Wollongong Wolves have shaken off a luckless month of football to record a 1-0 win over Marconi Stallions at WIN Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
The victory was the Wolves first in their last six attempts, coming courtesy of Yuzo Tashiro’s early header which proved to be the decider in what was a tense battle.
With more frugality in front of goal Tashiro may well have gone home with the match ball, yet the early header was enough to see them past Marconi who had defender Theo Kofinas dismissed late on for a second yellow card.
The match marked Luke Wilkshire’s first home game for the Wolves since 1997, with the former Socceroo slotting into a holding midfield role within a new-look 3-5-2 formation for Jacob Timpano’s side.
Both teams went into the clash missing key men with the industrious Nick Montgomery out with a rib injury for Wolves while the suspended Sean O’Connell was missing for Marconi.
The match featured a tense midfield battle throughout, occasionally opening up for flurries of chances at each end as both sides went in search of much needed points.
After successfully defending the opening exchanges, Wolves had their first chance to threaten from a set piece after Takuya Nozawa was clattered in Marconi’s half.
The hosts took full advantage as Nozawa dusted himself off to float a free kick onto the head of Peter Simonoski; the striker’s flicked header found an unmarked Tashiro well placed at the far post to nod his side into an early lead.
The opener appeared to fill the hosts with confidence as they began to turn momentum in their favour and control the tempo of the match.
Opportunities in front of goal remained few and far between until late in the half when Marconi’s push for an equaliser opened up the match.
Marconi first threatened through Marko Jesic who headed his chance into Justin Pasfield’s safe hands before Sean Rooney flashed a free kick inches wide of goal from the edge of the box.
Steve Hayes then exploited the opening spaces at the other end with a brilliant ball through to Simonski.
The striker proceeded to smartly skip past Marconi custodian Nenad Vekic before veteran Michael Beauchamp recovered well to cut out the chance at the expense of a corner.
The ensuing delivery wreaked havoc in Marconi’s box as Chris Price and Darcy Madden both headed the ball against the crossbar before it was frantically cleared.
The visitors came close to drawing level with the last chance of the half, yet Judah Cleur’s curled effort from edge of box dipped a fraction late to find the roof of the net as Wolves held their slender advantage at the interval.
Wolves appeared hungry to cement their advantage after the restart, yet their opponents did well to ride out a continuous barrage of corners. A dangerous Simonoski volley was tipped over the crossbar before the striker and Kofinas both saw yellow for their roles in a brief melee.
Simonoski remained lively on the counter throughout the second half, testing Vekic from the edge of the box on the hour mark, while Cleur threatened at the other end. The winger created a chance for Jesic before firing wide himself midway through the second half.
Marconi held onto hope as Vekic produced a miraculous save to keep his side in the match when Tashiro looked beyond odds on to score.
The match began to open up once again late on as Marconi sought a route back into the match, yet optimism soon faded as Kofinas trudged down the tunnel for a marginally early shower after colliding with the Japanese forward to pick up his second booking of the afternoon.
Tashiro had his second golden opportunity to wrap up the match in the closing minutes when substitutes Brendan Griffin and Josh MacDonald combined to put him one-on-one with Vekic once again, yet the forward scuffed his finish wide of the post much to the disbelief of the spectators.
His duo of misses will however soon be long forgotten as Wolves rode out a heated closing to the match to secure their win since early April, pushing themselves back onto the cusp of the top five.
Jacob Timpano was pleased with the result having returned to the winners circle after such a tough run of results in recent weeks.
“We’ve deserved a lot more from the last five games where we’d come away with nothing,” said Timpano.
“I thought today we thoroughly deserved the three points and should have made it a lot more comfortable with the chances Yuzo (Tashiro) had.
“But that’s been the story of our year, we haven’t been able to put the ball in the back of the net.
“Today we only needed the one, I thought we defended very, very well, but should have had a couple more and won the game more comfortably than we did.”
Today’s result was perhaps sparked Timpano’s decision to change their formation to 3-5-2; a calculated risk the provided immediate dividends for the South Coast club.
“When you’re not winning games you’ve got to look at changing some things,” explained Timpano.
“We did that today and it worked, on another day it may not have.
“We go into each game preparing to detail and we thought today these changes would work, and it did.”
Peter Tsekenis was left understandably frustrated by the result with things similarly not falling his side’s way in recent matches.
“It was a tough game,” said Tsekenis.
“We copped an early a goal, a soft one in my opinion with the luck of a deflection with the guy waiting at the back stick unmarked.
“Then you’re chasing the game, and it took us twenty minutes to get back into the match.
“It was an arm-wrestle and when you’re chasing a game it’s frustrating, but it’s been like that all year.
“We just keep replacing bodies and losing bodies, today we picked up another red card, which for the second yellow I thought he (Kofinas) was hard done by as he came around from his blindside and ran into his arms.
“You cop that, and we had some chances to take one back, but didn’t have the quality to take the chance at that particular time.
“Confidence is not the best at the moment, we’ve just got to keep plugging away.”
The Stallions are for the first time in their history transitioning from the state’s second tier to the top flight, an opportunity which in itself presents challenges in terms of squad management.
“When you go from NPL 2 to NPL 1 it’s very hard to get a totally new squad,” explained Tsekenis.
“The way the team plays is already set up, and while we’ve got a very good squad, it’s just trying to get all the bodies ready at the same time in key areas, which we haven’t been able to do which is frustrating.
“No excuses though, we just have to keep working and things will turn.
“Some of those chances today these boys will usually put away; bread and butter.
“It’s just not falling for us but we’ll pick up and go for it again next week.”
Wollongong Wolves 1 (Yuzo Tashiro 11’)
Marconi Stallions 0
Sunday 20th May, 2018
WIN Stadium, Wollongong
Referee: B. Abraham
Assistant Referees: S. Edeling & N. Wotton
Fourth Official: A. Brett
Wollongong Wolves: 1. Justin Pasfield; 3. Darcy Madden, 4. Michael Robinson, 7. Chris Price, 9. Peter Simonoski (10. Joshua Macdonald 88’), 17. Ryan Ensor, 23. Steven Hayes (5. James Baldacchino 86’), 26. Luke Wilkshire, 28. Michael Stojanovski, 30. Yuzo Tashiro, 40. Takuya Nozawa (8. Brendan Griffin 70’)
Substitutes not used: 15. James Markovic, 16. Luke Kairies
Yellow Cards: Peter Simonoski 50’
Red Cards: nil
Marconi Stallions: 1. Nenad Vekic; 5. Michael Beauchamp, 8. Sean Rooney, 10. Marko Jesic, 11. Judah Cleur (61. Lachlan Sepping 86’), 12. James Andrews, 14. Peter Pelekanos (2. Braden Cheng 78’), 17.Theo Kofinas, 19. Eros Bergamin, 22. Brandon Vella, 23. Christopher Nunes
Substitutes not used: 4. Troy Danaskos, 21. Kristian Sekutkoski, 38. Yianni Nicolaou
Yellow Cards: Christopher Nunes 26’, Theo Kofinas 50’
Red Cards: Theo Kofinas 89’
3 – Michael Robinson (WW)
2 – Christopher Nunes (MS)
1 – Peter Simonoski (WW)
-By National Premier Leagues NSW Mens reporter Michael Shoolman