MANLY United’s players were buzzing after they beat Blacktown Spartans 2-1 at Cromer Park on Friday evening.
In front of a very healthy Good Friday crowd, Paul Dee’s men showed they will hold their own in 2015 after sealing their maiden win of the campaign.
It was in stark contrast to the visitors, who were chasing shadows in the first half.
13′ minutes in United should have taken the lead.
A corner from Adam Parkhouse was spilt by Spartans keeper Carlos Saliadarre, but no one from the home side was on the spot to stab the ball home.
Moments later Chris Payne found himself with only Saliadarre to beat, but the gloveman cut down the angle brilliantly and the chance went begging.
United kept pushing and they were rewarded with the opening goal on 21′ minutes.
Brendan Cholakian dribbled a loose ball to the byline before hooking a ball in the direction of Daniel Saric.
The Kiwi youth international had plenty to do, bravely rising at the far post and nodding into an unguarded net to send the fans in the Lucas Neill Grandstand into raptures.
Blacktown almost equalised against the run of play after 24 minutes.
Mitch Long found himself unmarked on the six yard box, but his header was beaten away by Tonu Liiband.
Cholakian failed to test Saliadarre from distance after 36′ minutes and then Parkhouse should have doubled United’s lead with 40′ minutes on the clock.
With everyone at the ground expecting Payne to shoot, he unselfishly teed up his teammate, who couldn’t beat Saliadarre from point blank range.
It was a glaring miss which could have hurt United, but in the end it didn’t prove to be game changing.
A shellshocked Ben De Haan read the Spartans the riot act at the break in an attempt to fire them up.
It worked to an extent, with the boys in orange much better in the second stanza.
Liiband kept United in front with a smart save after 51′ minutes and on the hour mark Manly finally doubled their lead.
A delicious ball from Daniel Bragg was played into the path of Payne, who finished like good strikers tend to do.
As Manly pushed for a third goal, they were almost caught napping.
A brilliant last ditch sliding tackle from Kieren Paull on Futa Nakamura had to be made on 65′ minutes – if he mis-timed the challenge, a penalty awaited and United would have finished the contest with ten men.
Long did make a game of it when he scored on 67′ minutes.
United coach Paul Dee didn’t hide his frustration, with the midfielder unmarked as his header beat Liiband in the box following a corner whipped in at the near post.
Paull should have given United a two goal cushion following a driving run down the right after 83′ minutes of action – but the man of the match chose to shoot from an acute angle when Payne was the better option given he had lost his marker.
Parkhouse also missed a huge chance on 87′ minutes and with the last play of the game, a chance for Spartans substitute Josh Tanner could have gone anywhere.
Dee was a relieved man at the final whistle.
"I don’t have many fingernails left, we really struggled to close the game out,” the Manly boss said.
"In saying that, we had enough chances to win three games.
"I also felt it was a coming of age for (keeper) Tonu Liiband – Spartans peppered him late and he stood up when he needed to."
His opposite Ben De Haan was a frustrated man when reflecting on the defeat.
"We were poor everywhere to be honest,” he said. "Backing up from the FFA Cup midweek was always going to be tough, but I expected more character, I was not happy to see some of the boys walking.
"I sensed in the warm up we were flat, and that definitely translated once we kicked-off.
"It was a bad day at the office – we will put it behind us and move on."
Manly United 2 (Saric 21′, Payne 60′)
Blacktown Spartans 1 (Long 67′)
Cromer Park, Cromer
Friday April 3, 2015
Referee: Adrian Arndt
Assistant referees: Thomas Lee, Nicholas Backo
Fourth official: Seb Brennan
Manly United: Liiband; Beuchat, (McDonald 70′) Bragg, Cholakian, Lobb, Oughtred, Parkhouse, Paull, Payne (Ferguson 90′), Saric (Kuleski 80′), Williams
Substitutes not used: Catlin, Morrissey
Yellow cards: Oughtred 41′, Beuchat 54′, Bragg 84′
Blacktown Spartans: Saliadarre; Crighton, Da Silva (Douglas 54′), Kondek, Long, Nakamura (Tanner 77′), Sasaki, Tomohiro, Tosi, Valastro (Carluccio 86′), Quigley
Substitutes not used: Andricopoulos, Nascimben
Yellow cards: Da Silva 20′, Long 75′
3 – Kieren Paull (MU)
2 – Tonu Liiband (MU)
1 – Carlos Saliadarre (BS)