A stunning first-half fightback has helped Sydney United 58 recover from two goals down and snatch a 2-2 draw from Marconi Stallions at Sydney United Sports Centre on Saturday night.
The intense local derby sprung into life in the opening minutes as Marconi quickly raced into a commanding position with early goals from Sean Rooney and Brandon Vella.
A cunning goal from Chris Payne then sparked a stunning revival which was completed by a stunning free kick from Panny Nikas on the half hour mark.
The hosts were then reduced to ten men after 60 minutes when United 58 captain Nick Stavroulakis saw red for a challenge on Peter Pelekanos.
The closing half hour was riddled with half chances yet neither side could muster a decider as the local derby ended with shared spoils.
Both sides went into the match in need of a lift with the coachless United 58 looking to shed their concerning inconsistency, while Marconi sought some good fortune from what has been an injury and suspension ravaged campaign.
While both Petar Markovic and Theo Kofinas were suspended for United 58 and Marconi respectively, there was a valuable return for the hosts with the enigmatic Nikas making his first start since April having returned from his Italian coaching journey.
Marconi came flying out of the blocks, threatening early with Rooney and Marko Jesic volleying over and side footing into the keeper’s arms respectively.
The pair then combined well to grab the early lead, with the latter delivering a tasty cross from the right flank for Rooney to head the ball back across goal and into the net.
The opening onslaught clearly rattled United 58, and the visitors took full advantage of their shell-shocked opponents to double their lead.
Jesic was the provider once again, cutting the ball inside for Vella who found time to take a touch in the box before belting the ball past Thomas Manos.
The second goal finally snapped United 58 out of lethargy and into action as they began to assert themselves on the ball in patient search of a route back into the match.
Payne found a path midway through the first half, albeit through unlikely circumstances as he caught Nenad Vekic dwelling on the ball, blocking his routine clearance before regathering the ball and calmly tucking it between the keeper’s legs; a complacent moment to forget for Vekic.
The next goal would be crucial, and both sides went close with Mateo Poljak and Stavroulakis narrowly missing at either end.
The hosts were livid not to have received a penalty on the half hour mark when Chris Nunes hauled Matt Sim to the turf as the playmaker charged into the box; the foul was adjudged to have occured on the box’s edge.
Fury rapidly evolved into joy as Nikas curled home a delightful strike from the tightest of angles to bring his side onto level terms.
Marconi did well to regain their composure, quelling their opponent’s momentum while also going close to retaking the lead with Eros Bergamin sending a rocket just wide of goal from 30 yards before the sides went level into the interval.
The hosts emerged from the sheds brightly with Jordan Roberts seeing his golden chance expertly blocked by Peter Pelekanos before a splendid corner from Nikas narrowly evaded Adrian Vlastelica’s outstretch foot at the far post.
Marconi successfully absorbed the period of pressure before creating some of their own as they produced a game changing minute of football just before the hour mark.
The moment that sparked it all came from Mateo Poljak, who expertly made space for himself on the edge of the box before cracking the ball against the post.
The effort instantly turned up the heat on United 58, who found themselves reduced to ten men moments later when Stavroulakis saw red for a challenge on Pelekanos, leaving the defender sprawled on the pitch and his side to battle out the remaining half hour with a numerical disadvantage.
While the tempo remained high, the dismissal pushed the goalmouth action out of the game as patient possession play descended into a direct game.
Marconi dominated on the ball, yet the hosts did brilliantly to limit them to half chances and keep their foothold in the match.
The closing minutes did bear late drama yet no decider as Nikas was booked for a dive in the box before substitute Patrick Antelmi fired the last kick of the ball over the crossbar.
Marconi Stallions coach Peter Tsekenis was happy with his side’s display, yet disappointed by the manner in which they let their opponents back into the match.
“I think we were in control of our destiny today,” said Tsekenis.
“I thought we totally outplayed them, played some really good football, and scored two really good goals.
“We loaded the gun, put it to our head, and played Russian roulette.
“We gave them the first goal with the keeper taking to long to clear it, it put them back in the game.
“Then in defending we gave away a free kick in a dangerous area, from which certain players in their team can hurt us with the set piece, and we got punished.
“They went to ten men and we still dominated, created some half chances, hit the post, and there were times there that we were our own worst enemy in making silly errors to let them back into the game.
“But if we keep playing like that and the boys put that effort in then I can’t see us losing another game.”
Sydney United 58 striker Chris Payne praised the character of his side as they turned a nightmare start into a hard earned draw.
“We definitely started slow,” explained Payne.
“You could tell by the early two goals.
“But we showed good character and we got ourselves back in the game.
“I’m always happy to score, but at the end of the day the goal is there for the team.
“Maybe in the end there we could have nabbed a win, but a point from that game, we’ll take it.”
Sydney United 58 2 (Chris Payne 21’, Panny Nikas 31’)
Marconi Stallions 2 (Sean Rooney 5’, Brandon Vella 9’)
Sunday 20th May, 2018
Sydney United Sports Centre, Edensor Park
Referee: K. Griffith-Jones
Assistants: D. Stack & J. Park
4th Official: M. Bailey
Sydney United 58: 21. Thomas Manos; 2. Cristian Gonzalez, 3. Jordan Roberts (9. Patrick Antelmi 73’), 4. Adrian Vlastelica, 6. Christopher Payne, 8. Matthew Sim (13. Sam Perre 86’), 11. Yianni Perkatis, 14. Nicholas Stavroulakis, 18. Glen Trifiro, 22. Yianni Fragogiannis, 23. Panagiotis Nikas
Substitutes not used: 1. John Hall, 16. Kyle Cimenti, 24. Anthony Trimboli
Yellow Cards: Glen Trifiro 23’, Panny Nikas 83’
Red Cards: Nick Stavroulakis 58’
Marconi Stallions: 1. Nenad Vekic; 5. Michael Beauchamp, 8. Sean Rooney, 10. Marko Jesic, 12. James Andrews (11. Judah Cleur 67’), 14. Peter Pelekanos, 15. Mateo Poljak, 19. Eros Bergamin, 22. Brandon Vella, 23. Christopher Nunes, 38. Yianni Nicolaou
Substitutes not used: 4. Troy Danaskos, 9. Shane Webb, 21. Kristian Sekutkoski, 61. Martin Fernandez
Yellow Cards: Christopher Nunes 30’
Red Cards: nil
Player Ratings have now been hidden due to the second half of the season commencing.
-By National Premier Leagues NSW reporter Michael Shoolman