistent defender Perry Moustakas flung himself in front of his goal-bound effort to preserve the lead.
From the resulting corner, Gaitatzis himself headed against the far post. Fine margins, but at the pointy end of the league, it is those margins that decide games.
Sutherland should have been in front as early as the 11′ minute. Jamie McMaster, playing alone up front, should have converted when presented with an opportunity by an Elasi cross, but from ten yards he hit the post.
It was McMaster himself who started the move with a lovely flick, but he lacked accuracy when it mattered most.
Elasi shot over after a clever free-kick routine from Tsattalios and Nikas found the Sutherland number 7 in the area and McMaster lined up a shot from distance that flew over.
Sutherland was marginally the better side in first-half, as the sides sparred without landing any real punches.
The Sharks seemed poorer for the absence of Chris Naumoff, left on the bench by Robbie Stanton, even in the injury-enforced absence of Brad Boardman.
When Gaitatzis’ 61′ corner hit the first man, and a then minute later Ray Miller sliced a volley horribly wide, it seemed that perhaps goals would be saved for another time.
Elasi struck though and in doing so prompted a flurry of goal mouth activity, culminating in Blacktown City’s double chance.
News filtered through of Rockdale City taking the lead at Bonnyrigg and that pumped the crowd up on a cold night in the Shire, even if Bonnyrigg eventually managed to equalise.
Mark Crittenden gambled, replacing Andrea Del Brocco with Matthew Mayora, but Blacktown City’s hopes were extinguished when Tsattalios found the space vacated by Del Brocco, and finished with venom.
Robbie Stanton acknowledged that the match was a tight affair, saying:
"It was pretty cagey from both teams.
"Both teams respect each other. We both had some half chances but we weren’t as effective as we wanted to be.
"In the end it came down to taking chances and they had a couple of their own, but we stuck ours away.
"That was the difference. They’re a very good team, one of the best, if not the best that we’ve played this season," Stanton said.
Mark Crittenden likewise, pointed out the importance of taking chances at the top level:
"It’s very disappointing," he said.
"We gave them one little sniff, and they took it. That’s why they’re where they are and we’re where we are.
"I thought the second-half was very good, probably one of our better performances of the year, but we’ve come away with nothing," Crittenden said.
Sutherland Sharks 2 (Nathan Elasi 70′, Nik Tsattalios 90′)
Blacktown City FC 0
Saturday 13th July, 2013
Seymour Shaw Park, Miranda
Referee: Kurt Ams
Assistant Referees: Mitchell Clark and Matthew Wright
Fourth Official: Karl Davies
Sutherland Sharks: 1.Nathan Denham; 2.Nicholas Littler, 4.James McKenzie, 7.Nathan Elasi, 8.Nicholas Olsen, 10.Jamie McMaster, 13.Reo Morinaga, 14.Nick Stavroulakis (C), 15.Perry Moustakas, 23.Panni Nikas, 33.Nik Tsattalios
Substitutes Not Used: 22.Andrew Depta; 3.Michael Stuart, 17.Klim Gjorseski, 19.Christopher Naumoff, 28.Jacob Tratt
Yellow Cards: Nik Tsattalios 43′, Nicholas Olsen 85′
Red Cards: Nil
Blacktown City FC: 1.Brody Crane; 3.Andrea Del Brocco (15.Matthew Mayora 82′), 6.Matthew Lewis, 7.Travis Major, 8.Raymond Miller, 9.Ryuji Miyazawa, 10.Harris Gaitatzis (4.Yianni Fragogiannis 87′), 11.Sean Rooney, 12.Kearyn Baccus, 19.Zac Cairncross, 20.Jacob Poscoliero
Substitutes Not Used: 13.Blake Tuxford; 5.Patrick Gatt
Yellow Cards: Raymond Miller 64′, Sean Rooney 75′
Red Cards: Nil
-By Matthew Connellan