AN OVERCAST day at Lambert Park saw APIA Leichhardt Tigers tackle Manly United at home and the inclement weather didn’t dampen the spirit as the difference between two evenly matched teams was the clinical finishing of the home side, who ran out 3-1 winners.
APIA started brightly and hit the front in only the third minute when good work from Marc Warren down the Tigers left saw a briskly centred ball reach Franco Parisi first. The APIA number 10 steered the ball past the stranded Tonu Liibrand at the near post.
Parisi, belying the years, was looking sprightly and was involved in almost everything in the early exchanges.
Manly responded when Rhys Williams forced Andrew Bazi into a sharp save down to his right in the 7th minute as they pushed the home side back.
APIA were certainly having the better of the left flank and when Sean Symonds broke and centred for Blake Powell to volley goal-ward in the 10th minute, Liiband tipped the ball over the bar.
The Blues did find an equaliser on the quarter-hour when Chris Payne, reclaiming a spot in the starting side after coming back from a pre-season injury, muscled his way through the APIA defence to fire home past Bazi and restore parity, as the Tigers were caught napping with the quick ball over the top.
David D’Apuzzo, having picked up a caution, needed treatment on the field for an off the ball incident but returned to the fray when clearly not able to carry on. He was replaced by Brett Studman in the 28th minute although APIA were reduced to 10-men for several minutes as no substitute was ready to take his place at the time. Studman dropped into defence with Adam Griffiths pushing forward into midfield.
It was Manly’s turn to turn up the heat and they pushed on forcing APIA onto the back foot, but created only half-chances in front of goal with the scrambling home defence able to recover and hold the visitors at bay.
The Tigers were certainly producing their best football down the left channel and a corner produced a fine reaction save from Liibrand from a powerfully met header by APIA skipper Michael West in the 35th minute. Liiband was pleased to have reacted so sharply from close range.
He was again called into action with his best save of the match from Nathan Elasi who when sent through in the 38th minute put the ball to the ‘keepers left, but the shot stopper was able to hold on to at full stretch.
The Manly gloveman was powerless to stop a Blake Powell effort that almost tore a hole in the back of the net as it was struck with such ferocity, to restore APIA’s lead once more just before the break. The goal scorer was to find himself in the book moments later for a rash challenge that certainly incensed the Manly bench.
It was a far more even tempered start to the second stanza with a few loose passes being sprayed around by both sides and neither able to hold the ball for any lengthy period, Elasi squandering an opportunity when shooting from distance but not troubling the ‘keeper.
Brendan Cholakian tested Bazi after a mazy run but in fairness it was at a good height for the Tigers’ ‘keeper to smother comfortably.
Manly coach Paul Dee brought on Matthew Castlenuovo for his first appearance of the season, replacing Daniel Saric in the 55th minute to make an appearance against his former club.
Elasi should have extended the APIA lead when set up by Parisi but he scuffed the effort straight at Liibrand to let Manly off the hook.
Nick Olsen eventually replaced Elasi in the 75th minute.
Although the football was equally good in both attack and defence from both it tended to cancel out the the efforts in the final third which allowed Manly a sniff of a point as APIA struggled to kill off the match, until Powell found his second of the night when Sean Symons put the youngster through, leaving the visitors a mountain to climb in the final 12 minutes.
With nothing to lose Paul Dee replaced Brad McDonald with Travis Oughtred for the remaining time but it was a hill too high to climb for the visitors and at the final whistle it was the Tigers who would secure all three points for the second week running.
APIA skipper Michael West said: “It has been a very good start for us and we prepared well for the season ahead with the club recruiting a good squad and we’re looking in good shape.
“The club has brought in some quality and as they say, quality players can always play with other quality players and they don’t necessarily need to have been together for a number of years to gel as a team and strike up an understanding so it has been a good start for us.
“I wouldn’t be getting carried away after just two games but we are confident in our ability and we’ll see how it all goes at the end of course.
“On the goals front we have been a little more clinical this season so far but we train hard and prepare well each week so it’s good to see that coming off of the training ground and onto the pitch.”
Paul Dee found the positives from the Manly United performance.
“It was a pretty even contest and I thought we played our way back into the game really well and particularly the letter stages of the first-half I felt we were doing well but then the goal hurt us but overall I don’t think the score truly reflects the way the game was played," Dee said.
“We still have a couple of things to work on obviously to make sure we are more competitive the whole game but you have try and get some points so we pushed on in the second period and it doesn’t matter if you lose 2-1 or 3-1 you’ve got to try and get something from the game and we perhaps got caught at the back for the third goal.
“We had a few boys coming back today that were playing their first games of the season so they need to regain their match fitness and then we’ll be far more competitive on the field.
“Against quality opposition like APIA, and they have a lot of big name players in this league, I think we held possession quite well at times and perhaps on another day we could have taken something from the game.”
APIA Leichhardt Tigers 3 (Parisi 3, Powell 41, 78)
Manly United FC 1 (Payne 15)
Sunday 21st March, 2015
Lambert Park, Leichhardt
Referee: James Lewis
Assistant Referees: Lance Greenshields and Patrick Teleki
Fourth Official: Karl Davies
APIA Leichhardt Tigers: Bazi; Millgate, Warren, West (C), Parisi, Powell, Elasi (Olsen 75), Symonds, D’Apuzzo (Studman 28), Ucchino, Griffiths (Kayes 82)
Substitutes Not Used: Bizco, Norval
Yellow Cards: D’Apuzzo 19, Powell 45
Manly United FC: Liiband; Paull, Lobb, Forbes (C), Williams, Payne, McDonald (Oughtred 81), Beauchat, Cholakian, Parkhouse (Bragg 67),Saric (Castelnuovo 55)
Substitutes Not Used: Morrissey, Catlin
Yellow Cards: Nil
Red Cards: Nil
3 – Powell (ALT)
2 – Parisi (ALT)
1 – West (ALT)
– By Micky Brock, PS4 National Premier Leagues NSW Men’s 1 Reporter at Lambert Park