Manly United, buoyed by last week’s home win over Blacktown Spartans, came to Seymour Shaw Park on a bitterly cold evening fully aware Sutherland Sharks were hurting from their last round defeat but in this league anyone can win on their day and this was the Sharks who ran out 3-1 winners at home.
The visitors were somewhat understrength with three first teamers, Brendan Cholakian, Roberto Speranza and Daniel Saric missing through suspension whilst the Sharks welcomed the return of midfield talisman Panni Nikas to the starting eleven.
For Sutherland it was an emotional night as defender Perry Moustakas played his last game for the club before returning home to his young family in Cyprus.
It was the Nick Stavroulakis and Nikas combination that had United ‘keeper Dylan Mitchell forced to push over the bar from the latters curling effort from a short corner routine in the 6’ minute.
Chris Payne should have slipped the ball sooner to Scott Balderson in the 12’ minute with the Sharks defence stretched however the delayed pass allowed the home defence to rally and block the effort.
A Nikas free-kick, after Matt Gordon was brought down on the edge of the area in the 15’ minute, got the ball over the wall but clipped the outside of the ‘keepers right hand upright and out, Sutherland coming closest to opening the scoring.
As ever, you cannot keep Nikas down when he passed to Nathan Elasi inside the box in the 18’ minute, whose shot from close range cannoned off Rhys Williams into the net for an own goal to give Sutherland the lead with defence splitting pass to the striker. Williams did well to get to the ball but could do nothing to prevent it crossing the line at some pace.
United rallied from this set back in searching for the equaliser and created a number of half-chances that didn’t bother Nathan Denham between the sticks yet caused headaches at the back for Sutherland in some easy on the eye fluid movement.
A lengthy stoppage for Nathan Sim held the game up but the Manly midfielder was able to re-join the fray after treatment.
Nikas again had an effort deflected out for a corner off Leigh Egger with Sutherland attempting to finish the half stronger plus another goal to the good in a decidedly cat and mouse affair.
With no further addition to the score the sides headed to the break with just a solitary goal scored for the home side but it was still anyone’s match for the taking in the second period.
Manly were immediately on the offensive after the restart but the combination of stern defence and Denham kept them at bay.
Elasi made Mitchell work in the 49’ minute with a left footed shot that had the ‘keeper did well to grasp and hold with the Sharks striker following in after a terrific through ball from Gordon on the left.
Sim fired in a free-kick from out wide that saw Payne head woefully over the bar from the six-yard box albeit under heavy pressure from Jacob Tratt and Moustakas.
A lucky rebound found Mitchell Farmer on the angle of the box and his cut back was powerfully blasted toward goal by Elasi and yet again a scrambling Manly defence managed to deal with the threat and win a goal kick as the Sharks began to flex their muscles.
Manly equalised with a delightfully cushioned header by Tom Morrissey who entered the fray just two minutes earlier when replacing Payne in the 61’ minute to restore parity and open the game up once more.
United smelt blood and Sim came close when blasting just over from the edge of the box 3’ minutes later.
Sharks coach Robbie Stanton countered by bringing James McKenzie off and opting for added fire power up front with Jordan Figon replacing the centre-back as the game began to open up, each desperate for the points.
Williams denied Elasi again by putting in a last ditch tackle that went for a corner the visitors were forced to resolutely defend.
Dylan Whitlock replaced Sim for Manly as Paul Dee shuffled his pack and it almost paid dividends again when Balderson fired at Denham but it was straight up the other end for Sutherland. Mitchell tipped the ball on to the post from a Nikas effort only for the rebound to fall kindly to Lukas Stergiou to side foot home allowing the Sharks to regain the lead in the 72’ minute.
Manly queued up to net the equaliser three minutes later with James Oates coming the closest forcing Denham to push the ball onto the bar in true end to end football.
Graeme Forbes twice blocked Nikas from heaping further woe on the visitors when blocking inside the box in the 76’ minute as chances were going begging after good work from Mcmaster on the right.
Sutherland, perhaps sensing their season could be on the line, battled for a third goal however Manly were acutely aware of the situation and proved stern opposition until Elasi found the net in the 83’ minute to effectively kill off the tie.
Sutherland had a fourth goal late on when Gordon hammered home however, in close proximity to Elasi who looked millimetres offside it was disallowed.
Nikas tried to add the fourth in stoppage time but Mitchell got behind it to beat the ball away to deny the midfield maestro a goal he probably deserved.
Sharks coach Robbie Stanton commented afterwards: “We probably deserved the win but they worked hard and had some chances too particularly in the second-half when I thought the first 20’ minutes, I could see what was coming, they got their goal and it was that which woke us up a little bit but it could have hurt us as well.
“We didn’t come out after the break and show the same control we had in the first 45’ minutes and we looked lethargic and not very convincing and copped the goal but lucky for us we took some chances and a good opportunist strike from Panni (Nikas) ended with the ball put away by Sterg (Lukas Stergiou) and our third was a good finish off too.
“Even our fourth I thought was a good goal when Gordo (Matt Gordon) finished off when alongside Nathan (Elasi) who may have been a tad offside and the linesman flagged but that is understandable when they are that close together.
“That said, Manly were hard tonight, every game in this league is hard when you consider they beat the Spartans last week who were top of the table at the time, and it shows if a side is even 10% off it’s game any team will get on top of you and I felt we were like that in the second-half tonight for the first 20’ minutes and they could have hurt us badly.
“We needed the win tonight so I’m happy with a battling three points.”
Paul Dee for Manly United added: “There were opportunities for us tonight but I think out final touch just let us down a little.
“We had a couple of decent chances when we got back to 1-all when we could have potentially taken the lead but we’re disappointed a set piece has hurt us and we unfortunately look at a loss.
“We went into half-time a goal down from an own goal but they are the unfortunate breaks you get in this game and that can always happen in a season like this but we have to look at the positives to come out of this performance and there are many we can take from this one and that’s it, we look to next week and we build from there again.”
Sutherland Sharks 3 (Rhys Williams 18’ og, Lukas Stergiou 72’, Nathan Elasi 83’)
Manly United 1 (Tom Morrissey 61′)
Saturday 19th July, 2014
Seymour Shaw Park, Miranda
Referee: Adrian Arndt
Assistant Referees: Joon Park & Danny Horstead
Fourth Official: Sebastien Brennan
Sutherland Sharks: 1.Nathan Denham, 2.Jacob Tratt, 4.James McKenzie (12.Jordan Figon 66), 6.Matthew Gordon (18.Jayden Koulizakis 90), 8.Lukas Stergiou (24.Damir Prodanovic 86), 9.Nathan Elasi, 10.Jamie Mcmaster, 14.Nick Stavroulakis (c), 15.Perry Moustakas, 23.Panni Nikas, 29. Mitchell Farmer
Substitutions not used: 17.Jordan Roberts, 22.Andrew Depta
Yellow Cards: Nil
Red Cards: Nil
Manly United FC: 1.Dylan Mitchell, 2.James Oates, 3.Leigh Egger, 4.Graeme Forbes (c), 6.Josh Ward, 7.Scott Balderson, 9.Christopher Payne (29.Tom Morrisay 59), 15.Rhys Williams, 17.Nathan Sim (31.Dylan Whitlock 70), 22.Jack Green, 23.Daniel Drakopoulos
Substitutes Not Used: 8.Daniel Grant, 20.Tonu Liiband, 21.Patrick Weir
Yellow Cards: 23.Daniel Drakopoulos 80’, 7.Scott Balderson 88
Red Cards: Nil
– By Micky Brock, National Premier Leagues NSW Mens 1 Reporter, at Seymour Shaw Park