A four goal haul from star striker Jordan Murray has helped APIA Leichhardt flex their Premiership muscles in a 6-2 domination of Sydney United 58 at Lambert Park on Sunday.
Murray, the National Premier Leagues NSW top scorer, extended his tally to 23 goals for the season with his prolific performance which included a hat trick inside the first half hour.
APIA blew their opposition away in the first half, with Murray’s hat trick giving the competition’s top side a comfortable lead by the 30 minute mark.
Tasuku Sekiya added two while Chris Payne pulled Sydney United back within three goals with a brace of his own, before Murray finally rounded out the scoring with the last kick of the game.
APIA go into the final two rounds in pole position at the top of the competition ladder but Sydney Olympic remain in striking distance, level on points and in second only due to their inferior goal difference.
The home side raced out of the blocks from the opening whistle and were unlucky not to have found an early goal.
Tiger’s defender Nathan Millgate should’ve forced a save from Thomas Manos when he met a deep free kick at the back post but could only skew his shot over the crossbar.
United 58’s Panny Nikas had an attempt of his own up the other end, going through on the left before stabbing his shot into the onrushing Ivan Necevski.
Neither side looked particularly in control when Murray decided to shift the match in APIA’s favour: played in by Sean Symons, the striker took the pass down at the top of the box and flicked a boot out to touch the ball past Manos and open the scoring.
Smelling blood in the water, APIA went for an early kill. Sekiya was tripped as he jinked into the box and the referee duly gave Murray the opportunity to double his side’s lead from the spot. From twelve yards out with only the keeper to beat, the only question was in which side of the net he’d bury his 21st goal of the season.
The visitors might’ve pulled one back when a corner dropped into a crowded six yard box and bounced past Necevski, but after checking with his assistant the referee went back on his original decision to allow the goal; the ball having come off a Sydney United hand.
APIA were in no mood to let their lead slip and continued to push hard for a third. It came just after the half hour mark, Murray tackling an oblivious Manos at the top of the box before scoring from a difficult angle into an empty net. He streaked away in front of a raucous crowd at Lambert Park to celebrate his hat trick, whipping his shirt off for a yellow card which he happily accepted.
Three minutes later goalscorer turned provider after his shot at Manos was followed by Sekiya, who swept the ball into the net to put APIA up by four.
Murray headed against the underside of the crossbar late in the half to nearly give them a fifth at the break, but there were no complaints from the APIA faithful with a 4-0 lead at halftime.
Sydney United 58 rallied in the opening exchanges of the second half but were punished for pushing forward when Sekiya added a fifth ten minutes after the restart, hitting a first-time shot past the keeper after Murray lost the ball between his feet at the edge of the six-yard box.
The visitors refused to give up in their search for a goal and found it in the 60th minute when Chris Payne received the ball at his feet in the area and turned before calmly passing his shot into the bottom corner, giving his side something of a consolation at 5-1.
Payne scored a second with a header at the back post to give the game a semblance of uncertainty a few minutes after his first, but both attacks slowed in the last half hour with the result rarely in doubt.
Murray shot straight at Manos after being played through by Sekiya but made up for that miss with the last kick of the game; skipping through one-on-one and dinking his finish over the onrushing keeper to put APIA in pole position heading into the last fortnight of the regular season.
With their star striker in this kind of form, few sides will want to take APIA on come finals time.
“He scores when he wants, Jordan Murray,” said APIA coach Billy McColl. “We had tough game in the FFA Cup – this win is down to the boys’ determination and our medical staff.”
“We had a game plan to win it in the first half. We knew that fatigue would come in after the game midweek in Melbourne, and they’re a good side, Sydney United. They were better in the second half, but we had it won by halftime. We showed tremendous fighting spirit.”
Miro Vlastelic praised his side for a much-improved second half performance after a difficult opening 45 minutes.
“We had to go out and show some character in the second half because games aren’t always over,” he said.
“Credit to our boys, we were the better team in patches in the second half. Credit to APIA too, they’re a good side and they punished us.
“We made some poor mistakes early on and we got punished for it. Once we started to chase the game, things started to open up for the opposition. That’s what happens, and we move on to next week.”