A gelid evening at Melita Stadium matched up Parramatta FC against Blacktown Spartans in their Round 18 catch-up game in a match that had a considerable meaning for both in pursuit of points, top five and relegation battles.
So it came as no surprise at the end of 90 minutes that two exhausted teams were unable to break the deadlock in a scoreless draw.
The nerves were apparent from the outset with the kick-off retaken twice before the game got underway however Parramatta fashioned a chance for Marco Sama from a Daniel Rezo cross in the 2nd minute that whistled over the bar.
The Spartans were caught on their heels.
Joshua Gersbach skied one from the edge of the area shortly after as the home side exploited the early space in the Blacktown defence.
The Eagles were certainly having the lions share of the ball and created several half-chances in the opening spell while the visitors didn’t muster a worthwhile attempt on goal, with a Greg Kondek free-kick that looped way over the bar in the 14th minute.
With so much at stake it was always going to be a tense affair and so it was proving in a hotly contested midfield where the phrase ‘hard but fair’ was most apt.
Steven Wright, as expected, was winning the aerial battles against the diminutive Spartans striker Shu Sasaki as the ball was played long leaving the lanky defender to mop us easily at the back.
The Spartans were finding it difficult to counter the home side and were almost undone when Shayne Ardle beat the offside trap and centred for Sama whose curling left-foot shot had Spartans goalkeeper Carlos Saliadarre at full stretch to his right to keep out in the 23rd minute.
Saliadarre was fearlessly down at the feet of Sama less than a minute later to snatch the ball when Ardle again set up the Eagles striker.
Futa Nakamura received the first caution for the visitors when lunging in on Wright in the 26th minute, catching the defender a nasty clip on the shin that was mistimed more than malicious yet deserving of the yellow card.
It wasn’t totally one-way traffic but Parramatta were certainly having the better of the game despite not creating the clear cut chances their dominant display probably should have and with the match scoreless the game was still finely balanced.
Blacktown hadn’t worked Luke Turnbull at the other end either.
The best move of the match came in the 38th minute when Blade Richards slipped the ball to Rezo who centred for Sama to head toward goal that was heading for just inside the post until an acrobatic save, again to the right, from skipper Saliadarre who tipped it around the post leaving Sama with his head in his hands.
Sasaki responded by blasting one over the top from distance with just five minutes remaining to the break and the game sparked into life.
Blacktown had difficulty coming to terms with the bumpy pitch but grew into the contest in the latter stages of the half but it remained goal-less going into the break.
It was a different Spartans who opened up after the break in showing more attacking prowess going forward and put the Eagles defence under pressure but again the finishing product was lacking compounded by the quality of final pass.
Turnbull was finally called into action twice in the 51st minute when first parrying a bullet header from Joshua Tanner and then beating out a thunderous shot from William Mutch in quick succession.
Ben De Haan had seen enough and replaced Mutch in the 63rd minute with Joshua Da Silva in an attempt to shake things up and change the point of attack for Blacktown.
The reply was rapid as John Tsironis took the field to replace Gersbach for Parramatta two minutes later.
Turnbull had to be sharp once more in the 68th minute to block a Jordan Crighton attack as the Spartans surged forward and looked a certainty to open the scoring but for his standing up to thwart the young striker.
Eagles substitute Tsironis should have found the net immediately from a Rezo corner that had power but lacked direction and the match was shaping up nicely for a climatic finish.
Blacktown was now creating the chances but spurning them with indecent regularity and finding Turnbull in sparkling form when on target.
Ardle brought the best out of Saliadarre in one of Parramatta’s increasingly rare forays forward having been forced into the counter attack, the ball falling unkindly for the home side and eventually cleared from the box.
The ‘what we have, we hold’ mentality held no sway from the combatants as each pushed for the goal and the three points on offer, the intensity upped in the latter stages in erratic fashion more akin to harem-scarem than controlled football. It was, however, very entertaining.
Nakamura believed he had broken the deadlock in the 82nd minute when Crighton miskicked the ball straight to the striker in space inside the area and as the net rippled there was little celebration before the crowd realised it had come back off the rear fence into the net and the shot has snuck past the upright.
To be fair, the ball came quickly to the striker and it was a reaction spin and shot.
With the last throw of the die Eagles’ coach Frank Consentino replaced Sama with Frank Martey but with only a couple of minutes plus stoppage to go it was all too much to expect a difference to be made although he did muster a header on target that Saliadarre plucked from the air with ease in the 90th minute.
And so it proved with a scoreless draw the final result leaving the Parramatta supremo to ponder what might have been.
“It was literally a game of two halves where we dominated the first and they came back at us in the second,” said Consentino.
“If we had taken out chances and gone into the break one or two up its a different game but to their credit we knew they would hang in there and (Luke) Turnbull had to make a couple of good saves but overall I felt we created the better chances but couldn’t put one away.
“I can’t complain with the draw I think its pretty much a fair result and I cant complain about the effort from the boys who have really been putting in over the last 6-7 weeks or more but its been the story of our year.
“We don’t capitalise on our possession and a lot of times we’ve been punished late on by the odd goal.
“Its a learning curve and I suppose that’s what happens first year up and we’ve pretty much got a young inexperienced squad at this level and they’re learning everyday and I’m not disappointed in what they’ve shown and we can build on that experience in whatever lies ahead for us.”
A very dejected Ben De Haan struggled to hide his disappointment when speaking at the final whistle.
“Missed opportunities, that’s what killed us at the end of the day. We were a bit flat and how we didn’t get more from the game I’m not sure. But that’s the way it goes some days and the heavy pitch probably hurt us the most I would say,” De Haan said.
“I won’t say the result finishes our season but its out of our own hands now and we need to rely on other results going our way but with Blacktown City and APIA as out last two fixtures it’s a big ask from here.
“The draw doesn’t do us any good and it leaves us back in the chasing pack and with no disrespect to Parramatta, if we don’t win these games you’re not going to win any.
Parramatta FC 0
Blacktown Spartans 0
Wednesday 5th August, 2015
Referee: Michael Weiner
Assistant Referees: Danny Horstead & Joon park
Fourth Official: Tim Danaskos
Parramatta FC: Turnbull, Speranza, Wright, Gatt ©, Clowes, Rezo, Sama (Martey 88), Tayebi, Gersbach (Tsironis 65), Gullo.Dv, Richards, Ardle (Gullo.Dn 80’)
Substitutes Not Used: Grima, Mallet
Blacktown Spartans: Saliadarre ©, Tomohiro, Kondek, Sasaki, Nakamura, Crighton, Quigley, Tanner, Morton, Dukic, Mutch (Da Silva63’)
Substitutes Not Used: Valestro, Enwiya, Dileo, Nascimben
Yellow Cards: Nakamura 26’