Sutherland Sharks bounced back to their winning ways in Round 2 of the 2014 National Premier Leagues IGA NSW Mens 1 competition with a hard-fought 2-1 win over South Coast Wolves at Seymour Shaw.
Billed as the battle of the F6 derby, both teams were looking to return to the winners circle this week having been taught a lesson in their opening round encounters by the two red-hot Blacktown teams.
The Sharks were on the receiving end of a 6-1 thrashing at the hands of the impressive Spartans, while the Wolves didn’t fare much better at their new home ground of WIN Stadium going down to a youthful, but relentless Blacktown City side.
However, it was the Sharks who seemed to make the most of their Round 1 lesson taught as they certainly made amends for their dismal effort just seven days earlier as they came out on all cylinders firing when speedy forward Nathan Elasi tore off down the right side in the 6’ minute and fired a shot off on target which was well saved by Wolves keeper Daniel Collison.
It was the Wolves though with the first realistic chance in the 11’ minute when a Ricky Zucco free kick from a set piece – after Nick Littler brought down Zucco just outside the box – fired off a rocket fromthe star striker’s right boot and looked certain to dip under the crossbar if it were not for a brilliant save by the Sharks custodian Nathan Denham who managed to get a touch on the ball and tip it onto the metalwork and out of harm’s way.
Zucco, who started the game with a resolute attitude, was determined in his approach to keep the ball in the opposition’s back-third throughout the opening stanza, and his perseverance paid off in the 17’ minute when he stole the ball from the Sharks defensive man Littler as he tried to work it out from the back.
Zucco pounced on the opportunity and drove it hard past an outstretched Denham to sneak itjust inside the left post to open his team’s account and take an early 1-0 lead.
The Wolves, seemingly buoyed by their first goal in 2014, controlled proceedings throughout the opening half hour of the game as Zucco, who was ably assisted by teammates Zac Mackenzie and Sam Matthews, had the Sharks defence searching for answers.
Zucco was in the thick of the action again when Matthew Bailey outpaced the stretched Sharks backline down the left side and sent a nice ball to the middle for his striker who was only denied by a quick-thinking Denham who negated what could have provided the visitors with a two goal lead.
The Sharks tried valiantly to release the stranglehold and went close in the 40’ minute to levelling the scores when a superb Panny Nikas free kick from just outside the box had a fully stretched Collisondiving to his left to ensure that the visitors remained firmly in the lead at the break.
The second-half saw the Sharks come out of the sheds strongly and it was Elasi again, having switched to the left side to accommodate replacement forward Ethan Galbraith on the right, who used his speed and agility as he weaved his way into the box and shot just wide of Collison in the 52’ minute.
However, it was the brilliance of former A-League and 2013 Mens 1 NPL ‘Player of the Year’ Panny Nikas who provided the equaliser in the 63’ minute. Nikas bamboozled the Wolves defence as he drifted to the right and angled to the front edge of the box. The always reliable Sharks midfielder fired off a sensational drive to power the ball into the back of the net to bring the home side back into the contest.
With both teams desperate to snare the full three points, the local derby lived up to its promise of an enthralling encounter as the two teams provided the impressive crowd with end-to-end entertainment in the final sector of the game.
The Wolves had their chance to provide the go-ahead goal when Mackenzie teamed up with Chris Price on the left who chipped to Zucco who then ‘flick-headed’ on target only to be denied once again by a well-positioned Denham.
The Sharks responded almost immediately at the other end when Collison pulled off two remarkable saves – firstly a power shot by substitute Jordan Figon and then a shot by fellow substitute Galbraith.
In the end though, it was a piece of individual brilliance by Figon that separated the two teams as heprovided the telling blow in the 78’ minute. Figon out-manoeuvred a retreating Michael Robinson to set himself up for the shot where he made no mistake and landed the ball in the top left corner to ensure that his home side secured all three points on offer.
“It wasn’t pretty out there in the first-half,” conceded Sharks coach Robbie Stanton.
“We looked a bit like we were just going through the motions as we just weren’t getting the fundamentals right – winning possession, tackling, movement, positioning, rotation and just all those basic elements of the game that you need to get right. If you don’t get those specifics right then it’s just not going to happen for you.
“We made those adjustments at halftime where we put a couple of our substitutes on and we changed a few things around and I think that we saw a totally different side out there – a more Sutherland-like side to be honest.
“Even in the end we probably had a number of opportunities to put the game away a couple of times over, but in saying that we shouldn’t take anything away from the Wolves as that is probably the best I’ve seen them play, and if they continue to play like that then they will probably pick up a few more points as the season goes on.”
Wolves coach Richard Lloyd, despite the loss, was upbeat with his team’s display.
“That was a much better performance than our effort last week,” claimed Lloyd.
“I really hate losing, but that was a much-improved effort on last week’s opening round performanceagainst Blacktown City. All over the park, we pressed, we closed, but in the end it was two lapses that cost us and unfortunately that’s the nature of the Wolves as we seem to get punished there.
“At the other end though, we hit the post twice from two free kicks … I was feeling quite confident at halftime, but I knew that we had used up quite a bit of energy and in the end we just couldn’t quite hold it out. We’ll be better for that and we’ll learn from it.”
The Sharks face off in yet another local derby next Sunday as they head to Kogarah to take on the newly-promoted St. George FC at WIN Jubilee Oval, while the Wolves return to their new-for-2014 home ground of WIN Stadium – also on Sunday – as they host a formidable outfit in Sydney Olympic who are likely to be still riding a wave of confidence having pulled off perhaps the biggest coup in recent National Premier Leagues IGA NSW Mens 1 competition memory after signing formerLiverpool and Greek International Sotiris Kyrgiakos on a two home game guest stint this past week.
Sutherland Sharks 2 (Panny Nikas 62’, Jordan Figon 79’)
South Coast Wolves 1 (Ricky Zucco 17’)
Saturday March 22nd, 2014
Seymour Shaw Park, Miranda
Referee: Matthew Cropper
Assistant Referees: Park Joon and Mitchell Clarke
Fourth Official: Katie Patterson
Sutherland Sharks: 1.Nathan Denham; 3.Adamos Pierettis (12.Jordan Figon 46’), 5. Nick Littler, 6.Matt Gordon, 7.Michael Stuart, 8.Lukas Stergiou, 9.Nathan Elasi, 10.Jamie McMaster (16.Ethan Galbraith 46’), 14.Nick Stavroulakis, 15.Perry Moustakas, 23.Panny Nikas
Substitutes Not Used: 2.Jacob Tratt, 22.Andrew Depta, 32.Jordan Hughes
Yellow Cards: Nick Littler 10’
Red Cards: Nil
South Coast Wolves: 1.Daniel Collison; 2.Jack Keating, 4.Michael Robinson, 6.Zac Mackenzie, 7.Chris Price (5.James Baldacchino 90+3’), 8.Matthew Bailey, 10.Ricky Zucco (3.Chris Nathaniel 77’),15.Darcy Madden, 20.Joseph Lavalle, 22.Sam Matthews, 26.Jacob Timpano
Substitutes Not Used: 11.Mitchell Del Turco, 111.David Hamilton
Yellow Cards: Joseph Lavalle 8’, Zachary Mackenzie 83’
Red Cards: Nil
3 – Nathan Elasi (SS)
2 – Jordan Figon (SS)
1 – Zachary Mackenzie (SCW)
-By Gary McDonald