APIA Leichhardt have defeated Western Sydney Wanderers 2-1 at Lambert Park in an exhilarating, intense affair to maintain their stronghold on the National Premier Leagues NSW Men’s competition.
The match began with high intensity, as it became clear that the Wanderers, despite being on the bottom end of the table, wouldn’t be sitting back and allowing APIA Leichhardt to dictate the flow of the match.
However, in the third minute, an active press from Jason Romero allowed Rory Jordan to drive in behind, with WSW let off by indecision from the young winger leading to a tame square pass.
However, a minute later, they weren’t so lucky.
A clever flick from Fabian Monge in midfield opened up Joshua Symons, who had ventured from the defensive line.
The central-defender turned playmaker for the moment drove forwards in between the lines and played a beautiful, clipped pass over the defence and in behind to Jack Armson.
The midfielder composed himself with a touch away from the defence, before finishing emphatically into the top right-corner with a powerful left-footed effort from close range.
In the sixth minute, APIA had a fantastic chance to make it two, thanks to the industrious Monge, who hassled Joshua Hong into conceding possession before playing a well-weighted pass in behind to APIA’s top scorer Jack Stewart.
The winger converged in on goal, but WSW were let off as the well-positioned Lawrence Caruso parried a central effort away.
On the follow-up, with the goal gaping, Teng Kuol made a heroic slide to block Armson from finding the back of the net.
The match was a highly attractive watch with both sides pressing intensely and mixing between building fluidly through the lines and giving away possession to allow the opposition to transition with intensity.
The quality from both sides – the league leaders battling some of the most talented youngsters in Australia – combined with the vigorous tempo and application, made it a fitting emblem of the league at its finest.
In the 25th minute on the aftermath of a set piece, the Wanderers equalised to add fuel to an already fiery, fierce encounter.
Marcus Younis, who today was announced to have signed a two-year scholarship contract with the Wanderers’ senior team, scored the leveller, as he finished clinically into the bottom left-hand corner after latching onto a bouncing ball in the box.
Both teams’ presses had been causing their opposition issues in build-up, and in the direct passage following WSW’s equaliser, the visitors won the ball high, before a dangerous square ball from Zachary Sapsford rolled perilously across the face of goal.
The Wanderers continued to periodically create chances by equalising APIA’s defence with their forward line for transitions or long balls – be it a 4v4, 3v3 or 2v2 – and remaining narrow to press in numbers to force the defence to clear or to make mistakes after playing passes in behind.
In the 31st minute, it was APIA’s turn to disrupt the Wanderers’ backline, as Jordan blocked a clearance before toe-poking the ball towards goal, forcing a sharp save from Caruso.
The tension and intensity inside Lambert Park were palpable, with every supporter of both sides edging on the teams and contesting every decision, both from their players and the referees.
Sapsford caused havoc in the 36th minute with a fantastic turn to see of Symons and a follow up press, but he was led into a corner after Younis and Nathanael Blair got in each other’s way.
On the stroke of halftime, Jordan showed fantastic enterprise to conduct a sweeping APIA move forwards, but his angled pass in behind to Stewart was overhit.
Moments later, Blair had an opportunity off a channel to put WSW ahead for the first time in the match, but he dragged his effort wide of the far post.
In the 54th minute, Oscar Priestman picked up the ball on the edge of the box and struck a threatening effort which looked to be moving into the far corner and was blocked crucially by Symons.
A sustained passage of build-up from APIA in the 59th minute saw a good third-man run from Monge allow him to square the ball to Armson on the edge of the box, but the attacking midfielder slipped at the crucial moment and it ended with an easy claim for Caruso.
Sapsford struck close a minute later, with an incisive pass from Carluccio allowing the forward to take a touch and strike, with the shot just drifting wide of the far corner.
The Wanderers forward obtained a good chance moments later, but Sapsford scuffed a shot straight at Ivan Necevski from a good position in behind.
The chances continued, this time for APIA, as a drive inside and pass from Stewart allowed Armson to turn cleverly and find the substitute Sean Symons, whose shot was deflected out for a corner.
A pinpoint corner from Armson in the 75th minute found Themba Muata-Marlow at the backpost, but his header and a follow-up from S. Symons were both blocked by a purposeful Wanderers defence.
However, in the 77th minute, APIA leapt ahead.
Stewart picked up the ball on the left and drove at his marker, before crossing powerfully with his left-foot.
WSW goalkeeper Caruso misjudged the cross, and incidentally parried it into the back of his own net.
APIA had multiple chances just after they went ahead to extend their lead and put the game to bed, but indecision from Alex Denmead and a good save from Caruso kept the visitors in the game.
The home side sat deep in stoppage time and absorbed the heavy pressure from WSW, which was increased by an injury to Denmead, which forced APIA to finish the match with 10 on the field.
With a minute remaining, a teasing ball in from Younis found the head of Blair, but the striker couldn’t find power or direction on the header and the fulltime whistle was sounded.
APIA coach Franco Parisi was proud of his side’s performance, as they extended their unbeaten run to five matches.
“Three points are very critical,” he said.
“Of the three goals, one was world class, while the other two were representative of the game.
“Credit to the Wanderers, they’re a good young side who plays good football and they pushed us to the very end; they should probably be sitting higher in the table.”
Meanwhile, Wanderers coach Andrew Christiansen was pleased with the showing, despite the result not going in their favour.
“I thought we were the team who looked like they were going to win it, but the result tells another story”, he said.
“We’ll pick ourselves up and we’ve got seven games remaining and I have belief in our group that we’re on the up and that the results will come our way.”
APIA Leichhardt 2 (Armson 4’, Stewart 77’)
Western Sydney Wanderers FC 1 (Younis 25’)
Saturday 8 July, 2023
Referee: Sam Kelly
Assistant Referees: Maddy Allum and Alexis Johnson
Fourth Official: Thomas Dale
APIA Leichhardt FC: 1. Ivan Necevski, 4. Joshua Symons (30. Alex Denmead 68’), 7. Jack Stewart, 9. Jason Romero (16. Sean Symons 64’), 14. Jack Armson, 15. Themba Muata-Marlow, 17. Rory Jordan, 18. Adrian Ucchino (C) (98. Franco Farinella 83’), 19. Fabian Monge, 21. Michael Kouta, 23. Dakota Askew
Substitutes Not Used: 8. Florent Indalecio, 12. Anthony Bouzanis, 29. Luke Prsa
Yellow Cards: J. Symons 18’, Kouta 24’, Romero 38’, Askew 78’, Denmead 82’
Western Sydney Wanderers FC: 3. Joshua Hong, 4. Teng Kuol, 6. Oscar Priestman, 7. Jarrod Carluccio (C), 9. Nathanael Blair, 10. Alexander Badolato (26. Sunday Yona 84’), 11. Zachary Sapsford (21. Adam Bugarija 71’), 13. Marcus Younis, 14. George Antonis (25. Ryley Hollingdale 52’), 20. Lawrence Caruso, 31. Aidan Simmons
Substitutes Not Used: 12. Edmond Lupancu, 23. Mason Fernandez, 30. William Loucas
Yellow Cards: Younis 30’, Hong 78’
3 – Fabian Monge (APIA)
2 – Rory Jordan (APIA)
1 – Zachary Sapsford (WSW)
By Jack George (@JackGeorge0004)