Five is down to four as Sutherland, Rockdale and Sydney FC progress to the second week of the finals, with Premiers Blacktown City waiting patiently in the wings.
Both first week semi finals went to penalty shootouts, with Rockdale and Sydney FC coming out on top to go through to major and minor semi finals against Blacktown and Sutherland respectively. APIA Leichhardt, meanwhile, drop out of the competition after a stellar season, and will be disappointed to have not pushed on to the next round of the finals series.
Preliminary semi final: Sutherland 1-1 Rockdale City Suns (Rockdale win 3-1 on penalties), Saturday August 17 at Sydney United Sports Centre
Rockdale and Sutherland could barely be separated during the regular season, and again in this preliminary semi final. So it seemed fitting – if not a little cruel – that this match should be decided by a penalty shootout, with Rockdale edging past the Sharks to secure a place in Tuesday’s major semi final against premiers Blacktown City.
Sutherland began well, with Brodie Clarkson particularly bright across the top of the box, though with little to show for his efforts.
The Sharks thought they had the breakthrough after 17 minutes when Charlie Jones swung a corner over the goalkeeper, only for Jackson Angelou to clear the ball off the line. Sutherland appealed, but the game went on.
Jones had another great chance to open the scoring a few minutes later when he found himself one-on-one with Noah Botic as Sutherland broke forward, but his touch was too heavy as he rounded the goalkeeper and the ball ran out of play for Rockdale to clear.
Halftime came and went; Rockdale making a rapid start to the second half as they found the net within five minutes of the restart.
Nathan Manno muscled in front of Dominic Brischetto as Rockdale broke from midfield and squared the ball to Alexander Malfara, who passed the ball into the goal from a few metres out to put his side in front.
Sutherland pushed hard for an equaliser as the half wore on, with Quentin Cheng impressive down the right flank as he drove past two Rockdale defenders to draw a smart save from Botic.
Cheng was at the centre of the action again as Sutherland levelled with just five minutes remaining, cutting a ball across goal for Mathew Taverniti to turn into the far top corner. A brilliant save from Aleksik was followed up a few moments later by a series of remarkable stops from Botic; the Rockdale man keeping his side in the game as the referee blew for extra time.
Emilio Fadel had two good chances to close out the match in the half hour that followed, but Aleksik was alive to both to force a penalty shootout.
The Sutherland goalkeeper had had the better of the second half but Botic was immense as the Sharks placed the ball on the spot. The Rockdale keeper saved two penalties, from Richard Stewart and Thomas Papa, and watched another hit the crossbar to see his side through to a major semi final against Blacktown City on Tuesday night.
Sutherland, meanwhile, remain in the hunt for a third successive Championship, but must now do it the hard way, and face an elimination semi in a few days’ time.
Sutherland Sharks FC 1 (1) (Taverniti 86’)
Rockdale City Suns FC 1 (3) (Malfara 49’)
17th August, 2019
Sydney United Sports Centre
Sutherland Sharks FC: 2. CHENG Quentin, 38. TEMELKOVSKI James, 25. CLARKSON Brodie, 29. WILEY Jarrad, 15. PAPA Thomas, 34. JONES Charlie, 32. LOPEZ Alexander, 28. STEWART Richard, 31. CARLI James, 24. BRISCHETTO Dominic, 26. ALEKSIK Mario
Rockdale City Suns: 5. TRAJKOVSKI Jake, 33. CAKOVSKI James, 27. ANGELOU Jackson, 34. BOTIC Noah, 21. CURREY Blake, 30. Manno Nathan, 32. AHMED Mohamed, 42. CONTIGIANI Gabriel, 39, FADEL Alexander, 16. MALFARA Alexander, 36. BLACHURA Daniel
Elimination semi final: APIA Leichhardt Tigers 0-0 Sydney FC (Sydney FC win 5-4 on penalties), Saturday August 17 at Lambert Park
APIA Leichhardt Tigers are out and Sydney FC are live to fight another day after this elimination semi final ended in a shootout from the spot, with the Sky Blues holding their nerve to go through to a minor semi final against Sutherland Sharks on Tuesday.
The score was 0-0 after 120 minutes, perhaps expected of two sides that finished level on points during the regular season. Three penalties hit the woodwork and another was saved as the shooutout went through to sudden death, with Nicholas Azzone missing before Anton Mlinaric scored the winner.
Sydney FC can look forward to a semi final against Sutherland Sharks in a few days’ time as they set their sights on the grand final, while APIA’s season ends here; the Tigers unable to better their 2018 season as they fall at the first hurdle in this year’s finals series.
-By Max Grieve