Blacktown City finished of the 2023 National Premier Leagues NSW Men’s in style thanks to a hard fought 2-1 victory over Premiership runners-up Rockdale Ilinden at the Ilinden Sports Centre on Sunday.
The hosts took the lead through youngster Ben Wass before Caleb Jackson-Brown equalised and it was City substitute Carlos De Oliviera who netted the winner for Mark Crittenden’s troops.
With much to gain and little to lose, both sides adopted an open and free flowing brand of football not just entertaining but productive and easy on the eye with the emphasis on attacking but ensuring the rear-guard did their job.
Eighteen minutes in and Wass opened the scoring after tenaciously chasing down several lost causes after neatly turning the defence inside the box to slot home.
However Rockdale’s lead lasted barely a minute when Jackson-Brown netted the equaliser. It was terrific work from the visitors who caught Rockdale napping.
Nick O’Brien came close to giving Blacktown the lead when his attempted cross from the right nearly caught Rockdale ‘keeper Harrison Devenish-Meares off guard with the ball creeping agonisingly wide of the top corner and clipping the netting for the visitors.
Jackson-Brown was unlucky to find himself in the book when going in hard against Devenish-Mears in a 50-50 challenge he had to make inside the Ilinden area.
O’Brien then hoisted one over the bar from the edge of the area when falling to him from a right-sided corner before Golden Boot winner and Ilinden captain Alec Urosevski joined Jackson-Brown in the book.
The first-half, fast, frantic and fluent throughout, remained locked at one a-piece as both sides headed to the sheds.
Rockdale came out sharply for the second-half but City are past masters of soaking up any pressure and hitting on the counter.
Mario Shabow broke the Ilinden shackles and set up Travis Major on the left however his shot was uncharacteristically wide of the mark before Jak O’Brien headed over shortly after.
Shabow was next to show his worth but shanked his effort wide of the upright after another dangerous run through the home defence.
It was substitute De Oliviera, on for barely five minutes, who powered City into the lead for the first time in the 68’ minute, not against the run of play as the visitors laid siege to the Ilinden box.
In a pulsating game of football it would be Blacktown City who secured maximum points to retain the status quo and secure third place on the final ladder, not an insignificant achievement but one that had Coach Mark Crittenden happy with his chargers performance.
“I feel we’ve totally dominated the game today,” he said.
“Through a mistake, we didn’t track a runner and they’ve scored at a time when were in control but we came straight back through Caleb (Jackson-Brown) scoring a bomb.
“We had enough chances to win by three, four or five today and with 12-straight wins in this league it speaks for itself.
“We came here and played the Blacktown way and got the result but we’ve been guilty this year of being in leading positions going into the last few minutes and throwing the game away and ultimately that has cost us.
“It’s been a long season but to finish third in this company is an achievement and gives us the building blocks for a stronger campaign in 2024 but for now, we’ll give the lads some time off and get them focussed for next season.”
While Ilinden coach Paul Dee was proud of his team’s performance this year, a position that saw Ilinden finish runners-up to eventual Premiers APIA Leichhardt FC.
“Blacktown City are always a tough team to play regardless of when in the season it is,’ he replied.
“They are the form side in the competition recently with their momentum, but both teams came here to win today.
“Despite today’s result, we are really proud of our boys, and have been for quite some time, and to finish second for such a new side in terms of playing roster is something we can be proud of and build on for next season.
“We’ve been giving young boys a chance this season, as you’ve seen again today, and they’ve done themselves proud so we have to be happy with the way this year has panned out but as with all clubs, we’ll take a few weeks off and look to build on what we’ve accomplished this season and be stronger in 2024.”
It has been a long season, a campaign of highs and lows but 2024 promises to be bigger, better and another roller-coaster we’ll all be wanting to ride.
Rockdale Ilinden 1 (Ben Wass 18’)
Blacktown City 2 (Caleb Jackson-Brown 19’, Carlos De Oliviera 68’)
Ilinden Sports Centre, Rockdale
Sunday 27th August, 2023
Referee: Ivica Covic
Assistants: Matthew Harris and Alessandro Llana
Fourth: Ethan Zvargulis
Rockdale Ilinden: 20. Harrison Devenish-Meares, 2. Daniel Collins, 3. Lachie Griffiths, 7. Alec Urosevski, 9. Bai Antoniou (33. Paul Kalamvokis 78’), 11. Lochie Constable, 14. Brayden Sorge, 17. Iain Ramsay (34. Jason Cakovski 78’), 21. Diego Celis (30. Trelawny Brown 58’), 23. Jaden Casella, 42. Ben Wass (16. Brae Ovens 69’)
Subs not used: 26. Tomme Aslimoski
Yellow Cards: Alec Urosevski 40’
Blacktown City: 20. Cayden Henderson, 4. Lachlan Campbell, 6. Matthew Lewis, 7. Travis Major, 8. Jak O’Brien (9. Reuben Awaritefe 79’), 10. Mario Shabow, 14. Caleb Jackson-Brown (12. Tyren Burnie 63’), 15. Ignacio Corral, 16. Ben Berry (22. Carlos De Oliviera, 63’), 18. Nicholas O’Brien, 19. Adam Berry
Subs not used: 1. Tristan Prendergast, 36, Darian Daghero
Yellow Cards: Caleb Jackson-Brown 31’, Ben Berry 50’, Mario Shabow 90+4’
3 – Caleb Jackson-Brown (BC)
2 – Ben Wass (RI)
1 – Matthew Lewis (BC)
By NPL NSW Men’s Reporter Micky Brock