A new-look Wollongong Wolves kicked off their 2019 National Premier League NSW Men’s campaign off in the best possible way with a 2-1 win over Manly United at Albert Butler Memorial Park on Sunday.
In coach Luke Wilkshire’s first competitive game in the Wollongong dugout, the Wolves netted all three points thanks to goals from Thomas James and Jordan Nikolovski, while an early goal of the season contender from Manly’s Sam Gallagher gave the travelling fans something to cheer for.
The Wolves dominated the opening motions of the match, with Japanese import Takeru Okada creating numerous chances for the hosts to take the lead through a number of free-kicks outside the Manly box, but the visitors showed resilience in their defence, limiting the Wolves’ chances to loose headers and efforts from outside the box.
However, Wollongong finally found themselves on the scoresheet in the 34th minute, after another dangerous play down the left side of the field from Okada allowed the Japanese debutant to send in a pinpoint ball to an incoming Thomas James. James was able to make the most of the loose ball in the box, tapping the ball past Manly’s Dylan Mitchell and netting the first goal of the 2019 National Premier League NSW Men’s competition.
Things continued to run against Manly in the 41st minute when a knock to the head of Dom Ferguson forced the Manly midfielder off the field early, with the side having to change their formation to adapt to the situation.
As the second half got underway, both sides began to tire due to the warm weather, but Wollongong almost managed to double their advantage in the 55th minute through Lachlan Scott, with the former Western Sydney Wanderer managing to dig the ball out of a tough challenge and fire a curling effort at goal that required a top-drawer save from Mitchell to deny the Wolves striker and tip the ball over the bar.
Despite struggling to create many meaningful chances for most of the match, the visitors were unwilling to call the match quits and in the 72nd minute their persistence was rewarded with a stunner of a strike from Manly’s Sam Gallagher. The Manly defender fired a powerful effort goalward from over 30 yards out and the shot managed to weave its way past a leaping Justin Pasfield and bury itself in the top left corner to level the scores and give Gallagher an early contender for the goal of the season.
However, the score remained level for only two minutes, with the Wolves quickly retaking the lead after a great show of control from Harry Callahan allowed him to retain the ball in the Manly box and lay the ball off to a waiting Jordan Nikolovski, who calmly slotted the ball into the bottom left corner and restored the hosts lead.
A tense final period ensued with Manly attempting to throw everything they had at the Wolves to try and secure a point, but the hosts managed to stay firm and secure a winning start to their 2019 campaign.
Wollongong coach Luke Wilkshire was pleased with the effort shown by his squad to secure the win, noting the strength shown by several Wollongong debutants.
“The reaction from the boys to come back and get the second goal was fantastic,” he said.
“We want to win and at home, especially with the first game of the season, it’s important.
“I think there was probably around six or seven players who had never played at this level who were starting for us and I thought they were fantastic, they took it in their stride and we played some fantastic football and created numerous opportunities.”
Meanwhile, Manly coach Paul Dee was disappointed by the final result, but took solace in how his team came out firing in the second half.
“We had an unfortunate concussion that forced a bit of a structural change for us, but I think the response after the first half, we were disappointed and tried to change a few things at half time and I think the response that they came out with in the second half was quite good,” he said.
“We came down here with a game plan to win, but Wollongong did really well. I think, if I look at their side and some of the new talent they have brought in, I think they are gonna be a handful for teams.”
The Wolves will be hoping their winning start to the season continues when they travel to face last season’s runners-up APIA Leichhardt Tigers next Sunday while Manly will play host to Sydney FC.
Wollongong Wolves 2 (Thomas James 34’, Jordan Nikolovski 74’)
Manly United 1 (Sam Gallagher 72’)
Sunday 10th March, 2019
Albert Butler Memorial Park, Kemblawarra
Assistant Referees: M. McOrist and N. Wotton
Fourth Official: B. Merchant
Wollongong Wolves: 1. Justin Pasfield, 2. Taylor McDonald, 4. Nikola Djordjevic, 6. Benjamin Tosi (10. Brendan Griffin 71’), 9. Thomas James, 11. Takeru Okada, 14. Harry Callahan (13. Stefan Dimoski 78’), 15. Nick Litter, 16. Guy Knight, 17. James Stojcevski, 24. Lachlan Scott (23. Jordan Nikolovski 63’)
Substitutes Not Used: 7. Christopher Price, 12. Luke Kairies (GK)
Yellow Cards: Thomas James 84’, Jordan Nikolovski 91’
Red Cards: Nil
Manly United: 1. Dylan Mitchell, 2. Kieren Paull, 4. Travis Oughtred, 5. Sam Gallagher, 6. Joseph Fox, 8. Dom Ferguson (3. Jamie Lobb 41’), 10. Brendan Cholakian, 11. Adam Parkhouse, 13. Scott Balderson (14. Dejan Pandurevic 72’), 17. Lewis Miccio, 22. Jamie Glover (9. Nikola Taneski 60’)
Substitutes Not Used: 18. Luca Kmet, 20. Sam Benton
Yellow Cards: Scott Balderson 50’, Sam Gallagher 61’
Red Cards: Ni
3 – Takeru Okada (Wollongong Wolves)
2 – Thomas James (Wollongong Wolves)
1 – Harry Callahan (Wollongong Wolves)
-By NPL NSW Reporter Cal Behrendt (Twitter handle @CalBehrendt)