APIA Leichhardt Tigers edged a tight match against Parramatta FC at Lambert Park on Sunday afternoon.
A late free kick from Adrian Ucchino sealed a 1-0 win and all three points to see APIA hold their place in second behind Blacktown City.
A tense opening few minutes eventually gave way to stretches of open and flowing football, though there seemed to be a concerted effort from both sides to keep defences tight and attacking options limited.
Despite the ball moving quickly through the midfield, through Franco Parisi for APIA and Marco Sama for Parramatta, the final pass in forward moves was too often wasted under pressure through aggressive defending.
APIA, particularly, looked to transition through the middle third of the field at speed, with Nicholas Olsen, David D’Apuzzo and Nathan Elasi dropping in and out of the frontline with relative ease as Franco Parisi dictated play in behind as the link between defence and attack.
It was the visitors, however, who had the first shot of the match, an optimistic strike from range from Sama that did little to trouble Ryan Norval in the APIA goal.
Though APIA was enjoying the bulk of possession in a fast-paced first half, Parramatta was not without its chances and might have opened the scoring just before the half hour mark when a Daniel Rezo corner was momentarily lost among the crowd at the near post, but an APIA defender lunged to clear before any Parramatta player could get a touch.
Both sides had their best chances to score just before halftime, with APIA going close in the 37th minute when Elasi hit a sweet volley after receiving a pass from Parisi at the top of the penalty area.
Luke Turnbull reacted well to tip the ball over the bar for a corner.
Minutes later, the visitors nearly scored themselves when Blade Richards skipped clear of his defender on the right flank and began bearing down on goal.
Cutting back inside after mixing up his feet at the edge of the area, he squeezed a shot through two defenders which Norval palmed towards Sama and Joshua Gersbach at the back post, but somehow neither man could turn the ball into the net, and APIA survived to head into halftime locked at 0-0.
APIA was on the front foot again after the break, and Parisi had a chance on goal four minutes into the half when D’Apuzzo crossed to the midfielder on the penalty spot, but he couldn’t get up high enough to make meaningful contact with his head.
Two minutes later, the home side came as close as they’d been to opening the scoring all afternoon.
D’Apuzzo again sent a cross in from the left, this time for Elasi, whose falling header looped up onto the crossbar, and out for a goalkick.
Momentum, now, was building in APIA’s favour.
Ucchino was next to try to finish an attack for APIA, picking up the ball from D’Apuzzo after clever hold-up play from Parisi on the edge of the box, but his shot towards Turnbull’s far post was deflected agonisingly wide by a desperate Parramatta defender.
Parramatta wasted a good opportunity as the game edged towards the final whistle, when Richards skinned his defender down the right and squared inside to Sama in the centre, but the pass was just behind the attacker, and the ball ran clean through for APIA to clear.
The visitors were made to rue their error soon after, when APIA was awarded a free kick a few metres out from the penalty box, not far from in line with the centre of the goal.
Backed by cries from his coach on the sideline – "If you feel good, take it!" – Ucchino stepped up and hit a swerving free kick that dipped low past Turnbull, and into the bottom left corner of the goal.
Parramatta launched a few long balls towards APIA’s goal with minutes ticking down but nothing stuck, and in his frustration, Joshua Symons earned himself two yellow cards in just over three minutes and was sent from the field in added time.
Norval hit a final goal kick forward over the midfield, and the referee called time; APIA 1-0 winners at the end of a charged 90 minutes.
APIA’s Rod Williams was understandably delighted with the result.
"I thought last week things didn’t go our way, but we kept the ball well today and we deserved the win,” Williams said.
“Parramatta deserve credit, they fought hard, and they gave us a stern test. In the end, we’ve come here tonight and done a great job, and we fully deserved the three points.
"The whole team worked well, from the goalkeeper down – Adam Griffiths was great tonight, Brett Studman, David D’Appuzo – and we played some great football. We’ve got such a great squad, and we think we can snap at Blacktown’s heels with a result like this."
Parramatta coach Franco Consentino praised his side’s battling performance, but rued some missed chances.
"We’re disappointed not to get something out of the game – the boys are really battling and I’m really proud of them, but we didn’t take our chances,” Consentino said.
"I thought it was a silly free kick call, but that happens. A team like APIA have a few stars and they can hurt you with one opportunity, and that’s what happened tonight."
APIA Leichhardt Tigers FC 1 (Ucchino 80′)
Parramatta FC 0
Sunday August 2, 2015
APIA Leichhardt Tigers FC: Bartels, D’Apuzzo, Elasi, Griffiths, Kayes (Symons 68′), Norval, Olsen, Parisi, Studman, Ucchino, West
Subs not used: Moore, Rhodes, Vlastelica, Van Den Berg
Parramatta FC: Turnbull, Ardle, Clowes, Gatt, Gersbach (Gullo 63′), Rezo (Vais 85′), Richards, Sama, Speranza, Symons, Tayebi
Subs not used: Martey, Wright, Tsironis
Yellow Cards: Clowes 70′, Ardle 81′, Symons 88′, 90′
Red Cards: Symons 90′