THE competition’s top two teams came together and in the end the ladder leaders Blacktown City were probably lucky to take a point against a fired up APIA Leichhardt Tigers.
Most of the first half was played in the Blacktown City half, but they scored the opening goal against the run of play thanks to Mitchell Mallia.
APIA dominated the second half and equalised through the excellent Corey Biczo, and were it not for a startlingly good performance by Blacktown City keeper Nenad Vekic, APIA would have taken the points easily.
Vekic was on fire, a one man wall who repelled everything thrown at him.
Neither side was at full strength for this marquee clash. APIA was missing 20 goal marksman Blake Powell, who is on trial at the Wellington Phoenix, as well as the injured Brett Studman and Adam Griffiths. Marc Warren was pushed into service in the centre of defence to cover the absences of Studman and Griffiths.
Blacktown City had Patrick Antelmi and Yianni Fragogiannis suspended, so Danny Choi returned to the side with Travis Major pushing in the centre forward role, while Lewis Beumie deputised at right back.
APIA had the better of a cagey opening and Nathan Elasi, playing up front in Powell’s absence, lashed a shot which tested Nenad Vekic between the sticks.
Olsen looked like he would tap in the rebound, but Vekic made a remarkable save only to see the offside flag render it irrelevant.
Yianni Perkatis’ eyes lit up when he found space 30 yards out, but his shot was wayward and didn’t trouble Ryan Norval.
The match was bogged down in the midfield battle between Adrian Ucchino and David D’Apuzzo for APIA, against Conor Evans, Sasa Macura, and Perkatis for Blacktown City.
When Blacktown City next broke though, it was to devastating effect.
Mallia, on the right, cut inside onto his favoured left foot and left Michael West in his wake before thrashing his finish past Norval.
It was clinical from the Blacktown City attacker, who looks fully fit after some injury niggles earlier in the season, even if he was replaced just before the hour mark by the also fit-again Christos Tomaras.
A nasty head clash between Nathan Millgate and Giorgio Speranza saw the latter come off worse for wear, with a splash of claret on his white shirt.
Elasi was right in the thick of things and his flick header drew a splendid save from the athletic Vekic, who flew to his right to tip it away. Nick Olsen was the architect, playing a beautifully weighted ball in to the alert Elasi.
The APIA number 11 raced onto another Olsen through ball shortly before the break, but the danger was snuffed out by Blacktown City captain Zac Cairncross. He made up for his deficit in pace by reading the game astutely.
APIA came out for the second half intent on finding an equalising goal.
Blacktown City seemed content to sit deep and counter attack, using the pace of Danny Choi and Mallia to get in behind off Major’s flick ons.
D’Apuzzo had a glorious chance to level the score shortly after the interval break, but with only Vekic to beat he shot wide.
Elasi had another chance but he was foiled by the excellent Vekic. Elasi looked a player short on confidence, with only one goal to his name so far this season and Powell’s absence was, at that stage, sorely felt.
APIA were banging on the door and when the equaliser arrived it was both richly deserved and superbly executed.
Some neat interplay saw Corey Biczo with the ball at his feet on the left an when he cut inside, he beat three Blacktown City defenders before lashing his finish across Vekic and into the back of the net.
It was always going to take something special to beat Vekic, and it was.
The Blacktown City keeper wasn’t fazed though and kept turning out save after save.
With 20 minutes to go, a Millgate bullet header looked certain to find the back of the net, but Vekic reacted in an instant to push the ball out for a corner.
It was one way traffic, but Blacktown City could have stolen a goal when a poor West clearance dropped to Major, but he screwed his shot horribly wide.
It was an anomaly in a one-sided half, and APIA kept coming.
Biczo was having a field day on the APIA left and Beumie was eventually replaced by Jonathan Grozdanovski, with Major going back to where it all started, slotting in at right back.
It made little difference though as Biczo continued to run riot, with support from Franco Parisi. One Parisi nutmeg on Major was particularly delightful.
Blacktown City still had a threat on the break though, and when Choi out paced West, APIA hearts were in mouths, but Choi shot across goal and wide.
Vekic saved again from both Biczo and then from a late free kick by Sean Symons.
It was a point won for the visitors by their keeper, who was peerless on the night.
APIA Leichhardt Tigers 1 (Biczo 62′)
Blacktown City FC 1 (Mallia 21′)
Saturday June 27, 2015
Lambert Park, Leichhardt
Referee: Chris Young
Assistant referees: Andrej Giev and Scott Edeling
Fourth official: Karl Davies
APIA Leichhardt Tigers: Norval; Millgate, Warren, West (C), Symons; D’Apuzzo, Ucchino, Parisi, Olsen (Bartels 86′), Biczo, Elasi
Substitutes not used: Bazi, Rhodes, Kayes, Scott
Yellow cards: Warren 37′
Blacktown City FC: Vekic; Beumie, Cairncross (C), Lewis, Speranza, Evans, Perkatis, Macura, Choi, Mallia (Tomaras 58′), Major
Substitutes not used: Prendergast, Araujo, Grozdanovski, Perre, Tomaras
Yellow cards: Mallia 48′, Cairncross 69′, Lewis 90+3′
– by Matthew Lopez, PS4 National Premier Leagues NSW Men’s 1 Editor, at Lambert Park