ROCKDALE City Suns have kept their semi-finals aspirations alive after defeating a 10-man Sutherland Sharks outfit with a resounding 3-0 win in their round 20 match at Ilinden Sports Centre as well as lifting the Leader Cup.
The two sides were unable to be split following a scoreless draw back in round nine at Seymour Shaw, so heading into the third last round of the regular season the fourth placed Suns and the fifth placed Sharks were both desperate to snare all three points on offer.
With the Suns conceding an impressive average of just one goal per game and boasting the best defensive effort in the entire League it was billed as an entertaining encounter against the attacking prowess of the Sharks whose 39 goals thus far in season 2014 almost double that of the Suns through 19 rounds of football.
It only took two minutes for the action to heat up when referee Kris Griffiths-Jones handed out his first yellow card of the match to Sharks enforcer Jamie McMaster who was deemed to be wearing black-coloured Skins under his white playing shorts. The offence seemed innocuous, but when McMaster raced to the sideline to remove his illegal undergarments, much to the delight of the healthy crowd, Griffiths-Jones had no hesitation in producing the early yellow.
Rockdale took the ascendancy in the opening stanza of the game through workhorse Paul Reid who continually created havoc through the middle for the Sharks defence. The former Sydney FC midfielder was magical as he guided his troops around the paddock and delivered ball after ball to his forwards, and perseverance eventually paid off for the Suns when Reid lobbed a brilliant ball through to Nikola Taneski. The Rockdale forward still had plenty of work to do to control the ball, but his touch was first-rate – despite being heavily marked – as he guided it past Sharks keeper Nathan Denham toopen the account for the home side in the 20’ minute.
Rockdale continued to impress throughout much of the first-half with Reid leading the way and ably supported by Taneski and the tireless Sean Symons.
The Sharks also looked threatening at times with striker Jordan Figon posing the most danger. Perhaps Figon’s best (and unfortunately last) chance of the game came in the 38’ minute when the former Sydney FC youth player put his body on the line for his team. A cross from out on the left to the middle of the goalmouth saw Figon race in at speed resulting in a sickening collision with the 20-year-old catapulting up in the air and landing heavily. Play was stopped for a number of minutes with Figon leaving the field on a stretcher and taken to hospital for precautionary neck scans.
The Sharks failed to recover from the setback and a wave of possession in the dying minutes of the half saw Symons chip a neat ball to the far post where an awaiting Taneski, who again had plenty of work to do, stepped back inside a defender to curl it past the outstretched right hand of Denham to bag his second of the afternoon and ensure that his side lead by a two-goal margin at the break.
Rockdale had a number of chances to increase their lead when play resumed in the second-half with realistic chances to Taneski, who was pressing for a hat-trick, and two opportunities to teammate Tahj Minniecon – including a one-on-one with the Sharks keeper.
However, any belief that the Sharks may have had of clawing their way back into the game quicklyevaporated when McMaster was dismissed from the field following his second yellow in the 52’ minute following a poor challenge. The Sharks were resigned to playing the majority of the second-half with just the ten men as McMaster trudged slowly to sheds ensuring he had plenty of time to rue his poor choice of Skins attire worn onto the field.
Rather than resting on their laurels, the Suns opened up and played some entertaining football and could have quite easily produced any number of goals had it not been for some wayward shots and the heroics of Denham in goal for the Sharks.
In the end though, the weight of numbers and possession eventually took its toll on the Sharks when replacement forward Toufic Alameddine beat Denham to the ball on the front edge of the box and chipped the gallant Sharks keeper to add to the final scoreline in the 88’ minute.
“I think in the past we have let ourselves down so many times at home this year, so we were determined to get it right today,” claimed jubilant Suns coach Branko Culina.
“Last week against Blacktown City was one of the best games we’ve played all season, so it was important for us to get it right today – in fact we’ve been great on the road this year, but at home we’ve been awful.
“It was evident from the second-half today in that we just miss far too many shots goal, so we said that we wanted to be competitive and challenge for the ball and they did that which was pleasing to see. Once we scored that initial goal we settled into a nice rhythm and took control.
“I went and watched the Sharks play against Sydney Olympic last week and they were pretty impressive. We changed a few things around in order to combat them and I think it worked pretty well for us out there today.”
Despite being disappointed with his side’s loss at the hands of Rockdale, Sharks President Paul Smith took time out to speak with Football NSW shortly after the game.
“I think our backs were against the wall from the start and losing Figon to the neck injury and then have a player in McMaster sent off just exasperated the situation,” claimed Smith.
On being asked as to his thoughts as to the early yellow card given to McMaster for the uniform infringement, Smith was philosophical; “I’m not sure why the referees don’t check that before the game rather than waiting until the players starting the game”.
“We’ll obviously lose Figon (neck) and McMaster (suspension) for next week’s game which adds to the already growing list of players who are unavailable, but we’re hoping Nick Olsen might be back on deck for us. Otherwise we’ll just have to rely on the youngsters yet again.
With just two rounds remaining in the 2014 regular season it doesn’t get any either for both sides. The Sharks are at home next Saturday evening as they take on the table-topping Bonnyrigg White Eagles whose charge to the semi-finals has been remarkable given they have just lost one of their last 11 games.
The Suns will also have their hands full next Sunday afternoon when they travel to Belmore Sports Ground to take on a resurgent Sydney Olympic outfit. Culina’s men will need to be wary of Olympic who have been strong in the back half of the season and will be still smarting over recent wins that included the Sharks’ scalp just last week and a five-goal drubbing over APIA-Leichhardt in Round 17.
Rockdale City Suns 3 (Nikola Taneski 20’, 45+5’, Toufic Alameddine 88’)
Sutherland Sharks 0
Sunday August 3, 2014
Ilinden Sports Centre, Rockdale
Referee: Kris Griffiths-Jones
Assistant Referees: Leigh Pigram and Thomas Lee
Fourth Official: Daniel Stack
Rockdale City Suns: 1.Tomislav Arcaba; 3.Steven Hesketh, 4.Sean Symons (14.Patrick Savor 68’),5.Paul Reid, 6.Takuya Murayama, 8.Paul Kohler, 10.Tahj Minniecon (7.Toufic Alameddine 68’),11.Nikola Taneski (21.Hristian Tanoski 86’), 12.Idriss El Hafiane, 18.Marko Jesic, 23.Askin Oygur (C)
Substitutes Not Used: 22.David Bradasevic, 25.Nicholas Petrillo
Yellow Cards: Nil
Red Cards: Nil
Sutherland Sharks: 1.Nathan Denham; 2.Jacob Tratt, 4.James McKenzie, 9.Nathan Elasi, 10.Jamie McMaster, 12.Jordan Figon (24.Damir Prodanovic 44’), 14.Nick Stavroulakis (C), 18.Jayden Koulizakis, 23.Panni Nikas, 28.Jacob Bandur, 29.Mitchell Farmer
Substitutes Not Used: 8.Lukas Stergiou, 17.Jordan Roberts, 22.Andrew Depta, 38.Jeremy Cox
Yellow Cards: Jamie McMaster 2’, James McKenzie 35’
Red Cards: Jamie McMaster 52’
-By Gary McDonald, National Premier Leagues NSW Mens 1 Reporter, at Ilinden Sports Centre