Rockdale City Suns continued its surge towards the IGA National Premier League NSW Men’s 1 grand final with a come from behind 2-1 victory over Sutherland Sharks at Seymour Shaw Stadium on Saturday.
The tense match opened up after Brad Boardman put Sutherland in the lead 5′ minutes after half-time.
But an inspired performance by Suns midfielder Paul Reid led to Nikola Taneski putting the visitors back in the game minutes before full-time, with the striker scoring his second with 3’ minutes remaining in extra time to give his side the win.
The match started at a cracking pace with both sides testing each other out wide.
Giorgio Speranza was the first to trouble the Sutherland defence 3′ minutes in with Alec Urosevski finding the advancing left back early. Speranza dribbled the ball to the by-line before cutting it back only to see the ball cleared by a retreating Sharks back line.
After the frantic opening minutes Sutherland calmed the play down and attacked with venom in the 11′ minute with Nathan Elasi unlucky to not find Brad Boardman as Askin Oygur intercepted before clearing.
A minute later the Suns almost scored a miraculous goal with Brendan Gan’s curling corner almost creeping in, only for Nathan Denham to punch the ball away.
Rockdale goalkeeper Diego Barcena embarrassed himself in the 15′ minute when he misjudged a chip through ball by Lukas Stergiou with Elasi ready to pounce. Luckily for the Suns centre back Oygur cleared the ball out for a corner.
A minute later, Panni NIkas won the ball in a strong challenge on Takuya Murayama before seeing Barcena off his line and hitting a speculative shot which bounced off the top of the net.
In the 24′ minute former A-League midfielder Paul Reid showed his classic touches on the ball when he attacked Sutherland through the middle before unleashing a low shot which was well saved by a diving Denham.
Minutes later Reid had another chance to open the scoring but his long range shot went straight to the arms of a waiting Denham.
Barcena made up for his earlier mistake with a great save in the 33′ minute denying Chris Naumoff from a quick corner.
Nikola Taneski shocked Denham in the 40′ minute with a 25-yard strike beating the goalkeeper before rattling the cross bar and going out for a goal kick.
Sutherland had their own great chance on the stroke of half-time with Elasi’s volley flying over the bar.
Rockdale came out from the break hungry to break the deadlock early but failing to provide the final ball to open up the Sharks defence.
It would be Sutherland however who opened the scoring in the 50′ minute when Brad Boardman got on the end of a through ball, taking a touch before volleying the ball under an advancing Barcena giving his side a 1-0 lead.
The goal seemed to open the game up with both sides passing the ball around the park while pushing forward.
The Sharks could have doubled their lead minutes later when Boardman turned and opened up his body before unleashing a curling shot only to be denied by an expert saved by Barcena.
Taneski tried to get his side back in the game in the 57′ minute with a long range shot easily saved by Denham.
Suns midfielder Brendan Gan almost gave his side another goal in the 60th minute when Stergiou robbed him of the ball before unleashing a great shot only for Barcena to again save.
Barcena came to the Suns aid again in the 66th minute with a brilliant save from a Nikas strike 30-yards out.
Rockdale saw their season falling away from them with 20′ minutes remaining and pushed forward with intent. In the 72′ minute centre back Paul Kohler moved forward to pick up the scraps from a corner, taking a touch before aiming for the top left corner with Denham getting a hand on the ball seeing it out for a corner.
The Suns finally found the through ball they were looking for in the 75′ minute but Nikola Taneski was unable to convert past Denham.
Sutherland was forced to sit back in their half for several minutes with Rockdale hoping to find their equaliser with 10′ minutes remaining.
Reid took on the Sharks through the middle again in the 82′ minute before finding Seiya Kawamura whose volley went wide of the mark.
The midfielder finally found the right ball a minute later with Taneski turning his defender twice before burying the ball in the bottom left hand corner bring the game level as the momentum shifted towards the Suns.
Both sides pushed hard in the finals stages of the match with neither able to break the deadlock taking the game into extra time.
Rockdale came out of the blocks on fire with Paul Reid pulling the string from midfield putting the Sutherland defence under pressure.
Richie Cardozo’s move to the centre of the park almost paid dividends in the 97′ minute with a good run down the middle of the park but unfortunately hit his ball to Gan on the right too far with the ball going out for a goal kick.
