Cometh the man, cometh the hour, Sydney United 58 have once again been rescued by the individual brilliance of Panny Nikas who bagged two goals against a gritty Brisbane Strikers to gift the Reds a home tie in next weekend’s PS4 NPL Grand Final against Northern NSW’s Edgeworth Eagles.
The charismatic talisman stepped up and scored two goals in the second half after the Strikers hit the lead in the 36th minute courtesy of a Trent Clulow header in the opening half.
It came off the back of a memorable hat-trick by Nikas last weekend when Sydney United 58 downed Adelaide City 5-4 but once again raised the discussion why the star attacker has not been snapped up by Hyundai A-League club for the new season.
The game had a number of twists and turns as both teams showed their brilliance having provided some well-structured play throughout the course of the game.
The action kicked off as early as the second minute when Nikas hit a free-kick that sailed well over the bar after Strikers hard-man Greg Henslee fouled Glenn Trifiro just outside the box.
Henslee was then involved in the thick of the action as the big defender had the visitors first chance but he skewed his shot well over the bar in the 8th minute.
The home side thought they had their first goal on the eleven-minute mark and it was the deadly combination of Nikas and Trifiro who rallied, but the latter seeing his shot shade just wide of the post.
Four minutes later and Jake McLean broke clear after beating an offside call but his resulting shot failed to trouble Tom Manos.
Nikas again was involved in all the Reds attack and was gifted a great opportunity to open the scoring in the 34th minute when he received the ball and got behind two Strikers defenders only to see his attempted lob over Michael Weier bounce wide of the post.
With the Reds having most of the play and chances it was the Strikers who struck the first goal of the match against the run of play, much to the joy of visiting coach Kevin A’Herne Evans.
Japanese winger Hiroki Omori punched through a great cross to Clulow who rose above the United 58 defence and gave the Strikers a 1-0 lead in the 36th minute.
The home side were shell shocked and rallied instantly as Reds skipper Nick Stavroulakis saw his shot just miss the target after some great build up play by that man again, Nikas.
Half time approached and Mark Rudan’s men had it all to do in the second half as they went in search of their second PS4 NPL Finals trophy, one they took out in 2013 when they defeated South Hobart FC to lift the inaugural Cup in Tasmania.
The half-time talk sparked up the home side and on the 52nd mark they got their equaliser.
Japanese high flyer Yutaro Shin swung in a deadly cross inside the Strikers’ six-yard box only to have been partially cleared to the feet of Nikas.
With poise and calm, Nikas smacked home from close range and it was game on.
The pendulum looked to have swung the home side’s way but were dealt a huge blow when Yianni Fragogiannis was taken from the field a minute after with a suspected knee injury.
The ever reliable defender was on top of his game until that moment and the club will be hoping that Fragogiannis will be playing for the big finale against the Eagles next weekend.
With Jacob Tratt already signed to the Wellington Phoenix also, Rudan will be sweating on the fitness of his star defender.
Back to the match and the Strikers, who for the course of the match, were giving it their all, nearly hit the lead via Clulow in the 57th minute but Manos saved well.
Clulow went close again in the 63rd minute but it was the 71st minute that was the talk of the match as the home side took the lead courtesy of a thunderbolt from Nikas.
Asserting himself from a good 30-yards, Nikas lined up and smashed home a right foot bomb that hit the top right corner leaving Weier with no chance.
It was to be the winning goal as the game went the home team’s way and all but confirmed an intriguing PS4 NPL Finals Series Grand Final against Northern NSW Premiers Edgeworth Eagles next weekend.
Sydney United 58: 2 (Panni Nikas 51’ 71)
Brisbane Strikers: 1 (Trent Clulow 35’)
Referee: Adam Susz
Assistant Referees: Andrej Giev & Scott Edeling
Fourth Official: Samuel Grasso
Sydney United 58 FC: 21: MANOS Thomas, 2: VLISMAS Kristopher, 6: PAYNE Christopher, 7: SHIN Yutaro, 8: TRIANTIS Peter, 14: STAVROULAKIS Nick, 17: KOFINAS Theo (20: USKOK Tomislav 46’), 18: TRIFIRO Glen (10: MILESKI Robbie 80’), 19: BILIC Matthew, 20, 22: FRAGOGIANNIS YIANNI (3: MOCHIZUKI Masato 53’), 23: NIKAS Panagiotis
Substitutes Not Used: 11: TANESKI Nikola, 30: BABIC Luke
Cautions: Stavroulakis 69’, Mileski 91’
Brisbane Strikers: 20: WEIER Michael, 4: MARSHALL Jake, 5: HENSLEE Greg, 6: HILLS Fraser (PALMER Ryan 85), 8 ANGUS Michael ©, 12: CARLOS Shaun, 13: KNIGHT Sam, 14: MCLEAN Jake (7: SHERIFF Fraser), 17: OMORI Hiroki, 18: CLULOW Trent, 19: MARSH Luke
Substitutes Not Used: 1: USAU Sebastian, 21: JOHNSON Sam, 23: BALL Samuel
Cautions: Hills 56’, Omori 76