Lambert Park hosted a late contender for game of the season when APIA Leichhardt Tigers FC welcomed Blacktown Spartans FC.
An eight-goal thriller was there for all to see with Franco Parisi, David D’Apuzzo and Shu Sasaki each netting a double, in a match that provided plenty of goals and – in the end – a fair result for both teams.
Nathan Elasi forced goalkeeper Carlos Saliadarre into a beautiful save to turn the ball over the crossbar with a powerful drive after just five minutes.
It was an early indication of how the game would be played by both sides on such a splendid sunny afternoon.
Blacktown Spartans took the lead in the 13th minute when a pinpoint accurate cross from the right by Shu Sasaki reached William Mutch at the far post and his header gave the visitors the lead.
APIA Leichhardt equalized just three minutes later, when Franco Parisi drilled home from the edge of the box after Nicholas Olsen did some magnificent work down the left flank.
Shortly afterwards the mercurial Parisi almost doubled the score for the Tigers from the edge of the box when his delicately placed acute shot ended just over the crossbar.
In the 19th minute Parisi duly scored again as his free kick from the edge of the box went straight in off the post. It was vintage Parisi who, in the space of a few minutes, had completely turned the game on its head in favour of APIA Leichhardt.
In the 27th minute David D’Apuzzo scored APIA’s third goal when he charged through some wobbly defence and left Saliadarre beaten with his powerful finish. This was turning into a great game but there was certainly more to come before the half ended.
In the 31st minute Sasaki fed the ball through to Mutch but the Spartans goal-scorer couldn’t find the back of the net again as debutant goalkeeper Chris Moore pulled off a very good save to deny him.
Blacktown Spartans announced their return to the contest just three minutes later.
Joshua Da Silva let loose with a shot from some distance and found the back of the net. He celebrated Cristiano Ronaldo-style and deservedly so after such an effort.
APIA hit back in the 43rd minute to restore their two-goal advantage. Parisi threaded a wonderful ball through to David D’Apuzzo and he too scored his second goal of the game despite Saliadarre’s best efforts.
Early in the second half Blacktown Spartans tried to return to the contest when Xavier Quigley fired across the face of goal in the 52nd minute to no avail.
Shortly afterwards Elasi fired just over the crossbar for the Tigers when it appeared easier to hit the back of the net rather than the railway lines behind it.
In the 64th minute Sasaki scored from the penalty spot after Brad Bartels brought down Futa Nakamura and the referee had no hesitation in awarding the penalty.
The successful conversion from the spot, sending goalkeeper Moore the wrong way, brought Blacktown Spartans back into the game with a thud.
A free header from Nathan Millgate in the 72nd minute went dangerously close for the Tigers and almost immediately afterwards Parisi from close range brought out the best in Saliadarre.
In the 80th minute APIA should really have scored their fifth goal when Parisi set up Olsen who fired towards goal but despite beating Saliadarre, Luka Dukic cleared the ball off the line with a desperate effort.
Blacktown Spartans equalised in the 85th minute when an innocuous free-kick from Da Silva wobbled its way into the box and Sasaki had the final touch from close range.
APIA coach Rod Williams was disappointed with the result.
“We went out there with every intention of coming away with a win today,” he said.
“Look, full credit to Blacktown Spartans too because they have a certain match winner in Shu Sasaki who had a great game.
“We’ll be 100% for next week in the Finals Series against Bonnyrigg White Eagles. We know they are great side but we’ll have players coming back from injury and it augurs well for us going forward and vwe only played them a week ago.”
Over in the Blacktown Spartan room coach Ben DeHaan was upbeat even though his side was already out of contention for the Finals Series.
“We were always a chance and played for a win today,” he said.
“You might as well go out, make it interesting and play some good football.
“Today’s game is probably the story of our season. We finished there or thereabouts in the middle, so it’s probably a fair ending to our season.”
by Joe Russo, PS4 National Premier Leagues NSW Men’s 1 Reporter, at Lambert Park, Leichhardt.