AFTER an impressive run of recent results, Manly United were walking on air heading into Sunday afternoon’s fixture versus Sydney Olympic FC at Cromer Park.
90 minutes later their feet were firmly planted back on the ground after they were beaten 2-0 by the former NSL giants.
Olympic coach Grant Lee raised a few eyebrows when he elected to bench former United midfielder Scott Balderson, but Lee later explained that he simply needed a rest.
In what was a lively opening, both teams displayed their attacking intent but were guilty of turning over the ball cheaply.
Adam Parkhouse was proving a real handful for the Olympic defenders with his surging runs down the left flank.
On 18′ minutes he whipped in a decent cross for Chris Payne, who couldn’t convert the half chance.
Three minutes later United supporters were on edge following a challenge between Kieren Paull and Paul Henderson.
The evergreen keeper appeared to come off second best, but was quickly back on his feet.
Referee Katie-Louise Patterson, who impressed from start to finish, felt a free kick was sufficient. Others controlling in the middle may have brandished a yellow card or even sent off Paull, so the relief was obvious.
With 25′ minutes showing on the scoreboard, Payne tested Henderson yet again, this time from 18 yards.
In hindsight, the striker should have passed, with Kiwi youth international Daniel Saric unmarked just metres away.
That man Payne couldn’t stay out of the game.
On 29′ minutes he turned Olympic defender Brendan Hooper inside out, but could only muster a tame effort which Henderson gobbled up.
Olympic then went close to scoring the first goal of the game.
A free kick then resulted in some frantic action in and around the 18 yard box. Eventually the loose ball fell to Hooper, whose drive towards goal was tipped over the crossbar by an alert Tonu Liiband.
Saric had decent efforts after 38′ and 42′ minutes, but both teams entered the sheds at halftime without a goal to show for their efforts.
With 49′ minutes played, Manly pin up boy Brendan Cholakian almost caught Henderson napping.
Showing brilliant close control, he skipped past a couple of defenders with ease before attempting to squeeze a shot past the one time Northern Spirit gloveman at his near post.
Henderson did just enough to keep the ball from trickling over the line, showing he still has the talent to hold his own at the elite level.
Moments later Brayden Sorge delivered a great cross from the right to the far post, but teammate Will Angel couldn’t connect with the inviting cross.
Lee threw Balderson on with 55′ minutes gone and Olympic instantly had more zip in the middle of the park.
It was almost inevitable the deadlock would soon be broken, and sure enough, striker Harris Gaitatzis stepped up for the visitors.
Latching on to a ball from Japanese import Taiga Soeda, the striker took a neat first touch and rolled the ball past Liiband.
Soeda then sealed the result on 82′ minutes.
A well worked set piece saw the diminutive midfielder curl the ball in the bottom right corner to give Olympic a two goal cushion.
Both squads then cleared their bench as the game drew to a finish, and with 89′ minutes played Henderson showed just how keen he was to leave the northern beaches with a clean sheet.
His reaction save to deny Payne from a corner was magnificent – in short, Henderson was a shot stopper inspired.
United boss Paul Dee felt his team should have been up at halftime.
"We are disappointed with the end result, I felt we did enough to get something out of the game,” he said.
"To Olympic’s credit, they reacted well after the break and took their chances."
Lee was content with his team’s hard fought victory and then revealed why Balderson was on the pine for close to an hour.
"Manly are always a tough team to play, they work hard,” he said.
Their recent results have shown what they are capable of.
"Scotty (Balderson) has played plenty of games the past few weeks, so I wanted to keep him fresh.
"The aim was rest him midweek from the Westfield FFA Cup, but one of the boys was injured early, so we threw Scott on.
"When he came on for us today he showed what he can do, he is a class player."
Sydney Olympic FC 2 (H Gaitatzis 70′, Soeda 82′)
Manly United 0
Sunday April 19, 2015
Cromer Park, Cromer
Referee: Katie-Louise Patterson
Assistant referees: Nick Backo, Timothy Danaskos
Fourth official: Karl Davies
Manly United FC: Liiband, Beuchat, (McDonald 65′) Bragg, Cholakian, Lobb, Oughtred, Parkhouse, (Kuleksi 83′) Paull, Payne, Williams, Saric (Castelnuovo 80′)
Substitutes not used: McLean, Catlin
Yellow cards: Cholakian 27′, Saric 79′
Sydney Olympic FC: Henderson, Angel, Egger, H Gaitatzis, (M Gaitatzis 86′) Hatzimouratis, (Balderson 55′) Hooper, Shirai, Soeda, Sorge, Spyrakis, (Markovic 86′) Tsattalios
Substitutes not used: Madonis, Sadaka
Yellow cards: Nil
3 – Paul Henderson (SO)
2 – Taiga Soeda (SO)
1 – Leigh Egger (SO)