Blacktown City secured their spot in the finals with a drama packed 4-2 win on the road against Rockdale City Suns at Ilinden Sports Centre on Sunday.
It was third placed Blacktown’s third win from their past four games and stretches their unbeaten run to four matches.
Panny Nikas’ return from a lengthy stint on the sidelines was unable to re-ignite a stuttering Rockdale side as the visitors raced out of the blocks with three unanswered goals thanks to finishes from Mason Versi, Joey Gibbs and Leroy Jennings.
Alec Urosevski and Nikas scored midway through the second half as they tried to lift their struggling Suns side but it wasn’t to be with a Versi goal all but securing the win for Blacktown.
It went from bad to worse for the home side with captain Daniel Petkovski sent off in the final five minutes with the defeat all but ending Rockdale’s hopes of finals football.
It was a physical start to the match with the tackles flying thick and fast from the opening whistle.
Versi, working himself into space, hit the net to put the visitors ahead in the 17th minute with a wonder strike from outside the area that was always curling away from keeper David Bradasevic. It came at the right time and sparked the match into life after becoming entrenched in midfield.
Grant Lynch, picking up the ball inside his half, strode through the centre of the pitch and unleashed a thunderous shot from 35-yards out which hit the woodwork. It was a near miss but Blacktown would be held down long with Gibbs tapping in at close range after 30 minutes to double their lead.
The first half gave the home fans little to smile about with a 45th minute strike from Nikas their only effort on target in the opening stanza as Blacktown went into the break leading 2-0.
Blacktown, for their part, could afford to sit deep after the restart and spring the counter as it was all on their hosts to do.
Urosevski stepped up five minutes after the break but his on target shot hit the back of team-mate Jordan Figon to deflect away for a goal-kick but the home side looked reinvigorated.
However, Blacktown soon made it three with Leroy Jennings firing the visitors to a 3-0 lead after following up on an acrobatic volley from Versi.
Bradasevic did well again moments later when a Gibbs header was arrowing in toward the net, producing a reaction save of some note.
Jennings then twisted and turned in the area bewildering Suns’ skipper Daniel Petkovski, before unleashing once more only for the Suns’ gloveman to tip over the bar.
Rockdale weathered the onslaught and desperate times call for desperate measures as Urosevski pulled a goal back with a rocket of a free-kick in the 64th minute.
It sparked his side into action and only two minutes lated Nikas made it 3-2 with a clinical finish of his own.
Jonathan Grozdanovski came oh so close the leveling the scores in the 83rd minute but his glancing header flashed narrowly wide of the upright.
Versi scored his second of the game after tapping in from close range after a Gibbs free-kick smacked the up-right post with five minutes left on the clock ended any hope of a Rockdale fightback while Petkovski’s red card just added insult to injury.
It was a spirited second-half performance but ultimately it proved too much to overcome a tactically astute Blacktown City.
“We were good for the opening quarter hour,” said a reflective Alec Urosevski after the final whistle
“Then they got a goal against the run of play and added another two before we got back into it.
“We were three-nil down and got a couple back but in the end its tough to come back from that, especially against a team like Blacktown.
“We need to play the remainder of our games the way we played in the second-half today and if we can sneak into the top five, anything can happen from there but we’re bitterly disappointed with the result today.”
Blacktown City coach Mark Crittenden felt his side was unlucky to have conceded two goals but thought it was a solid display.
“We were sitting pretty with three goals but at the end of the day they get two free-kicks and capitalise on them,” he said.
“I cannot think of a save Tristan (Prendergast) has had to make during the match.
“Defensively we set up really well so it is frustrating to have not kept a clean sheet.
“I told the guys at half-time that they would keep coming at us, they have some quality players across the park and this is a tough ground to come to and grind out or get a result so delighted with the points.”
Rockdale City Suns 2 (Urosevski 64’, Nikas 66’)
Blacktown City 4 (Versi 17’, 86, Gibbs 30’, Jennings 54’ )
Ilinden Sports Centre, Rockdale
Sunday 21st July 2019
Referee: Hassan Jomaa
Assistant Referees: Janush Adabjou & Danny Horstead
Fourth Official: Cameron Wright
Rockdale City Suns: 1.David Bradasevic, 2.Daniel Petkovski, 3.Mick Neill, 5.Jake Trajkovski (17.Matthew Lecce 86’), 7.Alec Urosevski, 10.Nikola Taneski, 12.Idris El Hafiane, 15.Nick Petrillo, 18.Sasa Macura (19.Patrick Savor 58’), 23.Panni Nikas, 45.Jordan Figon (9.Jonathan Grozdanovski 52’)
Substitutes not used: 11.Leigh Egger, 22.Max Rowston
Yellow Cards: Petkovski 28’, 84’, Nikas 90’
Red Cards: Petkovski 84’
Blacktown City: 1.Tristan Prendergast, 3.Daniel Collins, 4.Yianni Spyrakis, 5.Grant Lynch, 6.Matt Lewis, 9.Joey Gibbs, 12.Lachlan Campbell (11.Mani Gonzalez 73’), 15.Mason Versi, 17.Dakota Askew, 19.Adam Berry, 22.Leroy Jennings (35.Brett Da Silva 90+1’)
Substitutes not used: 10.James Demitriou, 20.Dylan Niski, 24.Jackson Bandiera
Player Ratings have now been hidden due to the second half of the season commencing.
By National Premier Leagues NSW Reporter Micky Brock