Blacktown City are Champions of the 2019 National Premier Leagues NSW Men’s U18s competition, coming through a scoreless 110 minutes to beat Mt Druitt Town Rangers in a penalty shootout.
It seemed fitting that this match was decided from the spot given how little separated these two teams throughout the season. Mt Druitt should have won in normal time, with Zane Cunico putting in a sensational shift between the sticks to keep the green and yellow tide at bay.
Neither could find a breakthrough, and Cunico proved the hero in the shootout to ensure the Championship would be heading to Lily Homes Stadium.
The Premiers settled on the ball early and looked to ease their way into Mt Druitt’s half through Thomas Bienasz, who set his opponents on the back foot every time he took possession.
The first real chance of the match came from a Mt Druitt freekick; Callum Richards swinging a cross in from the left for Jesse Hirschowitz to rise unmarked and glance a header towards goal. Zane Cunico was alive to the danger and threw up a glove to make a spectacular save, tipping the ball over the bar to deny Mt Druitt an early opener.
Blacktown appeared rattled by the chance, while Mt Druitt seemed emboldened. The Rangers pushed their opponents back into their half as they began to dominate possession, though with little to show for their time on the ball.
Rhys Osmond took an opportunistic crack at goal after running onto a loose ball at the top of the box, but Cunico got down well to gather the shot as it curled towards the bottom corner; a comfortable save for a keeper of his pedigree.
Blacktown struggled to push past the halfway line as Mt Druitt rolled forward, with Osmond looking threatening as he slid a shot just wide of the far post after good work from Yinka Sunmola on the edge of the area.
Cooper Halfpenny might have been an unlikely goalscorer if not for another crucial intervention from Cunico as the half came to a close; the fullback running into space on the right before lashing a volley goalwards for the keeper to palm the ball away.
Mt Druitt picked up in the second half where they left off in the first, though Blacktown came out with markedly more fight than they had shown in the opening 45 minutes.
The half slid by with little incident before exploding into life as extra time began to cast a shadow over the final ten minutes.
Jesse Hirschowitz should have given his side the lead their dominance deserved when he pinched the ball off a Blacktown defender on the byline and skipped past Cunico, finding himself in front of goal with only a man on the line to beat. Inexplicably, the Mt Druitt man failed to pull the trigger until the keeper recovered, allowing Cunico to make another extraordinary save to keep his side in the game.
Blacktown might have grabbed a late winner against the run of play but Blake Richards sent a header spinning wide of the near post before Connor Rose did the same, leaving the two sides level at the end of the 90.
Both teams became increasingly desperate as the spectre of penalties loomed into view, though neither could find the opening for a shot as extra time wore on.
And so this final would be decided from the spot: Mt Druitt went first, with Nathan Grimaldi skying the ball over the bar to hand Blacktown an immediate advantage. Kai McLoughlin scored to put the Premiers up 1-0, before Cunico saved Dimo Vlachos’ penalty to leave Blacktown on the brink of an incredible win. Callum Garrett stepped up to take the decisive kick, and rolled the ball into the open side of the net to send his side into raptures.
“It could’ve gone either way,” admitted John Carnevale as his team lined up for photos with the crowd. “We came into it more in the second half and extra time, and I knew when we went to penalties that we’ve done it before.”
“Zane pulled off a couple of great saves, and it’s capped off a super year for us. The boys have done extremely well, and it’s just reward for their efforts during the year.”
“It’s never easy losing on penalties,” said a dejected Joe Dermillio. “I think the boys did enough to win, but sometimes those goals are just not there. Testament to the boys, I don’t think Blacktown had a shot on goal, and the keeper pulled off a few good saves.
“I think the boys deserved a result today; I’ll try to lift them. It’s been a phenomenal season, these are the tightest bunch of lads. They’d take a bullet for each other, they’re an amazing team.”
Blacktown City FC 0
Mt Druitt Town Rangers FC 0
Blacktown win 4-2 on penalties.
31st August, 2019
Referee: J. Crawford
Assistant Referees: B. Merchant & M. Ibrahim
Fourth Official: A. Bloch
Blacktown City FC: 1. CUNICO Zane, 6. ATTARD Ryan (16. VELDHUIZEN Cameron [ 2. SMITH Corey]), 12. BERRY Ben, 10. BIENASZ Thomas, 14. BURNIE Tyren, 3. DUFFY Ryan, 15. JACKSON-BROWN Caleb, 11. MCLOUGHLIN Kai, 4. RICHARDS Blake, 9. ROSE Connor (13. CIRINO Christian), 8. TAPP Bradley
Substitutes not used: 20. VIDAKOVIC Tristan
Yellow cards: Tapp 62’
Mt Druitt Town Rangers FC: 22. ALLEN Brendan, 14. GARRETT Callum, 3. GRIMALDI Nathan, 2. HALFPENNY Cooper, 6. HOWARTH Riley (12. CHOL Dilang [11. IDEHEN Anthony]), 4. ILITCH Blake, 9. OSMOND Rhys, 16. RICHARDS Callum (18. GONI Daniel), 7. SUNMOLA Yinka (19. CHUKWUEKE Nonso), 10. HIRSCHOWITZ Jesse, 8. VLACHOS Dimos
Substitutes not used: 21. NARAYAN Jerome
Yellow cards: Richards 82’, Halfpenny 90’