IT TOOK the odd goal in five to separate the two sides as Sydney Olympic kept their finals hopes alive with a rollicking 3-2 win over Sutherland Sharks at Seymour Shaw Park.
Olympic shocked everyone on a chilly but clear night in Miranda, taking a 2-0 lead into the break thanks to goals from Dmitri Hatzimouratis and Taiga Soeda.
Sutherland gave themselves hope when their captain Nick Stavroulakis scored, but when William Angel popped up to make it 3-1, it looked all over. Sutherland are made of sterner stuff than that though and Jordan Figon headed in a Panni Nikas free kick to ensure a nervy final ten minutes, but Olympic held on to record a hugely important win.
For Sutherland, they will rue not scoring early on as they dominated possession and they are now right in the midst of the battle with Olympic and Rockdale City Suns to finish in fourth and fifth.
With Nicholas Littler injured and Perry Moustakas back in Cyprus, Robbie Stanton was left with no choice but to field the youthful pairing of Jacob Tratt and James McKenzie in the centre of defence.
Their composure on the ball was a huge part of Sutherland’s early dominance as they, along with Stavroulakis in front of them, moved the ball around with ease, comfortably keeping the lion’s share of possession.
Nikas had a shadow in the form of Olympic’s shaggy haired number 6, Ryan Keir, who tracked the Sutherland midfielder’s every move. Keir grew into the game and proved much more than a man-marker, using the ball wisely especially in the second half.
It took a quarter of an hour for the game to find its stride with Olympic standing off the home side enough for Stavroulakis to venture forward and test Paul Henderson from the edge of the area.
Figon showed a willing propensity to drop deep in search of possession but he was too often isolated when he stayed in his natural centre forward position, which meant that for all Sutherland’s build-up they had little to show for in the final third.
In the 24′ minute Olympic finally found themselves in a promising position and when Harris Gaitatzis shot from distance he forced Nathan Denham into a sharp save low to his right.
The game really sparked into life as Sutherland suddenly became wary of Olympic’s ability in attack. The visiting side had a decent penalty appeal turned down by referee Chris Young when Troy Danaskos fed Gaitatzis, who in turn helped the ball into the path of Hatzimouratis. The Olympic forward went down but his appeal was waved away.
A minute before the half hour, Olympic took the lead, somewhat against the run of the early play.
It was a typical number 9’s finish from Hatzimouratis, who leapt high above McKenzie and Tratt to head in Danaskos’ cross from the left.
Sutherland should have levelled four minutes later when Stavroulakis found himself at the byline and in position to cross. His cut-back found the onrushing Figon but he scuffed his shot straight at Henderson. It was a golden opportunity.
As it were, Olympic’s goal and that let-off gave the boys from Belmore renewed confidence and they came so close to doubling their lead in the 38′ minute.
Danaskos stood up a dangerous cross to the back post and when it looked certain that Gaitatzis would score, Mitchell Farmer made a superb last ditch intervention with a little help from Denham who palmed the ball into the cross-bar and caught it at the second attempt.
It mattered not as Olympic doubled their lead in the 41′ minute.
When the dancing feet of Shirai took him into the area he attracted a cluster of Sutherland defenders. Shirai laid the ball off to Soeda, who seemed to have an age to line up his left-footed shot which whistled past Denham.
The break came at a good time for Sutherland as they looked to re-group and set about their task of pulling back the goals.
Olympic had another penalty appeal turned down shortly after the break when Hatzimouratis went down under pressure from McKenzie, before McMaster went straight up the other end and shot powerfully but straight at Henderson.
Keir was starting to control the tempo in midfield for Olympic and he showed wonderful awareness to release Angel into a goal scoring position, but his first touch was poor and McKenzie was able to block.
Keir was again to the fore two minutes later when an even better pass put through Gaitatzis for a one-on-one opportunity, but Denham was able to spread himself and make a superb save.
There was 65′ minute on the clock when a real collector’s item presented itself in the form of Stavroulakis’ goal. It was well-taken, as a cross from Nikas on the right was headed back across goal by Jamie McMaster.
Stavroulakis, who started the move, had continued his run and arrived almost under the cross-bar to apply the finishing touch with a header – it was a real captain’s goal considering the timing.
It was a goal that spurned on Sutherland, but only for a few moments as the wind was taken out of their sails in the 71′ minute when Angel showed no nerves in finishing past Denham when set up beautifully by Shirai.
Sutherland pulled one back with ten minutes to go when Figon headed in a Nikas free-kick and they tried hard in the final few moments to find an equaliser, but Olympic matched that effort with great spirit as they nailed down a massive three points.
Sutherland Sharks 2 (Nick Stavroulakis 65′, Jordan Figon 80′)
Sydney Olympic 3 (Dmitri Hatzimouratis 29′, Taiga Soeda 41′, William Angel 71′)
Saturday July 26, 2014
Seymour Shaw Park, Miranda
Referee: Chris Young
Assistant Referee: Joon Park and Danny Horstead
Fourth Official: Kris Griffiths-Jones
Sutherland Sharks: 1.Nathan Denham; 2.Jacob Tratt, 4.James McKenzie, 6.Matthew Gordon, 8.Lukas Stergiou, 9.Nathan Elasi, 10.Jamie McMaster, 12.Jordan Figon, 14.Nick Stavroulakis (C), 23.Panni Nikas, 29.Mitchell Farmer
Substitutes not used: 22.Andrew Depta, 17.Jordan Roberts, 18.Jayden Koulizakis, 24.Damir Prodanovic, 28.Jacob Bandur
Yellow Cards: James McKenzie 67′, Jacob Tratt 77′, Matthew Gordon 90+2′
Red Cards: Nil
Sydney Olympic: 1.Paul Henderson; 2.Brayden Sorge, 3.Troy Danaskos, 6.Ryan Keir, 7.William Angel, 9.Dmitri Hatzimouratis (39.Michael Gaitatzis 87′), 10.Harris Gaitatzis (33.Christos Tomaras 72′), 14.Peter Markovic (C), 15.Yianni Spyrakis, 18.Taiga Soeda, 19.Go Shirai
Substitutes not used: 111.Nicholas Sorras, 4.Brendan Hooper, 30.Jason Madonis
Yellow Cards: Nil
Red Cards: Nil
– By Matthew Lopez, National Premier Leagues NSW Mens 1 Editor, at Seymour Shaw Park