It was a game of two halves as Sydney FC went to the break three goals ahead, but Sutherland Sharks fought back strongly in the second period to round off a 3-3 draw at Ilinden Sports Centre in Round 16 of the National Premier Leagues NSW Men’s competition.
First-half strikes from Jaiden Kucharski and an Adrian Segecic brace had the home side in total control, but Sutherland turned it around with goals from Nick Sullivan, Mark Rodic and a late Lukman Ahmed-Shaibu equaliser.
Luka Smyth forced stand-in Sharks’ ‘keeper, Jacob Cremen-Cowan, into the first save of the match in the 5th minute when making his way into the box and unleashing a left-footed shot goalward.
Chris Lindsay replied with a thundering free-kick that beat Adam Pavlesic but crashed off the crossbar onto the goal-line and back into play before being hastily cleared.
Adrian Segecic lashed one over the bar before Sydney FC talisman Jaiden ‘Special K’ Kucharski slotted a delightful shot beyond Cremen-Cowan to open the scoring.
Segecic wasn’t to be denied and four minutes later a quick break through the middle and he added the second after rounding the ‘keeper to double the lead.
Pat O’Shea hammered a rebound toward goal only for Pavlesic to smartly get down to his left and make the save as Sutherland strove to strike back in what had become a very open game.
Two became three when Segecic broke down the left and cut into the box to fire home from an acute angle when leaving his marker trailing in his wake before Kucharski was left holding his head moments later when curling a shot onto the post with the Sharks’ ‘keeper left exposed once more.
Pavlesic did well to block, this time from Michael Neill when the striker was sent through with space and time, to keep Sutherland at bay and blank on the scoreboard.
Nathan Grimaldi came close to making it four when he headed downward from a Kucharski corner near the end of the half but it remained a three-goal lead going into the break.
Kucharski, who on any other day would have had a hat-trick, saw another attempt rebound back off the bar, this time when cutting in from the right as Sutherland were rocking at the back against the pace and speed of the Sydney FC attack.
Nick Sullivan, coming on for Gabriel Contigiani at the break, lashed home to reduce the deficit in the 59th minute, the shot hit with such ferocity it almost broke the netting. It may have been against the run of play but it was sweetly struck giving Pavlesic no chance.
James Baldacchino blocked yet another Kucharski attempt with a last ditch tackle inside the box before Jason Madonis fed Mark Rodic on the edge of the area at the other end to further reduce the lead with a crisply struck shot finding its way through a sea of bodies leaving the young Sky Blues’ gloveman unsighted.
It was certainly some of the best football Sutherland have produced this season and with plenty of time left in the match.
Lukman Ahmed-Shaibu replaced Neill with twenty minutes to go as Sutherland looked to press home the attack and give James Andrew some extra support up top.
Smyth believed he had restored the two-goal buffer in the 74th minute when finding the net only to be ruled offside.
After being under the pump, Sydney FC tried to wrestle back the ascendency as the Sharks were coming home with a wet sail.
Cremen-Cowan needed to be agile to tip another Kucharski curler over the bar but the resultant in-swinging corner was cleared and the danger dispelled.
Sixteen year old Tiago Quintal replaced Luka Smyth to make his debut for the Sky Blues with a few minutes remaining with the home side holding on precariously to their slender one-goal lead but it wasn’t to be when substitute Ahmed-Shaibu found the net to restore parity and complete the improbable comeback from their first-half performance.
It was a game of two halves as the saying goes that left Sharks’ coach, Steve Gordon, the happier of the two managers.
“We’ve had so much go against us this year,” he said.
“Things away from the game has made things difficult and we picked up a side a little bit in dire straits.
“We talked about character this week and I thought we were hurting us with their fast counter-attack in the first half and that hurt us but to respond the way we did tonight shows plenty of guts.
“I’m very proud of the effort against a very good side overall and everyone stood up tonight and I cannot be unhappy with the performance, we kept at it until the end and we got our reward.
“It’s a valuable point but it’s a start and we’ll look to go with it from here.”
Sydney FC coach Jim van Weeren was somewhat disappointed after the match.
“Fair play to Sutherland as they came out and asked some serious questions after the break,” he said.
“But we have to be able to deal with that and we had enough opportunities to kill it off and didn’t take them.
“Credit to them [Sutherland] but we gave away three, particularly the third one which was soft, and being three up we need to be far more resilient in seeing the game out in those moments and anticipate teams are going to come out and take the game to us.
“We need to be a little smarter and stronger defensively and if the boys want to progress further in the game they need to be able to do that here.
“We don’t use age as an excuse as these guys are good enough but they need to wise up and show it in games like this.”
Sydney FC 3 (Jaiden Kucharski 18’, Adrian Segecic 22’,29’)
Sutherland Sharks 3 (Nick Sullivan 59’, Mark Rodic 65’, Lukman Ahmed-Shaibu 86’)
Ilinden Sports Centre, Rockdale
Sunday 19th June 2022
Referee: Adrian Arndt
Assistants: Matthew Harris and Nicholas Kour
Fourth Official: James Ewin
Sydney FC: 30. Adam Pavlesic, 4. Nathan Grimaldi, 6. Aaron Gurd, 10. Jaiden Kucharski, 11. Adrian Segecic, 13. Clayton Taylor, 15. Luka Smyth (7. Tiago Quintal 84’), 16. Matthew Scarcella, 18. Oscar Priestman (9. Ben Gibson 46’), 33. Zane Schreiber, 37. Hayden Matthews (19. Joseph Calusic 83’)
Substitutes Not Used: 1. Gus Hoesfloot, 25. Morrie Kamara, 28. Louis Agosti
Yellow Cards: Nathan Grimaldi 27’, Matthew Scarcella 61’, Luka Smyth 63’, Clayton Taylor 78’
Red Cards: Nil
Sutherland Sharks: 26. Jacob Cremen-Cowan, 2. James Baldacchino, 3. Gabriel Contigiani (22. Nick Sullivan 46’), 6. Patrick O’Shea, 8. Jason Madonis, 9. Jeremy Cox, 14. Chris Lindsay, 17. James Andrew, 18. Mitch Smith (80. Nelson Lam 86’), 21. Michael Neill (12. Lukman Ahmed-Shaibu 70’), 23. Mark Rodic
Substitutes Not Used: 16. Samuel Smith, 25. Luke Sauer, 36. Hristopher Neskovski
Yellow Cards: Mitch Smith 74’, Mark Rodic 90’
Red Cards: Nil
By National Premier Leagues NSW Men’s Reporter Micky Brock