APIA Leichhardt Tigers’ Premiership hopes took a major blow at Lambert Park on Saturday as they we held to a 2-2 draw by a resurgent Sutherland Sharks.
Up 2-0 inside twenty minutes, the Tigers blew their lead to slip to a disappointing draw at home.
Chris Payne scored from the spot soon after kickoff before Tynan Diaz added a second barely ten minutes later, but Dominic Cox and Charles Lokolingoy were on hand to help Sutherland storm back in the second half.
After Wollongong’s loss to Sydney United 58 earlier in the afternoon, APIA might have finished the round within three points of the leaders, but instead sit five points off top spot – and with a few challengers behind them.
APIA wasted little time in getting on the ball and driving forward in the opening exchanges, and won a penalty just five minutes after the kickoff when Jerry Skotadis left his arm dangling as Chris Payne volleyed across the box.
After a short-lived Sutherland protest, Payne placed the ball on the spot and buried his shot in the bottom left corner to give APIA the lead.
They might’ve scored again just a few minutes later as a corner cleared the six yard box before dropping to Themba Muata-Marlow at the back post, but the centre back couldn’t get the right touch to deflect the ball into the back of the net.
Payne turned provider barely ten minutes after opening the scoring; slipping Tynan Diaz in behind the Sutherland backline to give the APIA man a clear shot at goal. With only Nathan Denham to beat, Diaz poked the ball through the goalkeeper to put his side in cruise control.
The visitors began to stir after conceding the second goal, and took full advantage when they got lucky with an error from Ivan Necevski midway through the half. Raul Beneit Romero drifted across the top of the box before hitting a shot at goal for Necevski to spill to Dominic Cox, who tapped the ball into an empty net.
APIA might have held their lead until halftime, but they were fighting to keep it as the second half kicked off. Charles Lokolingoy and Marc Warren were combining particularly well as Sutherland rolled forward, and the striker might have levelled for the Sharks when he was played clear through on goal if not for a vital intervention from Necevski.
There was little the keeper could do about Lokolingoy’s next effort: Warren swung a free kick in towards the back post for the Sutherland forward to nod the ball in from a metre out.
Tensions threatened to boil over after a series of heavy challenges as the half wore on: McIllhatton was booked for a crunching tackle on Skotadis, before Patrick O’Shea picked up a yellow card for going in hard on Payne.
Both sides had chances to win the match as it came to a close: Josh Symons cut down Beneit Romero as he streamed through the middle of the park, but the Sutherland forward could only hit the resulting free kick over the crossbar.
The hosts then brought on new recruit and former Sydney United 58 skipper Nick Stavroulakis into the match and he injected some more firepower into the APIA squad, providing some good passes and winning battles across the pitch in his twenty minutes or so cameo performance.
Up the other end, Payne went through on goal with a man on his back and hit a low shot at Denham, which fell to Corey Biczo with the net gaping. The APIA man never saw the ball coming, and it bounced off his shin and past the far post as the Tigers were forced to settle for a 2-2 draw.
John Calleja cut a frustrated figure at full time after his side passed up the chance to move within a win of Wollongong Wolves.
“We were planning to be in the title race,” he said. “We thought Wollongong would stuff up at some point, but we’ve got to look after our own backyard first.
“That wasn’t good enough. We started well but then gave away two soft goals. We went into our shell and they had more of the game in the second half.
“There was no intensity. You have to lift – we’ve been talking about that for weeks here. It wasn’t good enough.”
“APIA came out a million miles an hour after that defeat last week,” said Terry Palapanis. “We knew they would.
“Sunday’s always been a bit of a problem for me, I’ve got bad luck on Sunday. They got a lucky penalty but we dug in. To come back from 2-0 down against a side like this, at Lambert Park, is fantastic.”
APIA Leichhardt FC 2 (Payne 5’, Diaz 17’)
Sutherland Sharks FC 2 (Cox 23,’ Lokolingoy 53’)
Sunday, 9 June 2019
Lambert Park, Leichhardt
Referee: S. Lucas
Assistants: J. Park and J. Adabjou
Fourth official: B. Merchant
APIA Leichhardt Tigers FC: 1. NECEVSKI Ivan, 3. GALIMI Paul, 4. SYMONS Josh, 6. PAYNE Chris, 7. DIAZ Tynan, 8. BIZCO Corey, 10. PARISI Franco (19. NASRABADI Dominion), 12. MCILHATTON Sam (23. STAVROULAKIS Nick), 15. MUATA-MARLOW Themba, 16. SYMONS Sean, 18. UCCHINO Adrian
Substitutes not used: 17. GULISANO Samuel, 21. KOUTA Michael, 50. FOTOPOULOS Harris
Yellow cards: McIllhatton 48’, Galimi 53’, Stavroulakis 90’
Sutherland Sharks FC: 2. CHENG Quentin (8. POLJAK Mateo), 3. WARREN Marc, 4. O’SHEA Patrick, 9. COX Jeremy, 10. BENEIT ROMERO Raul, 11. MORFITIS Jordan (32. LOPEZ Alexander), 14. LOKOLINGOY Charles, 17. MCGING Liam, 21. ERCAN Tarik, 46. DENHAM Nathan, 22. SKOTADIS Jerry
Substitutes not used: 18. EVANS Mitchell, 25. CLARKSON Brodie, 29. WILEY Jarrod
Yellow cards: Morfitis 44’, O’Shea 56’, Lopez 90’
Player Ratings have now been hidden due to the second half of the season commencing.
-By Max Grieve