Sydney Olympic stunned last season’s champions with a 2-1 win over Sutherland Sharks in the opening round of the 2019 National Premier Leagues NSW Men’s 20s. Wollongong, Blacktown City and Rockdale pulled off impressive wins to start their respective seasons, while Hakoah Sydney City East and Sydney FC shared the points at Hensley Athletic Field in a 1-1 draw.
Match of the Round:
Sydney Olympic 2-1 Sutherland Sharks, at Belmore Sports Park
Looking to defend their title in 2019, Sutherland Sharks began this season on the back foot. Going up an early goal through Thomas Papa, Sutherland were dealt a sucker punch a moment before halftime, then a hammer blow as Michael Gaitatzis scored the winner deep in the second half. Sydney Olympic can be delighted with three points against the reigning champions.
In a steaming heat in Belmore, the hosts dominated the early possession but struggled to capitalise.
It was Sutherland’s Finlay Hayhurst who had the first real chance of the game, taking the ball in his stride before swiping a low shot from distance which the keeper claimed easily on the ground.
Sharks took little time to settle on the ball after a few minutes under pressure, and won a free kick in a dangerous position early on after an attack was stopped short on the edge of the area. The effort from the set piece came crashing down off the crossbar, before an attempted Olympic clearance fell to Papa to drive into the net through a sea of bodies.
The visitors pressed for a second after the first half drinks break, with Matthew Taverniti proving a nuisance down the left as Sutherland looked to pull away.
They won another free kick deep in opposition territory which swung through a crowded Olympic penalty area before falling to a stretching Hayhurst, who couldn’t get a toe to the ball at the back post.
Olympic went up the other end almost immediately and had a terrific chance as Michael Gaitatzis took the ball in a pocket of space at the top of the box, before jinking inside his defender and curling the ball just wide of the near post.
Nick Dimovski would have been happy to take his team in at half time a goal to the good, but the hosts had other ideas, Dimitrios Petratos swinging in a free kick from the left for Ehiozee Ericson to nod home as he towered over his markers.
Sharks were eager to re-establish their lead after coming out in the second half, and Taverniti had a great chance to put his side back in front when he took the ball on the right of the penalty area but could only smash his shot against the crossbar.
Olympic took their game up a gear after the second drinks break of the match, and Gaitatzis toyed with his markers on the right flank as he drove his side forward. Ericson shot wide from a decent position on the left, and Genki Kohyama drove forward with purpose to win a free kick in a promising position, which Sutherland failed to properly clear. Alex Gollan broke through the penalty area and cut a ball back across goal for Gaitatzis, who placed the ball inside the back post to put the hosts into the lead.
It was a lead they held until the end of the match, closing out a deserved opening round win against one of the toughest sides in the competition. Jason Conroy was thrilled by his team’s reaction to going behind.
“I thought we played pretty good,” he said. “We started like a house on fire, but fell asleep and conceded a goal through poor defending.
“We scored a great goal just before halftime and came out a completely different side in the second half. In previous seasons we’ve usually started off pretty slow, so to beat Sutherland in the first game of the season gives us a real boost in confidence.
“It was a good team performance. I can’t wait for next week, we’ve got to do our homework on Mt Druitt now.”
Sharks Nick Dimovski was upbeat in spite of the result, and said he was eager to welcome back several injured players back to his squad over the next week.
“I was quite happy with the effort,” he said. “We dominated the first half and it should’ve been 2-0.”
“It hurt a little bit to concede just before halftime, and then there were encouraging signs in the second half before they went up the other end and scored. To win week in, week out, you’ve got to have a bit of luck, and the bounce of the ball went Olympic’s way.
“It’ll make a massive difference to have some of these guys next back week. Richie Stewart, Alexander Lopez – they’ll be back. Once I get them all back, there’ll be no excuses.”
Sydney Olympic 2 (Ericson 44’, Gaitatzis 77’)
Sutherland Sharks 1 (Papa 8’)
Sunday 10 March, 2019
Belmore Sports Ground, Belmore
Blacktown City 3-1 Mt Druitt Town Rangers, at Lily Homes Stadium
Mt Druitt were dealt a reality check by one of the competition’s most exciting sides, with Blacktown City running out winners by three goals to one in the first round of the 2019 season.
The visitors grabbed a goal in the second half to put themselves in contention, but they were seen off by a Blacktown side that will be eager to go one better in 2019. City finished first last year during the regular season, but fell out of the finals series in the third week to eventual champions Sutherland Sharks.
Wollongong Wolves 2-0 Manly United, at Albert Butler Memorial Park
Manly won this fixture 1-0 last season but it was Wollongong who began their season in style with a 2-0 win over the visitors, Bul Juach scoring a goal either side of halftime to claim all three points for his side.
The Wolves only barely made the five last season and with a win in the bag in the first round, should be hoping to make their run to the finals markedly more comfortable in 2019.
Hakoah Sydney City East 1-1 Sydney FC, at Hensley Athletic Field
Hakoah’s Neil Jablonski can be pleased with a point at home to Sydney FC after a “hectic preseason” which he described as more about recruitment than playing.
The two sides shared goals before halftime, with Jordan Koton netting for the hosts.
After taking a point against a side which only lost last year’s final on penalties, Hakoah will look to build towards a win next week.
Sydney United 58 0-1 Rockdale City Suns, at Sydney United Sports Centre
Rockdale snagged a goal midway through the second half to kick start their season into first gear with a win over Sydney United 58 in the first round of the 2019 season.
It was Rockdale’s young gun Alexander Fadel who proved to be the difference with his goal in steamy conditions in Sydney’s West.
The hosts will be disappointed to lost at home to last year’s wooden spooners, but will still believe they can maintain the form they displayed in last year’s campaign and claim a finals finish in 2019.
-By Max Grieve