A second-half strike from Sam McIllhatton has helped APIA Leichhardt fight back to claim a 1-1 draw against Inner-West Sydney Rivals Sydney Olympic during their Festival of Football clash on Sunday where over 4000 people watched on three quality matches.
In front of a raucous Lambert Park crowd, Sydney Olympic took the lead in the first half through Oliver Puflett before McIllhatton equalised for the home side midway through the second stanza.
It was a game that had everything but a winner as both sides repelled wave after wave of attack on a big day for the historic clubs.
The result was a missed opportunity for both Olympic and APIA to move closer to the top five and finals place.
The opening chance of the game belonged to Sean Symons who shot from outside the box in the 8th minute but the ball ended up just wide of the mark.
Sydney Olympic replied shortly afterwards from a corner that reached Brandon Cholakian who glanced his header just wide.
In the 20th minute, Adam Parkhouse made a flashing run down the left flank and got himself into an excellent position to fire a diagonal shot on target, but the brilliant Ivan Necevski in goals for APIA turned away for a corner. It was a close call indeed.
APIA were forced to make an early change as David D’Apuzzo came off with what appeared to be a hamstring injury and was replaced by Adrian Ucchino while Adam Parkhouse also came off injured in the 25th minute as Marley Peterson replaced the flying winger.
Midway through the first stanza of play, Sydney Olympic took the lead through a brilliant team goal. Daniel Dias fed it to Mohamed Adam who then superbly found Oliver Puflett and he slid it home beautifully.
Just after the half-hour mark Sean Symons reached the by-line and managed to get in a cross that goalkeeper Luke Kairies collected.
Prior to the break, a brilliant free-kick by Cholakian reached Benjamin Van Meurs in the box and his dangerous header sailed just over the crossbar.
The game, which had been peppered with some solid challenges, descended into a midfield push-and-shove between most players and, in the end, three players saw themselves moved into the referee’s book just prior to the break.
The second stanza of play opened with a chance to Peter Kekeris against his former club. He did all the hard work only to find his shot smothered by Kairies.
In the 54th minute, Puflett drilled a rocket from just outside the box that finished wide of the intended target as Sydney Olympic went close to equalising.
APIA hit back through a goal to Sammy McIllhatton a minute later. Sean Symonds did all the hard work before McIllhaton fired into the back of the net from close range.
The architect of the goal Sean Symons almost had one himself a few minutes later when he received a beautiful cross from the left, but he headed just a few centimeters over in what was clearly one of APIA’s best chances of the night.
Sydney Olympic came close in the 63rd minute when Mohamed Adam squared a ball to Cholakian and his shot from just outside the box was well saved by Necevski diving low to his left.
Sean Symons was at it again in the 70th minute when William Mutch’s precise cross found him in the box and it was his header again that went just over the top, much to the frustration of the home side’s fans.
Sydney Olympic should have made it 2-1 in the 84th minute when a Fabio Ferreira cross reached Oliver Puflett at the far post but his header from close range went just wide of the target.
The last chance of the game fell to APIA Leichhardt when a Sean Symons corner was met by substitute Paul Galimi, but his header was brilliantly saved by Kairies well into stoppage time.
After the game, APIA Leichhardt coach Paul Dee knew how close his side came to snatching all three points.
“Firstly, I am really proud of what our club did with the Festival of Football and I think the players responded to that,” he said.
“It was an intense game and both teams wanted to win. I was really proud of our second-half performance in particular.
“I thought we had a lot of momentum going forward and plenty of chances to score in the end. Defence wasn’t going to be the go tonight as it was a game where both teams really showed some attacking flair and wanted to win. That’s what we want to be as a club and that’s what the fans want to see as well.”
Sydney Olympic coach Ante Juric was similar in his appraisal of his team and he too knew that three points were also his side’s for the taking.
“I am a bit disappointed because we are not winning games that we probably should after making a good start,” he said.
“However, I can’t be prouder of the spirit and effort regardless of the bad luck going against us. Finishing our chances has been the story of our season because if we had have finished them all, we would be at the top of the table.
“We have some very young players, and we are getting the chances which is good, but we just need the composure to take them. I am sure though it will come.”
APIA will now have one eye on their crucial round 7 FFA Cup fixture when they take on NPL 2 NSW Men’s outfit Hakoah Sydney City East at Lambert Park on Wednesday at 7:30pm while Olympic take on Manly United at Cromer Park the following Wednesday (16th) at 7:30pm also.
What a fantastic day it was, the Legends match full of past NSL and Socceroos stars saw the match end 2-2 while it was great to see the number 1 legend himself Rale Rasic coaching the APIA squad. The women soon followed and what a football display both teams put on as the Blues ran out 3-2 winners. The winner was Football, more of this please!
APIA Leichhardt: 1 (McIllhatton 55’)
Sydney Olympic: 1 (Puflett 24’)
Sunday 30th May 2021
Lambert Park, Leichhardt
Referee: Katie Patterson
Assistant Referees: A.Morris, A.Hotnani
Fourth Official: R.Mackie
APIA LEICHHARDT: 1.Ivan Necevski, 2.William Mutch, 4.Joshua Symons (3.Paul Galimi 82’), 10.Franco Parisi, 11.Matthieu Cordier, 13.David D’Apuzzo (18. Adrian Ucchino 24’), 15.Themba Muata-Marlow, 16.Sean Symons, 19.Peter Kekeris (8.Corey Biczo 79’), 20.Sammy McIllhatton, 21.Michael Kouta.
Substitutes not used: 7.Tynan Diaz, 9.Blake Powell, 22.Luke Turnbull
Yellow Cards: D’Apuzzo 12’, J.Symons 45’
Red Card: Nil
SYDNEY OLYMPIC: 20.Luke Kairies, 2.Thomas Whiteside, 4.Benjamin Van Meurs, 5.Michael Glassock, 8.Jason Madonis, 9.Oliver Puflett, 10.Brandon Cholakian (6.Nikola Kuleski 77’), 11.Adam Parkhouse (17.Marley Peterson 25’, 22.Fabio Ferreira 77’), 23.Daniel Dias (21.Fabian Monge 59’), 24.Christopher Gligor, 35.Mohamed Adam.
Substitutes not used: 19.Darcy Burgess, 70.Christopher Parsons
Yellow Cards: Madonis 45’, Peterson 45’
Red Card: Nil
*Player Ratings have now been hidden
By National Premier Leagues NSW Men’s reporter Joe Russo