APIA Leichhardt FC’s Premiership celebrations were put on ice for one more week as NWS Spirit FC, the comeback kings of the NPL NSW Men’s competition, stunned Franco Parisi’s troops with a 2-1 victory at their spiritual home Christie Park on Saturday evening.
Following kick-off, APIA knew that mathematically they still needed to register a point even though they had a far superior goal difference to Rockdale Ilinden who all but saw their Premiership dreams shattered on Friday evening following a 2-2 draw with Sydney FC.
Things got off to the best start possible as Jason Romero opened the scoring in ten minutes before Matt Cahill equalized just before the break. With scores locked, former APIA player Peter Kekeris stunned his former employers with a well taken goal that completed yet another thrilling comeback for David Perkovic’s men.
The opening chance of the game went the way of the hosts inside three minutes. Cahill beating the offside trap, taking it towards goal before an Ivan Necevski save denied him the opener.
APIA were the side who settled first and they only needed two chances to open the scoring. Sean Symons testing the keeper with a left footed effort from the edge of the area in the 7th minute which saw Christopher Marques make a save down to his left.
Before they took the lead three minutes later. A turnover in midfield allowed Rory Jordan to pick the ball up – he then released a piercing ball to Romero who made no mistake with a trademark finish.
Another chance soon followed for APIA.
Romero released Michael Kouta for an effort on the volley which went wide of the right post in the 18th minute.
A key moment in the match came on the half hour when another mistake from the NWS Spirit FC in possession wasn’t punished by APIA as Jack Armson, who has been in great form this year, was unable to get it past Marques with a shot just outside the area.
NWS Spirit FC started to ease into the match soon after that moment and equalized with only their second chance of the match.
Kota Odakura sent in a ball from the right wing which was matched with an impeccable diving header via Cahill in the 32nd minute and it was game on.
It was turning into a thrilling contest, Spirit then had the opportunity to take the lead soon after. Richie Darko was unable to find the target from a position around the penalty spot.
Like the first half, Spirit had the first big chance of the second. Cahill holding the ball up superbly before squeezing it inside with Necevski drawing a sharp save in the 52nd minute.
Cahill almost set up Richie Darko four minutes later, but was denied by Anthony Sparacino with an important touch.
While APIA had their first chance of the half just past the hour, Fabian Monge and Sean Symons had a couple of half chances in succession.
The momentum swung the way of the visitors, Jordan took the ball down the byline before feeding Kouta who was again denied by Marques in the 68th minute.
Both defensive units were holding their own as the match looked destined for a draw but as has been in the case on several occasions at Christie Park, drama soon unfolded in the dying stages of the match.
Following a free-kick, Armson saw his effort saved by Marques in the 83rd minute as APIA pushed for a winner.
It thrilling circumstances it was NWS Spirit FC who produced the magic as Kekeris smashed home his effort into the bottom left corner giving his side the three points and a massive scalp in the competition league leaders.
APIA then pushed for an equaliser and created two good headed chances at the death. Both Armson and Themba Muata-Marlow denied by superb saves from Marques in injury time.
Post game, NWS Spirit FC head coach David Perkovic was pleased with his team’s effort to that brought down the league’s best outfit.
“To go 1-0 down and win 2-1 against the league leaders is a great testament to the whole squad and not just the players who were out there tonight.
“APIA are a good squad and there’s a reason they’re on top of the ladder, but we were quite aggressive on and off the ball.”
On the performance of Matthew Cahill, Perkovic was proud of his marksman.
“I was really happy with his response after missing a chance early. His positioning for the goal was perfect to finish off a good Kota Odakura cross.”
A beaten APIA head coach Franco Parisi credited their opposition.
“Look they are a strong side at home, they stayed in the game and scored more than us on the night.
“We are looking forward to next weekend.
“We’re excited to return home where we will be taking on a good side.
“We’ve enjoyed the season and we’re looking to bring it home in front of our fans.”
APIA will wrap up the Premiership when they face St George City at Lambert Park next Sunday at 3pm with a bumper crowd expected to celebrate the trophy win for the Inner West giants.
NWS Spirit FC 2 (Matthew Cahill 32’, Peter Kekeris 85’)
Apia Leichhardt FC 1 (Jason Romero 10’
Saturday 19 August 2023
Christie Park, Macquarie Park
Referee: Adrian Arndt
Assistant Referees: Matthew Harris & Cameron Wright
Fourth Official: Liam Smith
NWS Spirit FC: 1. Christopher Marques, 2. Anthony Younis, 3. Musashi Kokubo, 4. Kota Odakura, 6. Corey Kavanagh, 7. Richard Darko, 11. Ollie Wiggin (20. Jared Lum 72’), 13. Simon Nicholas, 17. Matthew Cahill (10. Peter Kekeris 80’), 19. Daniel Mitwali, 21. Luiz Lobo (16. Kyle Shaw 89’).
Substitutes Not Used: 12. Jacob Madden, 14. Dylan Craus, 15. Paul Ketsetis.
Red Cards: Nil
Apia Leichhardt FC: 1. Ivan Necevski, 6. Anthony Sparacino, 9. Jason Romero, 14. Jack Armson, 15. Themba Muata-Marlow, 16. Sean Symons, 17. Rory Jordan, 18. Adrian Ucchino (98. Franco Farinella 78’), 19. Fabian Monge, 21. Michael Kouta, 38. Yianni Nicolaou,
Substitutes Not Used: 12. Anthony Bouzanis, 3. Paul Galimi, 4. Joshua Symons, 7. Jack Stewart, 23. Dakota Askew.
Yellow Cards: Nicolaou
Red Cards: Nil
3 – Matthew Cahill (NWS)
2 – Christopher Marques (NWS)
1 – Rory Jordan (Apia)
By Justin Smith (@smiththejustin).