Sydney United 58 FC ‘keeper Diego Barcena returned to Ilinden Sports Centre for the first time in the league against his former club and left neither dejected nor elated when his side played out a scoreless draw against Rockdale City Suns in the oppressively humid conditions.
With two evenly matched sides probing for an opening it was Tadgh Purcell who perhaps had the cheekiest opportunity in the 10’ minute when attempting to pass the ball into the net on the reverse to catch Barcena out but scuffed the effort.
Mitchell Stamatellis needed to be alert seconds later with a well-timed tackle, and it needed to be, inside the box to deny Idriss el Hafiane the opportunity of shooting as the home side surged forward.
Daniel Barac teed up Purcell in the 16’ minute after nimble footwork down United’s right flank to send over a teasing cross the striker slipped over the bar with a stooping header at the near post.
United 58’s chances were sporadic as the midfield battle became tough and uncompromising.
Paul Kohler tried his luck from distance on the volley that flew well wide of the mark as the home side slowly began to gain the ascendency.
On the counter the visitors broke and with the ball played through to Mitchell Speer it took a fantastic diving save from Suns’ ‘keeper Tomislav Arcaba to keep the match scoreless with 24’ minutes on the clock in their first threat on goal in the game.
United 58 were being pegged back deeper into their half and looked to hit on the break, Blas Segarra blasting hopelessly wide of the mark on the half-hour.
Matthew Bilic stripped the ball from Takuya Murayama in the middle of the park that eventually found its way to Segarra once more on the left however his cross to the back stick, although good, was to no avail as pushing in the box gave Rockdale to chance to clear their lines with a free-kick.
As the game opened up in the dying stages of the half Ben Cornish found Nikola Taneski peeling off into space on the right but decided to take a touch before shooting that allowed the defence to close him down before swerving his effort wide of the upright.
Taneski had an effort diverted for a corner that found its way to Suns skipper Askin Oygur on the back stick who cleverly wriggled himself into the space only to drag a left-footed shot past the post as the half-time whistle blew.
It had been a tough 45’ minutes for both and the stalemate was the only disappointing aspect of the match after some intriguing play from two teams who have suffered a massive turnover in players during the off-season.
The second period started as the first finished, tight in midfield and each looking for the telling through pass, both defences needing to be quick on their toes.
United 58 found the net in the 49’ minute before realising it had been disallowed for offside coming from a free-kick dinked into the box where a mass of players went for the header that looped over Arcaba
He was quickly called into action again making a fine point blank save.
The visitors were then guilty of the miss of the season to date when substitute Rich Darko centred for the unmarked Speer in the middle of the box who looped his effort over the bar from little more than 8-yards out.
The visitors were suddenly looking menacing and had a penalty claim waved away as Rockdale found themselves under the pump.
A break down the left for Rockdale saw Barac curl in a teasing cross that was just too far forward of Taneski to get anything on, the game becoming end to end.
Anthony Tomelic fired in a daisy cutter from distance that had Arcaba scrambling to clear at full stretch in the 58’ minute to keep the home side in it.
Purcell attempted to set up Taneski with a pull back however great defensive work saw the ball taken off his toes with the goal beckoning, the defender obscured by grateful team mates.
The best move of the game came in the 86’ minute when the visitors caught the Suns pressing too high up the pitch.
A cross from the left by Matt Bilic found its mark in Josip Jadric with Rich Darko, a true livewire since entering the fray, acting as decoy for the United 58 man to fire goalward via the left boot that Arcaba did well to smother.
The second-half was certainly far livelier than the first with just the final efforts not finding the net, something both coaches were to lament upon.
“We played this match in very difficult conditions,” said Suns coach Branco Culina
“But these are the games you have to win particularly when you are at home.
“We just lacked a little bit of quality today with the final delivery, we should have been a little bit smarter, although the effort was there, but more quality was needed in front of goal.”
“We’ve now kept 6 clean sheets in 7 games including the Pre-Season Cup so we just need to be a little sharper in the final third.”
Sydney United 58 coach Mark Rudan said: “We are very disappointed we didn’t win the game as I thought we created the better of the opportunities.
“We scored a goal that I feel was legitimate but I won’t know until I see the footage but we should have had all three points because we deserved it over the 90’ minutes.
“I’m very happy with the reaction from last weeks result because it’s never easy to come to Rockdale especially against a team that is flying having won the Pre-Season Cup and won well last week away from home.
"We had a game plan and for the most part stuck to it but we showed a lot of improvement but we are a bit away from where we need to be and that will come in the later rounds.”
Rockdale City Suns 0
Sydney United 58 0
Sunday 23rd March, 2014
Ilinden Sports Centre, Rockdale
Referee: Adam Susz
Assistant Referees: Andre Giev & Joon Park
Fourth Official: Adam Vainauskas
Rockdale City Suns: 1.Tomislav Arcaba, 3.Steve Hesketh, 5.Paul Reid, 6.Takuya Murayama, 8.Paul Kohler, 9.Tadgh Purcell (17.Hristian Tanoski 65), 11.Nicola Taneski, 12.Idriss El Hafiane (21.Patrick Savor 52), 13.Ben Cornish (4.Sean Symons 77), 16.Daniel Barac, 23.Askin Oygur ©
Substitutes Not Used: 19.Tony Lo, 22.Alex Visnic (G/K)
Yellow Cards: Nicola Taneski 89’
Red Cards: Nil
Sydney United 58: 1.Diego Barcena, 4.Nathan Sherlock (3.Ben Jurman 80), 5.Blas Segarra, 6.Mitchell Stamatellis, 11.Luka Glavas ©, 12.Ivan Pavlak, 14.Mitchell Speer, 15.Mark Cindric (7.Rich Darko 51), 17.Theo Kofinas, 19.Matthew Bilic, 22.Anthony Tomelic
Substitutes Not Used: 13.Josip Jadric, 16.Stjpan Paric, 20.Jayden Decano (G/K)
Yellow Cards: Luka Glavas 70’ Anthony Tomelic 70’ Theo Kofinas 73’
Red Cards: Nil
3 – Tomislav Arcaba (RCS)
2 – Paul Reid (RCS)
1 – Diego Barcena (SU)
– By Micky Brock