Manly United held off a gallant Sydney FC side to secure a priceless 1-0 victory at Cromer Park on Wednesday night.
A Brendan Cholakian header inside the opening half an hour proved decisive in what was a tight tactical battle.
The visitors had their opportunities, but were denied by a couple of trademark Dylan Mitchell saves.
It was the victory the defending Champions were craving, having failed to secure maximum returns on their previous six outings.
However they were made to work for it by a stubborn Sydney FC outfit, who had only returned from the Free Trade Port International Football Tournament in Haikou City, China on Tuesday morning.
Manly looked intent on turning around their recent fortunes from onset, troubling Duro Dragicevic early.
The Sydney gloveman was up to the task after eleven minutes, keeping out Dylan Macallister’s forceful header with a strong palm.
After a few more half-chances for the hosts, the visitors began to edge their way into the contest.
On 28 minutes, Jerry Skotadis’ low drive was tapped via the post to safety by Mitchell.
But within 60 seconds, they were to fall behind.
Manly showcased their attacking pedigree in a rapid counter-attack, with the ball falling to danger man Scott Balderson.
The winger cut inside onto his left foot, and unleashed a shot-cum-cross which fell for Brendan Cholakian; Manly’s number ten making no mistake to nod home from close range.
Despite the setback, the Sky Blues looked confident in possession, and enjoyed lengthy spells in opposition territory.
With two minutes remaining in the half, Jerry Skotadis broke down the left before delivering a cut back inside the six yard box into the path of Jeremy Cox.
However Sydney’s top scorer could not add to his tally of eight for the season, denied miraculously by Dylan Mitchell.
The second half saw Manly dictate the tempo of the performance, in an attempt to take advantage of their fatiguing opponents.
Two golden opportunities in the 66th and 67th minutes respectively.
First, a long-range Scott Balderson free kick which looked destined to nestle in the top right corner was saved by Dragicevic.
Then, Brendan Cholakian was inches away from securing a brace as his venomous strike soared centimetres wide.
As Manly looked to have pragmatically closed out the contest, there was almost time for one last shock.
With three minutes of regulation time remaining, the ball fell to Brendan Curtis, who sent an effort that had Mitchell scrambling to cover his bottom left corner.
However the ball rolled agonisingly wide of the post, allowing for the Cromer Park faithful to breath a collective sigh of relief.
In the end, despite pushing the defending Champions all the way, Sydney FC were provided no reward for their efforts.
Their opponents, however, will look to use the result to launch an unlikely assault at finals football, with a margin of five points to make up with four rounds remaining.
Sydney FC boss Rob Stanton was content with his side’s performance considering the circumstances:
“I didn’t think we looked that tired considering that was our third game in five days and thirteen hours of travel with just a day to recover,” he said.
“I thought the performance in the first half was very good and the second half we didn’t create anywhere near as much.
“As far as performance goes, our build up was good, but in the front third we didn’t have that killer instinct and a mistake cost us.
“They took their chance and in the end it was down to that one goal.
“Credit to Manly, obviously it is desperate times with everyone trying to stay up in NPL 1. We are right in a battle with a few other clubs, but I am confident with the boys we have we can keep progressing.
“It was always going to be difficult considering our trip, but I was really happy with the boys’ performance.”
Paul Dee, on the other hand, was rightfully satisfied with his side’s second home win of the season.
“That is a good grafting win because we were not at our best in the first half, but we still went into the break with a lead. And then we improved our game in the second half.
“In saying that, we have been in games where we dominated games more than that, and come away with nothing.“Today we worked hard and got the win.
“Credit to Robbie (Stanton) and his team, they are a very organised and capable team. They deserve a lot of credit for the style of football that they play.
“We are very happy to take away three points from that game.”
Manly United 1 (Cholakian 29’)
Sydney FC 0
Wednesday 11th of July (Was scheduled for Saturday June 24, 2018) – Cromer Park, Dee Why
Referee: Michael Weiner
Assistant Referees: Lance Greenshields, Raymond Osborne
Fourth Official: Sebastian Brennan
Manly United: 1. Dylan Mitchell, 2. Kieren Paull, 4. Travis Oughtred, 5. Sam Wilson (3. Jamie Lobb 69’), 6. Dominic Ferguson, 8. Sasa Macura, 9. Dylan Macallister (17. Gianni Stensness 82’), 10. Brendan Cholakian, 12. Leigh Egger, 13. Scott Balderson, 14. Mitchell Rooke (23. Daniel Alessi 36’)
Substitutes Not Used: 20. Shaun Catlin 11. Nikola Taneski
Yellow Cards: Sasa Macura 43’, Scott Balderson 90’, Sam Wilson 90+2’
Red Cards: Nil
Sydney FC: 30. Duro Dragicevic, 2. Brendan Curtis (14. Joel King 66’), 3. Patrick Flottmann, 4. Jackson Bandiera, 6. Andreas Agamemnonos, 7. Jerry Skotadis, 8. Sam Mcillhatton, 9. Daniel Maskin (13. Jordan Swibel 79’), 10. Cameron Devlin, 15. Jeremy Cox (11. Marx Tilio 69’), 16. William Mutch
Substitutes not used: 1. Mitchell Evans, 5. Harry Van Der Saag
Yellow Cards: Sam Mcillhatton 77’
Red Cards: Nil
– By NPL NSW Men’s Reporter Chris Curulli