APIA Leichhardt Tigers fell to their first defeat of the season on Sunday afternoon as Wollongong Wolves’ Thomas James ran rampant on a slick surface at Lambert Park hitting a hat-trick with a 3-0 victory.
The hosts started slowly, and were ultimately undone by individual mistakes which were duly punished by a striker in form.
James opened the scoring midway through the first half, before adding a second and a third to complete his hat trick with twenty minutes remaining.
APIA pushed in the closing stages but couldn’t apply a finishing touch to encouraging build-up work, and are left with work to do at the end of the second week of the season.
APIA’s Chris Payne had the first shot of any real note after a tentative opening few minutes, with both sides struggling to find their rhythm in challenging conditions at Lambert Park.
The rain which had held up earlier in the afternoon returned soon after the first whistle, but didn’t prevent Payne from slipping through on the left flank before hitting a curling ball towards the inside corner for Justin Pasfield to claw away.
Payne was given another opportunity to open the scoring a moment later when he was played through the middle by Sam Mcillhatton, but the forward was held up and closed down by good pressure from the visitors.
A clever pass from the midfield suddenly had Wollongong clean through on goal, with Thomas James drifting between two defenders before taking a touch around the onrushing Ivan Necevski to give himself a clean shot at the lead.
His side trailing, Corey Biczo might have helped pull a goal back for APIA when he slalomed down the right wing before touching the ball across the face of the goal, but Wollongong were able to clear for a corner.
The visitors had two terrific chances to push further in front with a second goal before the break; Takeru Okada drawing a sharp save from Necevski after good work from James, and James snapping a volley over the crossbar after a blocked Okada shot bounced his way.
APIA showed little intention to take the fight to their opponents in the second half, and soon found themselves behind by two when James nicked the ball from a clumsy Themba Muata-Marlow, before driving a shot past Necevski to double his tally for the afternoon.
Biczo let fly after a strong run down the right, but his wayward shot seemed to sum up a frustrating outing for the home side. With twenty minutes remaining, Okada pushed across the top of the box and cut a ball back for James, who swiped a first time finish under the goalkeeper.
APIA took control of the ball for a fifteen minute spell at the end of the half, and might’ve scored a late consolation goal but Mcillhatton could only mishit his volley in space at the back post.
By the final whistle, they might’ve considered themselves lucky to have got away with a 3-0 defeat; Stefan Dimoski closed down by Necevski before Brendan Griffin hit the post in added time.
A lacklustre display had APIA’s John Calleja shaking his head at the final whistle.
“We started poorly, made too many silly errors, had no cohesion going forward, our defensive shape was all over the shop,” he said.
“It was a performance I can’t put my finger on at the moment.
“Is it hunger? Is it desire? Did we think we were better than what we were? We know Wollongong are a tough side, we talked about that.
“We were out-enthused, they were first to every ball. They wanted it more and they got what they deserved.”
Wollongong’s Luke Wilkshire was pleased with his team’s performance, and another three points in 2019.
“I’ve got no complaints winning three-nil away from home,” he said.
“It’s not easy. I had people telling me that Wollongong don’t win away from home, but I think we’ve shown that we can.
“I’m excited about this group of players and it’s a tough place to come, so to pick up all three points is fantastic.”
APIA-Leichhardt Tigers 0
Wollongong Wolves 3 (James 20’, 56’, 69’)
Sunday 17th March, 2019
Lambert Park, Leichhardt
Referee: Michael Weiner
Assistant Referees: S. Edeling, M. Price
Fourth Official: M. Riedy
APIA-Leichhardt Tigers: 8. BICZO Corey, 7. DIAZ Tynan, 14. HUGHES Lachlan (18. UCCHINO Adrian), 21. KOUTA Michael, 12. MCILLHATTON Sam, 15. MUATA-MARLOW Themba, 1. NECEVSKI Ivan, 10. PARISI Franco (13. D’APUZZO David), 6. PAYNE Christopher, 4. SYMONS Joshua, 16. SYMONS Sean
Substitutes Not Used: 17. GULISANO Samuel, 19. NASRABADI Dominion, 22. TUXFORD Blake
Yellow Cards: Joshua Symons 61’, David D’Apuzzo 68’
Red Cards: Nil
Wollongong Wolves: 14. CALLAHAN Harry (23. KOLOVSKI Jordan), 4. DJORDEVIC Nikola, 9. JAMES Thomas, 16. KNIGHT Guy, 15. LITTLER Nick, 2. MCDONALD Taylor, 11. OKADA Takeru, 1. PASFIELD Justin, 24. SCOTT Lachlan (13. DIMOSKI Stefan), 17. STOJCEVSKI James, 6. TOSI Benjamin (10. GRIFFIN Brendan)
Substitutes Not Used: 12. KAIRIES Luke, 7. PRICE Christopher
Yellow Cards: James Stojcevski 83’
Red Cards: Nil
3 – Thomas James (WW)
2 – Takeru Okada (WW)
1 – Harry Callahan (WW)
-By Max Grieve