Rockdale City Suns snapped their five-game losing streak with a clinical 2-0 victory over fellow finals hopefuls Manly United at Cromer Park on Sunday afternoon.
In what was a fiery, high-stakes affair from the outset, both sides forged their fair share of opportunities during a scoreless first period.
After the interval, deadly strikes from Jonathan Grozdanovski and substitute Aleksander Canak were enough for the visitors to overcome a wasteful Manly outfit.
The result inflicted a dent within Manly’s finals hopes, whilst concurrently launching the Suns right back into contention as they join Paul Dee’s men on 26 points.
From the opening whistle, it was clear that Suns striker Nikola Taneski was eager to come back to haunt his former side.
The attacker, who made the switch from Cromer to Illinden just a few weeks ago, almost registered the opener just two minutes in as his glanced header drifted narrowly wide.
Taneski was faced with another clear sight on goal after 12 minutes, but his close-range effort was weak and unable to escape the grasp of Manly custodian Dylan Mitchell.
Manly, who on Wednesday night became the first National Premier Leagues NSW side to secure passage into the FFA Cup Round of 16, then began to establish a foothold in the contest.
Charles Mendy, who converted the decisive penalty at Popondetta Park, looked to play an instrumental role yet again as he rifled a left-footed effort marginally high and wide in the 17th minute.
He came even closer four minutes later, as Adam Parkhouse found space down the left flank and delivered a precise low cross that Mendy flashed wide with the goal at his mercy.
In a high-tempo first period, the tide swayed back towards the visitors in its closing stages.
Rockdale believed that they should have been awarded a penalty after 35 minutes, yet continued to push forward to create their best chance of the match moments before the break.
Taneski was involved yet again, as he weaved his way down the right wing with some superb trickery and floated a ball directly into the path of an onrushing Urosevski.
However the winger’s volley was denied by a trademark Dylan Mitchell stop down low to his right, ensuring both teams would head into the sheds with it all still to play for.
It was Manly who sprung out of the blocks in the second half, with their dangerman Mendy continuing to cause some concerns within the Rockdale back four.
After harnessing his pace and skill to shake off his marker, the former Marconi and Blacktown man unleashed a powerful low effort that evaded both the back post and an outstretched Dejan Pandurevic by inches.
Moments later, Manly were made to pay for their carelessness in front of goal.
Fifty-one minutes in, Taneski led a rapid counter-attack by feeding the ball into the path of a flying Jonathan Grozdanovski.
The Suns’ number nine did the rest, driving into the Manly penalty area and lifting the ball over Mitchell, who despite getting a hand to it, could not deny Rockdale the opening goal of the afternoon.
The chances then began to dry up for both sides as the visitors professionally consolidated their advantage.
Manly, who appeared to be feeling the effects of their tough 120-minute battle midweek, saw their best chance at snatching an equaliser arrive in the 68th minute.
Mendy found himself in behind yet again, this time electing to cut the ball back in the direction of Pandurevic who blazed it over the bar.
Then as the hosts began to throw caution to the wind in pursuit of the elusive equaliser, Rockdale sealed the deal a minute into stoppage time.
Alec Urosevski danced his way inside from the right edge, eventually squaring the ball to Aleksander Canak who made no mistake with an emphatic first-time finish.
For Idris El Hafiane, the impressive result was a long time coming.
“We deserved that, throughout last few weeks we should probably have had a win,” the Rockdale skipper reflected.
“There’s been a bit of a change in training, we’ve definitely upped the intensity and I think it showed out on the pitch.
“We kept the ball well and that was our game plan.
“We problem solved well out on the field and adapted to their playing of the ball over the top.
“Once we adapted to that they didn’t really have too many options.
“It was a vital victory.”
El Hafiane is fancying his side’s chances against ladder leaders Wollongong Wolves next weekend as Rockdale look to mount a last-ditch attempt at securing a top five spot.
“I’m confident and positive every week,” he said.
“I think we should give Wollongong a very good test.
“They’re still hurting from last round and their game plan doesn’t really work too well against us; we’re they’re kryptonite!
“We’ll be taking this result into next week and beyond.”
On the other hand, Brendan Cholakian lamented the impact of Wednesday night’s contest whilst remaining optimistic that his side have what it takes to turn their fortunes around.
“Obviously a lot of us were pretty fatigued after 120 minutes on Wednesday but that’s not really an excuse,” Manly’s number ten reflected.
“We should be up for these types of games because they’re the ones with potential to get us into the finals and knock other teams like Rockdale out, but we just weren’t at the races today.
“Up until today we’ve been playing some really good football.
“I’m not sure if it was the fatigue, or just poor decision making on the ball.
“We had a couple of chances that if they had of gone in, we would have come away with the win.
“We just have to get back into training on Monday to recover and bounce back.”
Sitting in seventh and eighth spot, three points astray of fifth placed Marconi, it is likely that both outfits must win their final two matches whilst relying on other results if they are to experience finals football.
Manly host APIA Leichhardt next Sunday before travelling to Sydney United on the final day of the season, whilst Rockdale have two home fixtures against the Wollongong Wolves and Sutherland Sharks to look forward to.
Manly United FC 0
Rockdale City Suns FC 2 (Grozdanovski 51’, Canak 90+1’)
Sunday 28th July, 2019
Cromer Park, Dee Why
Referee: S. Hooper (England PGMOL Referee)
Assistant Referees: S. Edeling, R. Osborne
Fourth Official: S. Andrews
Manly United: 1. Dylan Mitchell, 4. Travis Oughtred. 5. Sam Gallagher, 7. Sam Wilson, 8. Dominic Ferguson (6. Joseph Fox 70’), 10. Brendan Cholakian, 11. Adam Parkhouse (31. Max Rogers 74’), 12. Charles Mendy, 14. Dejan Pandurevic, 17. Lewis Miccio, 23. Bradley McDonald
Substitutes not used: 3. James Georgaklis, 32. Mackenzie Syron, 26. Lachlan McGrath
Yellow Cards: Dominic Ferguson 43’, Sam Gallagher 90+2’
Red Cards: Nil
Rockdale City Suns: 1. David Bradasevic, 3. Michael Neill, 5. Jake Trajkovski, 7. Alec Urosevski, 9. Jonathan Grozdanovski (45. Jordan Figon 66’), 10. Nikola Taneski (8. Aleksander Canak 77’), 11. Leigh Egger, 12. Idris El Hafiane, 15. Nick Petrillo, 19. Patrick Savor (18. Sasa Macura 89’), 23. Panni Nikas
Substitutes not used: 22. Max Rowston, 21. Blake Currey, 16. Alek Malfara
Yellow Cards: Nikola Taneski 70’, Jake Trajkovski 90+2’
Red Cards: Nil
Player Ratings have now been hidden due to the second half of the season commencing.
By National Premier Leagues NSW Men’s Reporter Chris Curulli (Twitter handle @ChrisCurulli)