The Bulls FC Academy and Wollongong Wolves were forced to share the points after ninety tense minutes of action on Saturday afternoon at Sydney United Sports Centre as the match finished 1-1.
Despite it only being Round Four the game felt like a must-win for either side, with the Bulls unable to register a victory in their first three games, whilst the Wolves were seeking redemption after a 4-0 loss to Marconi last week.
After dominating the opening exchanges, the visitors registered the first goal of the game through Josh Macdonald.
The lead was short-lived, however, as Sunday Yona neatly finished his chance and gave the Bulls a second life in the game.
Wollongong controlled the opening stages of the game, having three good chances in the first ten minutes and coming increasingly close to finding the back of the net.
The Wolves didn’t have to wait long for the opener as Macdonald sensationally opened the scoring after a solo run through the Bulls’ defence gave him a sight of the near post where he smashed home his chance.
The hosts were dealt a massive blow in the 25th minute when Stephan De Robillard was forced off after succumbing to an injury.
De Robillard’s injury allowed the Bulls to talk it over with coach Zeljko Kalac on the sidelines, which seemed to kick them into gear for the rest of the game.
Just four minutes after the stoppage the Bulls found an equaliser after a brilliant one-two play from Rhys Youlley set up Yona with an open sight at the net as he placed the ball past the keeper at the near post.
The Bulls found their footing in the game after their first goal and came close on several occasions to finish the first half.
Youlley’s long-range effort and Diego Bonilla’s close-range chance were both denied by a Wolves’ defence that looked desperate to keep the scores level heading into the break.
The Bulls came within inches of going into the lead after Nenad Vekic’s attempted clearance smashed into the back of Mason Wells sending the ball back into the path of an empty net. Fortunately for the Wolves’ keeper, the ball just skimmed past the face of the goal.
After a thrilling first half of action, the scores were somehow level going into the halftime break.
The second half started off as an even but quiet first half for both sets of attackers as the setting sun began to play its part in the game.
The Bulls came agonisingly close to a second goal at the hour mark of the game after Yona played a perfect ball to Wells and with just the keeper to beat, he curved his shot wide of the front stick.
Griffin Barry came to his side’s rescue in the 72nd minute after Jake Trew was sent through on goal from inside his own half, the Bulls’ shot-stopper bravely came out and won possession back 30 yards out from his own goal.
Wollongong regained control of the game in the final minutes, with two golden chances from Harrison Buesnel and Takumi Ofuka both going narrowly wide of the target.
The Bulls did have one last chance to steal the victory when a deflected cross fell into the path of Adrian Knez and with a long run up his powerful shot sailed over the bar from the edge of the box.
As the full-time whistle blew there was a sign of frustration from both benches sensing that they had left three points on the field.
Bulls assistant coach Tim Aitken stated his frustration in the wasted chances but was happy with his side’s competitiveness throughout the game.
“Today I didn’t think we were at the standard we have been, and it showed late in the game, we had a lot of transition moments but we began to fatigue because we weren’t as careful with the ball as we should have been,” he said.
“We’re in a competition which I suppose is a struggle for all academies playing NPL against men, it can get physical and intimidating for some of them but that’s not the case for us this year, we know we’re playing good football and we can compete against some of the established clubs like Wollongong.”
Wolves coach David Carney noted his disappointment in the result considering his side’s dominance in the opening stages.
“I thought the game was there for the taking especially in the first 20 minute I thought we dominated but credit to them they had a go and became an end-to-end game,” he said.
“We had so many opportunities to go ahead, definitely two points lost there. I thought we were better last week… today wasn’t good enough for our level.”
Bulls FC Academy 1 (Yona 29’)
Wollongong Wolves FC 1 (Macdonald 14’)
Sunday 25th February 2023
Sydney United Sports Centre, Edensor Park
Referee: Kelly Jones
Assistant Referees: Amber Morris and Alexis Johnson
Fourth Official: Joel Crawford
Bulls FC Academy: 40. Griffin Barry, 3. Isaac Hovar, 4. Joel Bertolissio, 9. Diego Bonilla (19. Jesper Webber 73’), 11. Stephan De Robillard (8. Mason Wells 24’), 12. Charlie Ragg (20. Adrian Knez 62’), 14. Sunday Yona (18. Sebastian Hernandez 62’), 16. Oliver Jones, 17. Rhys Youlley, 22. Edward Caspers, 39. Theph Theph (21. Lachlan McDonald 73’)
Unused subs: 1. Reilly Farrell
Yellow cards: nil
Red cards: nil
Wollongong Wolves: 1. Nenad Vekic, 3. Harrison Buesnel, 5. Banri Kanaizumi, 6. Senna Stevenson, 7. Marcus Beattie, 9. Takumi Ofuka, 10. Mirza Muratovic, 23. Walter Scott, 25. Alex Masciovecchio (15. Ethan Beaven 84’), 88. Christopher McStay, 99. Joshua Macdonald (14. Jake Trew 62’)
Unused subs: 13. Tomas Butkovic, 12. Ryan Mrvcic, 16. Thomas Dunn, 29. Ben Giason
Yellow cards: nil
Red cards: nil
3: Rhys Youlley (BA)
2: Mirza Muratovic (WW)
1: Theph Theph (BA)
By NPL NSW Men’s Reporter Dominic Criniti @DominicCriniti