Substitute Dimitri Hatzimouratis was Sydney Olympic FC’s savior with a late, late winner for his side, which will prove crucial to its chances of finals football this season.
Olympic found itself 2-0 down after 44 minutes to two stunning goals from Blacktown Spartans’ Jordan Crighton and then Mitchell Long but completed a remarkable comeback thereafter to seal three massive points.
Go Shirai pulled one goal back immediately after Long’s long-bomb put the Spartans 2-0 up with the last kick of the first half, pre-empting the huge second half that was to come.
Olympic started the game as it finished it – on top.
But despite Olympic’s dominance, the Spartans defence, skippered magnificently by former Central Coast Mariner Hayden Morton, restricted the likes of William Angel and Harris Gaitatzis to speculative long-range efforts.
At the other end, the Spartans were much more efficient and with their first real chance of the game after 20 minutes went 1-0 up.
A fantastic run from Shu Sasaki opened up a little lane for Crighton who received the ball at a seemingly impossibly tight angle, only to open his body up and curl the ball into the back of the net via the far post past a helpless Paul Henderson.
The goal sparked a strong period of play from the Spartans who looked to be getting the better of a shell-shocked Olympic which struggled to effectively penetrate the Blacktown defence.
After 44 minutes, Olympics need for goals became even more urgent after a superb strike from Long found the back of the net from just outside the box.
A superb cut-back from Crighton made its way to the top of the box where Long, in the midst of an all-action first-half performance, was lurking and the midfield man made no mistake with his first time strike flying past Henderson.
Ironically, the goal worked in Olympic’s favour more than anything.
With the comfort of a 2-0 lead and half-time seemingly seconds away, the Spartans seemingly lost their concentration and Olympic did not need a second invitation.
A sublime ball from midfield found a little gap in the Blacktown defence which Shirai exploited brilliantly, running on to the ball and supplying the coolest of finishes to slip the ball under Carlos Saliadarre with quite literally the final kick of the game.
Olympic restarted the game every bit as emphatically.
In fact, it took just three minutes of the second half for the home side – which was playing the fixture at Lambert Park – to level the scores.
Michael Gaitatzis got the goal with a fine close-range finish after Angel’s cross from the left wing was headed back into a dangerous area where Gaitatzis waited poised for the strike, smashing the ball home.
With the scores level and so much on the line for both sides – a win would have been every bit as important for the Spartans as it was for Olympic – the physicality of the game stepped up to another level.
There was nothing malicious, but before the end of the game the referee’s notebook would feature seven names – five from the Spartans and two from Olympic – as both sides fought hard for a winner.
Shirai almost scored his second after 76 minutes when he was fund brilliantly by a low, driven Angel cross, but Saliadarre spectacularly saved his sliding effort.
The chance was reflective of Olympic’s dominance of the second half, but they would not have to wait too much longer for a winner.
Angel was the supplier again when in the 88th minute he drove in another fantastic low cross to the near post when he found the sliding Hatzimouratis who got the crucial touch to turn the ball into the back of the net and secure the three points.
Olympic coach Grant Lee was delighted with the response from his side.
“It’s such a massive game. At this stage of the season the hardest games are the teams from the beneath us because they’re all fighting for finals,” Lee said.
“They’re harder than playing the top teams. It’s a World Cup for these guys, they want to beat us and that makes it hard.
“Even at 2-0 down I thought we’d dominated the game before their goals and they’d struggled to get a touch or get a shot and they’ve scored two goals from three shots on goal.
“The goals came from our own ball watching and maybe being a bit lazy, rather than concentrating, but good luck to them. They pushed us, but we’re happy with the win because we’ve needed this win after a soft period for the last four or six weeks.”
Spartans coach Ben De Haan said the loss was not the end of his side’s finals aspirations, but said there was no denying it was a big missed opportunity.
“Definitely a missed opportunity for us, and there were some key moments that turned it,” De Haan said.
“Coming into the last couple of games we’ve got the top four or five teams barring our catch-up game against Parramatta so it’s a good appetiser for us to see where we’re at.
“We were better at times tonight and then they were better, but the concession of the goal right on half-time was key.
“That’s a poor lapse of concentration and a quality side puts you away under that pressure.
“Every game is important now. Everyone is playing for something at this stage, be it staving off relegation or finals, so we have to step up and get the points we need.”
Sydney Olympic FC 3 (Shirai 45’, M. Gaitzatzis 48’, Hatzimouratis 88’)
Blacktown Spartans 2 (Crighton 20’, Long 44’)
Sunday July 26, 2015
Referee: Kurt Ams
Assistant Referees: Mitchell Clark and Adam Weir
Fourth Official: Jordan Lake
Sydney Olympic FC: Henderson, Sorge, Hooper, Keir (Madonis 55’), Danaskos, Angel, H. Gaitatzis (Balderson 82’), M Gaitatzis (Hatzimouratis 70’), Shirai, Soeda, Markovic
Substitutes not used: Dimitrakis, Duncan
Yellow Cards: Danaskos 63’, Hooper 74
Blacktown Spartans: Salidarre, Crighton, Da Silva (Enwiya 77’), Kondek, Long, Morton, Nakamura, Quigley, Sasaki, Tanner, Tomohiro
Substitutes not used: Irwin, Nascimben, Andricopoulos, Agathos
Yellow Cards: Long 14’, Tanner 75’, Kondek 87’, Morton 88’, Enwiya 90’
-By Matthew Galea, National Premier Leagues NSW Men’s 1 Editor, at Lambert Park