A Chris Payne double has helped APIA Leichhardt Tigers claim bragging rights with a 3-1 win in the grand final rematch against Sydney Olympic at Lambert Park on Sunday.
The win all but ties up second place for APIA with three games still to play ensuring they have at least one home game in the finals.
The Tigers opened the scoring thanks to a well taken finish from Paul Galimi late in the first half.
Payne scored a quick double in the first ten minutes to put the home side well and truly in the drivers seat.
Jinya An pulled one back for Olympic with half an hour to play, but a confident performance from the APIA defence helped the hosts across the line.
Olympic had the best of the early chances after breaking quickly down the left; the balling running for Alejandro Sanchez on the edge of the area only for the shot to go whistling past the post and into the side netting.
APIA were less of a direct threat to the scoreboard in the opening stages of the game, barely testing Paul Henderson is the first half hour.
Payne had a decent chance when he was found at the top of the box by Adrian Ucchino, but he could only manage to drag his shot past the near post.
The Tigers grew into the game as the half wore on; Payne again coming close to breaking the deadlock with a low free-kick that drew a sharp save from Henderson.
A few minutes later the APIA forward turned provider, hitting a deep cross from the left for Paul Galimi to head in at the back stick.
The visitors were given no time to settle into the second half, and found themselves down by two just minutes after the restart. Sam McIllhatton picked up the ball on the left and slipped a pass through to Payne, whose heavy touch hit the goalkeeper before bouncing back off his chest and into the net.
Payne scored again shortly after, winning a penalty after being brought down by Thomas Whiteside and Mitchell Stamatellis before dispatching the spot kick with ease.
At 3-0, Olympic would have rightly felt the score was an unfair reflection of the game as it was played: the visitors had had the better of the first half chances, but two unfortunate goals in the first ten minutes after the break had broken them.
Peter Kekeris and Jinya An worked hard for Olympic as they chased the game, and combined well on the hour mark to give their side a lifeline. Kekeris took down an overhit cross on the left wing and whipped a mean ball towards the far post for An to tap past Ivan Necevski in the APIA goal.
Kekeris very nearly carved out a second for the visitors as the final whistle approached, but a poor finish from Harris Gaitatzis ensured APIA would hold on for a deserved win.
“We defended very well and we were patient in our possession,” said APIA coach John Calleja.
“We played well with the ball and got the opportunity off the set piece and scored.
“Coming in 1-0, we were happy with that. Then there were about ten minutes in the second half where we just went bang-bang, our intensity was really good.
“We looked fairly comfortable, Olympic had a bit of the ball but we weren’t too worried about that. It could have been more comfortable if we’d scored the fourth, but I’m happy with today.”
Olympic boss Abbas Saad will hope his side can improve over the week as Olympic prepare to take on Marconi Stallions in a season-defining clash at Belmore Sports Ground next Sunday.
APIA Leichhardt Tigers FC 3 (Galimi 38’, Payne 48’, 55’)
Sydney Olympic FC 1 (An 60’)
21st July, 2019
Lambert Park, Leichhardt
Referee: S. Lucas
Assistants: M. Riedy, B. Wright
Fourth official: H. Sappey
APIA Leichhardt Tigers FC: 7. DIAZ Tynan, 3. GALIMI Paul, 21. KOUTA Michael, 12. MCILLHATTON Sam, 19. NASRABADI Dom (14. HUGHES Lachlan), 1. NECEVSKI Ivan, 10. PARISI Franco, 6. PAYNE Christopher, 4. SYMONS Joshua, 16. SYMONS Sean, 18. UCCHINO Adrian
Substitutes not used: 17. GULISANO Samuel, 15. MUATA-MARLOW Themba, 20. TRAJKOVSKI Michael, 22. TURNBULL Luke
Yellow cards: Sean Symons 63’
Sydney Olympic FC: 11. AN Jinya, 7. ANGEL William, 19. BURGESS Darcy, 22. GAITATZIS Michael (10. GAITATZIS Harris), 1. HENDERSON Paul, 44. KEKERIS Peter, 8. MADONIS Jason, 14. SANCHEZ Alejandro, 4. STAMATELLIS Mitchell (17. STEWART Jack), 2. WHITESIDE Thomas (45. TSATTALIOS Nikolas), 3. WOODCOCK Riley
Substitutes not used: 20. CONSONI Ezequiel, 25. PETRATOS Dimi
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