Sutherland made their way into the box in the 100′ minute but Chris Naumoff could not control his shot as it went sailing wide of the mark.
A minute later Elasi beat Barcena with a stinging shot but found the right hand upright before Rockdale cleared.
Suns right back Takuya Murayama caught the Sharks defence napping in the 103′ minute, pushing forward before shooting wide.
The match turned sour for Sutherland on 105′ minutes with Naumoff given his marching orders after a deliberate hand bell gave him his second yellow card.
It was to be the same scenario for the home side as last weekend as Sharks captain Nick Stavroulakis was given his marching orders against the Bonnyrigg White Eagles.
Brendan Gan had a fantastic chance to bury the game in the next 3′ minutes when he got on the end of a long ball only to scuff his shot wide.
A minute later Gan turned provider with a curling cross finding Cardozo in the box only for the latter’s header to go straight to Denham.
Sutherland had Denham to thank again in the 112′ minute claiming a Taneski long range drive.
Taneski didn’t have to wait long to double his tally, linking with Paul Reid before striking the ball into the bottom right hand corner giving his side the 2-1 win.
Following the match Sutherland Sharks coach Robbie Stanton said he was disappointed after being ahead in the game:
"I thought we did enough to get that one but once we had the ten men it became really hard,’’ he said.
"We made some very poor choices in key areas and to be honest it could have really gone either way.
"Probably the turning point was the red card. IN the end I guess that’s how football goes.’’
Despite the loss Stanton said he was proud of his team’s efforts this season.
"Up until the last round we did very, very well,’’ he said.
"When you lose bodies from your team it has an effect. With our full team I think we would have done a lot better.
"From 22 rounds I couldn’t have asked for many more, we played some good football.’’
In the winning dressing room Branko Culina commented:
"Credit to our players they dug deep again,’’ he said.
"Last week we took it to a penalty shootout and this week we didn’t need that but we did it in extra time.
"We make it tough for us, we are used to it from the season but that has made us tough for the finals series.
"We’ve got a squad of players that believe in themselves and believe in each other and tonight was a perfect example they came back and in the end we pretty much dominated the proceedings.’’
With a match against the loser of the major semi-final between Sydney United and Bonnyrigg White Eagles, Culina said he would get his team focused quickly on the task at hand:
"Once you get into the finals you want to make sure you go as far as you possibly can,’’ he said.
"You’ve got to be level headed about the after game celebrations. I know that this team no matter who we play next week will give maximum effort.’
Sutherland Sharks 1 (Boardman 50’)
Rockdale City Suns 2 (Taneski 83’, 117’)
Saturday 31st of August
Seymour Shaw Stadium
Referee: Ryan Shepheard
Assistant Referees: Nick Backo and Sarah Ho
Fourth Official: Kevin Peddie
Sutherland Sharks: 1.Nathan Denham; 9.Bradley Boardman (8.Jordan Hughes 75’), 7.Nathan Elasi, 2.Nick Littler, 4.James McKenzie (6.Matt Gordon 97’), 10.Jamie McMaster, 15.Perry Moustakas, 19.Christopher Naumoff, 23.Panni NIkas (C), 32.Lukas Stergiou, 3.Michael Stuart (13.Reo Morinaga 67’)
Substitutes Not Used: 22.Andrew Depta, 30.Jordan Roberts
Yellow Cards: Littler 61’, McKenzie 71’, Naumoff 76’, 105’, Nikas 114’
Red Cards: Naumoff 105’
Rockdale City Suns: 1.Diego Barcena; 10.Richard Cardozo, 12.Idriss El Hafiane (18.Seiya Kawamura 62’), 7.Brendan Gan (11.David Talevski 113’), 8.Paul Kohler, 6.Takuya Murayama, 23.Askin Oygur (C), 5.Paul Reid, 3.Giorgio Speranza, 14.Nikola Taneski, 9.Alec Urosevski (13.Sam Munro 75’)
Substitutes Not Used: 22.Aaron Liddell, 21.Themba Muata-Marlow
Yellow Cards: Cardozo 52’, Reid 103’
Red Cards: Nil
-By Chris Georges