Manly United laboured their way to a valuable 1-0 victory over a fast-finishing Blacktown City at Cromer Park on Sunday afternoon.
The match’s sole strike arrived just prior to the hour mark, as Adam Parkhouse pirouetted inside the penalty area and clinically tucked the ball home past Tristan Prendergast.
However, the vocal Northern Beaches crowd were forced to endure a nail-biting finale, as the visitors heaped on the pressure in spades.
But Manly’s ever-reliable shot-stopper Dylan Mitchell was up to the task time and time again, producing a hatfull of remarkable saves to secure himself a treasured maiden clean sheet for the campaign.
The first period shaped as a high-tempo arm-wrestle, with both sides only able to forge to half-chances at best for the majority.
The clearest sight on goal arrived mid-way through the half, as Grant Lynch rose highest to powerfully nod a corner goalward.
However he was denied by a strong Dylan Mitchell palm: something that was to become a frequently recurring sight later on.
The hosts flew out of the blocks in the second half.
Last weekend’s hero Brendan Cholakian saw his 51st minute volley trickle agonisingly wide, before a threatening Sam Gallagher header provided Prendergast with his first real test 5 minutes later.
The custodian stood strong on that occasion, but was rendered powerless soon after.
The 59th minute saw Manly striker Scott Balderson released by Cholakian into a pocket of space in behind the Blacktown back four, allowing for him to offer an early cross-field ball in the direction of Parkhouse.
Whilst the delivery initially appeared to be slightly under-hit, a mix up in the Blacktown penalty area would prove costly.
The former A-League winger Parkhouse could not believe his luck as he gathered possession outside the six-yard box, and on the half-turn converted his second goal in as many games.
Manly appeared content with their single goal advantage, and the tide soon began to sway the way of the visitors.
Mark Crittenden’s introduction of Mani Gonzalez and Daniel Bragg so almost proved to be an inspired decision.
Gonzalez used superb trickery to cut inside himself one-on-one with Mitchell with 15 minutes remaining.
However the goalkeeper’s cat-like reflexes saw him get down low to parry the substitute’s close range effort to relative safety, before pulling off another resolute stop off the ensuing corner.
Blacktown continued to threaten via the set piece.
A deflected cross fell to Bragg with acres of space inside the Manly box, but his goal-bound effort was deflected wide by Papua New Guinean international Brad Macdonald.
The final minute of regulation time saw one-time Manly striker Joey Gibbs have a well-hit free kick clawed out by a flying Dylan Mitchell.
It was Mitchell again, proving that he would not be beaten on the day, who kept out Bragg on a second occasion, with another spectacular stop in injury time.
Blacktown desperately threw caution to the wing in the closing stages leaving Manly a threat on the break through the pace of substitute Charles Mendy.
A 95th minute corner kick proved a real heart-in-mouth moment for the Cromer Park faithful; however fortunately for them, the ball fell to a man in foreign territory: Blacktown goalkeeper Prendergast.
The ball was then emphatically cleared, and a hefty sigh of relief from the home fans accompanied referee Craig Fisher’s full time whistle.
Manly boss Paul Dee sung the praises of his squad following a gusty victory.
“I was really pleased,” he revealed.
“We had a game plan to execute and I think we attacked really well and deserved our lead.
“I was really impressed by what we showed in defence when Blacktown had momentum and wanted to work their way back into the game.
“We have a plan internally to try and be really hard to beat at home and the boys fought really hard today against a quality opposition.
“Credit to them (Blacktown), but I am really pleased that our boys hung on for a gritty win.”
In contrast, City manager Mark Crittenden was disappointed with the outcome.
“I thought we did enough to maybe come away with a point,” he reflected.
“We made a bad mistake to concede a goal, and they dropped off and let us have a crack at them late on.
“I think we did everything but score. Dylan (Mitchell) pulled off a couple of great saves.
“We had to show that same intensity for the 90 minutes, not just the last 15. That’s not good enough from my point of view.
“We’re still building. The boys will turn up next week and see if we can get a result against Sydney FC next week which won’t be easy.”
Blacktown’s clash with the Baby Sky Blues will take place next Saturday night at Lambert Park, whilst 3rd placed Manly travel down to Seymour Shaw for the battle of the beaches against Sutherland Sharks.
Manly United FC 1 (Adam Parkhouse 59’)
Blacktown City FC 0
Sunday 7th April, 2019
Cromer Park, Dee Why
Referee: C. Fisher
Assistant Referees: N. Backo, P. Teleki
Fourth Official: M. Riedy
Manly United FC: 1. Dylan Mitchell, 2. Kieren Paull, 4. Travis Oughtred, 5. Sam Gallagher, 8. Dom Ferguson, ,10. Brendan Cholakian (6. Joseph Fox 85’), 11. Adam Parkhouse, 13. Scott Balderson (9. Nikola Taneski 71’), 14. Dejan Pandurevic (12. Charles Mendy 71’), 17. Lewis Miccio, 18. Bradley Mcdonald
Substitutes Not Used: 32. Mackenzie Syron, 7. Sam Wilson
Yellow Cards: Brendan Cholakian 45’, Dom Ferguson 45’
Red Cards: Nil
Blacktown City FC: 1. Tristan Prendergast, 4. Yianni Spyrakis, 5. Grant Lynch, 6. Matt Lewis, 7. Devante Clut, 8. Daniel Araujo (23. Daniel Bragg 56’), 9. Joey Gibbs, 10. James Demetriou (11. Mani Gonzalez 66’), 15. Mason Versi (22. Leroy Jennings 60’), 19. Adam Berry, 21. William Mutch
Substitutes not used: 3. Daniel Collins, 20. Dylan Niski
Yellow Cards: Joey Gibbs 15’, Matt Lewis 50’, Mani Gonzalez 75’, Leroy Jennings 91’, 1. Tristan Prendergast 93’
Red Cards: Nil
3 – Dylan Mitchell (MU)
2 – Adam Parkhouse (MU)
1 – Scott Balderson (MU)
-By National Premier Leagues NSW Men’s Reporter Chris Curulli @ChrisCurulli)