It may have been Grand Final day in the Hyundai A-League but the team with the most ever Grand Final appearances was at Belmore Sports Ground as Sydney Olympic showed their prowess by defeating the Sutherland Sharks by 2-1.
Their opponents were gallant in defeat and certainly came back very strongly late in the game but, on the whole, were no match for the blue and white machine expertly assembled under the tutelage of the wily old fox Grant Lee.
The opening minutes provided a tight contest and it was not until the quarter-hour mark that a powerful shot from Will Angel was, very luckily for Sutherland, deviated away for a corner by a defender who didn’t really know too much about it. From the ensuing corner kick Brendan Hooper headed just centimetres over the crossbar.
In the 20th minute, after some nice lead-up play, Dimitri Hatzimouratis turned the ball just wide of the post.
Sutherland Sharks replied shortly afterwards with Bai Antoniou who didn’t miss the goal by much in what amounted to the first chance of the game for the visitors.
In the 26th minute from some distance, Scott Balderson thought that he would try his luck, but his powerful attempt finished just over the crossbar in what was a close call indeed for goalkeeper Nathan Denham.
Sydney Olympic broke the deadlock in the 30th minute when Hatzimouratis knocked the ball in from close range after receiving a beautiful cross from near the by-line by Nick Tsattalios and it was no more than Olympic deserved.
However, the goal was also thanks to a brilliant piece of refereeing from Kurt Ams who had just let play progress seconds earlier when Balderson was brought down in the box by Daniel Mitwali.
The last quarter hour of play in the first half was almost a carbon copy of the first 15 minutes: tight and closely marked by both teams.
The first half ended thus with Olympic going into the break with a narrow lead.
The second half started in much the same fashion as the first half finished and it was not until the 56th minute, when a dangerous cross from Sean O’Connell for the visitors floated wide, that the first real chance of the second stanza of play arrived.
In the 60th minute Hatzimouratis was brought down in the box by Nick Littler and referee Ams correctly awarded the penalty to the home side. It was Hatzimouratis himself who stepped up to the mark and made no mistake sending Denham the wrong way to give the home side a 2-0 lead.
Sydney Olympic in the 75th minute should really have scored their third goal and Hatzimouratis could well have scored his hat-trick when a beautiful cross from the left by Tsattalios reached him at the far post, but somehow he hesitated and failed to properly control the ball which then trickled wide by a very narrow margin.
It was a real let-off for the Sutherland Sharks who took full advantage and came home extremely strongly.
In the 77th minute they scored a goal to give the home side some real heart palpitations.
Nick Littler from distance blasted the ball home to beat all and sundry and it was now game on at Belmore.
Shortly afterwards, buoyed by their against-the-run-of-play goal, Sutherland Sharks almost equalised when Seongjin Park drove home powerfully but the experienced Paul Henderson between the posts for the home side neutralised.
Sydney Olympic came close to restoring their two-goal margin in the 84th minute when the livewire Go Shirai from the right almost brilliantly chipped the goalkeeper but somehow Denham at full stretch turned the ball over the crossbar for a corner.
In the 88th minute Perry Moustakas received the ball after a lovely cross from the right and, with a delightful flick-on header, almost equalised for the visitors except that Henderson turned the ball over the crossbar.
A late free-kick from Littler from outside the box finished just wide of the mark and, well into stoppage time, Jordan Figon fired over from very close range.
It was a grandstand finish as the Sutherland Sharks came home with the wind in their sails.
After the game Grant Lee, coach of Sydney Olympic, was pleased to get all the points and did acknowledge Sutherland’s late comeback.
“We did enough but we were a little bit flat because we had a heck of a run in what I believe was seven games in 21 days and this was the seventh,” he stated.
“You can imagine that the boys were a little bit flat. We did enough in the first half but we just didn’t have that urgency and intensity in our play.
“In the second half we stepped it up but it’s the old 2-0 score-line where if you are not burying them, you fall into that trap where if they get a goal you are under the pump a bit.
“We didn’t keep possession and we sat a little bit deeper and invited them on top of us, but credit to Sutherland as they put us under pressure. Hendo [Paul Henderson] made a couple of nice saves, but if you look at the whole context of the game and the opportunities that we had, then the game should have been out of reach before then.”
Over in the other dressing room Sutherland Sharks clipboard carrying boss Steve O’Connor was rather philosophical about the narrow defeat.
“It’s a young team and it’s a work-in-progress,” he said.
“We made so many silly mistakes: the penalty and then the stop for the first goal because we thought that he was offside.
“We came back and probably could have got a draw out of it at least, but we need to eliminate these errors and play consistently well.
“We have a decent side; a lot of the times we stayed with them and played reasonable and made it difficult for them. We had a couple of good chances towards the end that we should have put in but really it’s the mistakes that cost us.”
Sydney Olympic 2
(Hatzimouratis 30’, 61’ pen)
Sutherland Sharks 1
Sunday 17thth May
Belmore Sports Ground
Referee: Kurt Ams
Assistant Referees: Joon Park, Janush Adabjou
Fourth Official: Daniel Stack
Sydney Olympic: Henderson, Sorge, Hooper, Spyrakis, Angel (Keir 86’), Hatzimouratis, Balderson (M.Gaitatzis 70’), Markovic, Soeda, Go Shirai, Tsattalios.
Substitutes not used: Madonis, Sadaka, Egger
Yellow Cards: Balderson 50’, Keir 90’, M.Gatatzis 90’+2’
Red Cards: Ni
Sutherland Sharks: Denham, Tratt, Littler, Gordon, O’Connell, Figon, Antoniou, Caton (Devlin 84’), Mitwali, Moustakas, Loklingoy (Park 61’).
Substitutes not used: McKenzie, Depta, McStay
Yellow Cards: Littler 73’, Gordon 89’
Red Cards: Nil
3 – Dimitri Hatzimouratis (SO)
2 – Nick Tsattalios (SO)
1 – Nick Littler (SS)
-by Joe Russo, PS4 National Premier Leagues NSW Men’s 1 Reporter, at Belmore Sports Ground.